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February 21, 2005

Sometimes I really hate living in Park Slope.

This New York Post story, cited by Wizbang, really burns my butt.

February 21, 2005 -- An American soldier overseas is fuming over letters he received from Brooklyn middle-school children accusing GIs of destroying mosques and killing civilians in Iraq.

Pfc. Rob Jacobs of New Jersey said he was initially ecstatic to get a package of letters from sixth-graders at JHS 51 in Park Slope last month at his base 10 miles from the North Korea border.

That changed when he opened the envelope and found missives strewn with politically charged rhetoric, vicious accusations and demoralizing predictions that only a handful of soldiers would leave the Iraq war alive.

"It's hard enough for soldiers to deal with being away from their families, they don't need to be getting letters like this," Jacobs, 20, said in a phone interview from his base at Camp Casey.

Most readers of this blog are probably not familiar with Park Slope, Brooklyn. In many ways, it's a lovely place to live, and on most days I'm happy I live here. But this is as close as you can get to Berkeley on the East Coast, and at times the seething Bush hatred on these lovely brownstoned streets has been so in-your-face that I feel like a spy in enemy territory. This story doesn't surprise me. The neighborhood is still festooned with huge "We the People Say NO to the Bush Agenda" banners, stencil renditions of Bush as Satan, hate-Bush window signs, bumper stickers, T-shirts, etc.

For an accurate snapshot of Park Slope's politics, savor this excerpt from an article titled "Liberal Brooklynites Bummed Out," printed in the November 6, 2004 Park Slope Paper. Please note that the article is not intended to be funny, but if you burst into a spasm of derisive hilarity, I won't hold it against you. Lord knows my sides were sore when I finished reading. Perhaps the laughter was more of a release than anything else — a release of the unrelenting tension I'd felt for so long. I couldn't bear to throw the article away; that's why I still have it here to quote from.

The announcement came over the loudspeakers at the Park Slope Food Co-op shortly before noon: Sen. John Kerry was conceding. People looked at each other, stricken over the soymilk and organic vegetables.

Pilates instructor Rachel Priebe ran weeping from the store.

"I'm heartbroken," said Priebe, 30, sobbing gently as she loaded her bicycle on a Brooklyn sidewalk. "The rest of the country must be pretty out of touch with reality."

"I'm devastated," writer Emma Starr said as she left the nation's largest member-owned and -operated food co-op. "I have proposed that we should have two distinct nations. Why should we be forced to live together under the rule of an evil dictator?"

That pretty much sums up the average Sloper. It's shamefully easy to laugh at these people's pain, because they made Park Slope such an aggressively hate-filled, rageful, oppressive place for such a long time leading up to the election. (And Emma Starr, my dear, if you want two nations, you leave. I was born and raised in New York. This is my home. I ain't leavin'.)

Back to Wizbang's citation: The article about JHS 51 brought up some issues for me. EtherHub and I have been talking about having children, but we have serious questions about where we could send them to school. We're atheists, but not militant ones; EtherHub was raised Catholic in Brooklyn, and I would gladly consider Catholic school. However, the Catholic archdiocese apparently doesn't think Catholic schools are important, because they're closing a bunch of them. (What the hell, right? It's not as if there are all that many Catholics in Brooklyn. It ain't like it's "da borough of choiches," or nothin'.)

Public schools are obviously out of the question, even "good" ones like JHS 51. The story cited at the top of this post sums up the reason why. Private schools in this neighborhood have tuitions that would put most private colleges to shame. Besides, I went to a "good" private school in Manhattan, and didn't get much of an education. Oh, no, wait -- I learned that drugs, cigarettes, and alcohol are so wonderful that there's really no need to acknowledge the existence of anyone who doesn't enjoy indulging (like me). I learned that a girl isn't worth anything without a boyfriend, and sex is required. Meh. I'm not sure I'd want my kids learning that. And that was back in the early 80s; hard to imagine what it's like in private school now. I wouldn't expect a school to teach my kids values, of course. I'd just expect them not to spend each day tearing down the values I tried to teach the previous night.

Is home schooling the only alternative? I'll do it if I have to, but how sad that someone whose values are as truly middle-of-the-road as mine would have to shun all local schools for their radicalism.

Anyone out there faced a similar problem? I'd love to know how you handled it.

Posted by EtherPundit at February 21, 2005 02:57 PM   Category: Brooklyn & NYC , Current Affairs , Moonbats


Ilove in Carroll Gardens and I'm a proud Democrat. I lived through Sept 11, I voted for John Kerry, I don't think we need two nations, and I have no interest in moving to Canada. This is my neighborhood too. One of the reasons I love Brooklyn is the diversity--diversity of cultures, classes, and, yes, viewpoints. I think what you are overlooking (in your disgust at what these students wrote) is the fact that they were probably encouraged to speak their mind. There are many other parts of this nation in which students only get one point of view--that is, the Bush administration's, parroted on Fox News and in most major newspapers. This is why a majority of Americans thought that Saddam Hussein was behind the Sept 11 attacks.

