A Bronx Tale


In the 50s when I went to Public School 114 in the Bronx, it was ruled by an austere, black-garbed woman who wore clunky oxford shoes and a frown. You didn’t want to do anything wrong that could put you in her proximity.

Maybe that child’s-eye memory is wrong-headed. Maybe in the grownup world outside school Miss Hatton had a great sense of humor. Maybe she wore lacy underwear and had lovers. Maybe she sang Broadway songs at a piano bar at night. Maybe she didn’t really look like George Washington.

Curiosity led me to a PS 114 alumni group on Facebook, where a guy named Bob commented, “May C. Hatton was the scariest principal ever. The parents and teachers were afraid of her. I bet even her lookalike, George Washington, would have been afraid of her.” Bingo. It wasn’t just me.

“Honestly,” replied someone named Sylvia, “I don’t ever see a picture of George [Washington] without thinking of May C.,” to which Bob responded, “I will never forget May C. Hatton, the father of our country.” That validation gives me reason to believe something else I remember from those days of stoop ball and penny candy: Miss Hatton ran a tight and successful ship with great teachers. I loved going to school , especially on Monday, which was assembly day, and Miss Hatton knew how to run a great assembly.

Boys and girls alike wore white shirts, and we were encouraged to wear red scarves or ties. Miss Hatton introduced us to classical music including “Asa’s Song” from “Peer Gynt” and Haydn’s “Surprise Symphony,” to which we sang and you can too:

Don’t you think it very strange, once a cauliflower said,

That I don’t have any eyes, yet I have a head?

But the best part, for which I need no one else’s ditto or concurrence, were the patriotic and love-thy-neighbor songs, whose teachings have remained with me for life. Half a century later, their lessons still need to be taught. Given the state of the world and the partisan politics that poison goodwill and progress , I think it would be a great thing for today’s music teachers to take up Miss Hatton’s mantle.

What Makes a Good American? Sing along

Mm Mmm Mm I don’t care where you’re from

Mm Mmm Mm, I go by what you are

I stand up for my rights

But do I stand up for yours?

What makes a good American

What do you have to do

Am I a good Anerica and by the way

Are you?

It Could Be a Wonderful World

Think of the state of the U.N., and sing along.

If we could consider each other

A neighbor a friend or a brother

It could be a wonderful, wonderful world

It could be a wonderful world.

If there were no poor and the rich were content

If strangers were welcome wherever they went

IF each of us knew what true brotherhood meant

It could be a wonderful, wonderful world

It could be a wonderful world.

Today PS 114 today is a ship adrift. Called PS 114 Luis Lorens Torres School, it is given a rating of 1 out of a possible 10 by GreatSchools.org. In 2007-2008 the NYC Department of Education gave it a grade of D for the elementary school level . In the 2009-2010 school year, only 27% of the school’s third graders met or exceeded state standards in English language arts, 30% in math.

The demographics are different. That’s a contributor, but I know one thing for sure. If Miss Hatton were alive, fewer children at PS 114 would be left behind.

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