We really don't know enough about this case; I mean, whether this teacher specifically instructed his students on what to write, or just asked them to write what they felt. Conservative bloggers have already made up their mind that these kids have been indoctrinated into a Left Wing worldview. I'm not willing to buy that yet.

Thousands upon thousands of letters of support have been sent to our troops overseas. I wrote a letter of support myself to a soldier last year. Of all these lettersm the conservative NY Post has chosen to highlight 9 letters (out of 21 sent from thsi school) that are critical. Don't you think it is entirely possible to support their sacrifice and criticize the way the war is going? Or must all support of our troops be blind patriotism?

p.s. The thing is, I grew up in a Red State--Georgia--so as a Leftie moonbat I was a political minority for many years. So I can empathize with you to some degree.

Posted by: Brad at February 22, 2005 11:50 AM

Your comment brings up some very interesting points, especially the issue of "diversity" in political views and the seeming intolerance thereof in NYC right now (at least according to my experience). I'll be blogging more on this topic in the near future, as it's one that's unhappily close to my heart, in much the same way as a knife blade or bullet might be.

Regarding your comment that we don't know what happened: Yes, you're right. We don't know the details. The teacher hasn't spoken up, but the Post story quotes the principal of JHS 51 as saying, "While we would never censor anything that our children write, we sincerely apologize for forwarding letters that were in any way inappropriate to Pfc. Jacobs. This assignment was not intended to be insensitive, but to be supportive of the men and women in service to our nation."

How transparently disingenuous. First of all, I personally don't think there's any reason to have kids writing letters to service people. It smacks of politics, and should annoy folks both on the left and on the right. Second, since this was part of a social studies assignment, and was being done under the auspices of the school, they damn well should have read the letters, or what was the point of the assignment? And since they were being sent at the request of, and under the auspices of, the school, by young children, yes, the school should have "censored" them. If a child had written another kind of hateful comment -- say, "Dear Nigger soldier: My dad says you people belong in a cotton field, and you don't deserve the privilege of killing ragheads side by side with pure-blooded Aryans," do you think the school wouldn't have "censored" that?

If the children want to write hateful letters under their own steam, fine. The school should neither know nor care what they write. But for this principal to sanctimoniously claim that his staff wouldn't "censor" the letters his own school was sending is just a weak cop-out.

Anyway, thanks for the comment. It's always nice to see a "liberal" (whatever that is) stop by. It reminds me of the olden days, when people could tolerate dissenting opinions....

Posted by: EtherPundit at February 22, 2005 11:56 PM

I wonder what the assignment really was?

Why did the letters go to Korea and not Iraq?

Why were there only 21 letters sent? Is MS 51 undercrowded? Did some letters not get there?

What was on the cover letter sent by Alex Kunhardt to the soldiers?

Posted by: Patty Mellonhed at February 23, 2005 04:23 PM

I live in Park Slope too; my wife and I have been there since 1982, when things were quite different (though the trend toward the current Starbuckiness was already getting underway even then).

Politically, I'm not really an ardent left- or right-winger (despite a long career in the music business [not exactly a bastion of conservative thinking], and despite having spent the late Sixties through the middle Eighties as a "long-haired freak"). I suppose I hew closest to the Libertarians, though I disagree strongly with some of that political party's more radical positions as well.

I do feel increasingly alienated by the almost universal assumption in our neighborhood that any reasonable person:

a) opposed (and still conspicuously opposes, ad nauseam) the war in Iraq;
b) believes that George Bush is a literal incarnation of absolute evil;
c) agrees that any idea supported by the Republican party is by definition not just wrong, but malicious;
d) considers John Kerry's loss in the election to be not only the work of criminal sabotage, but also the greatest catastrophe to befall civilization since the sack of Rome;
e) regards any unwelcome developments in the world (terrorism, global warming, or even, mind-bogglingly, the recent tsunami) to be the result of malevolent US government policies

... and on and on. An infinite, humorless cataract of sanctimonious and dogmatic loathing.

I've pretty much just learned to keep my opinions to myself, as there is simply no profit in doing otherwise.

Otherwise, though, what a nice place to live! Prospect Park, low crime rate, lots of good food, convenient subways...

It's been a good place to raise two children, too. Just mind what you say.


Posted by: Malcolm at February 24, 2005 01:36 PM

Aaahh, Malcolm. You've said it all. I love your line, "An infinite, humorless cataract of sanctimonious and dogmatic loathing." That just about sums it up. Thanks for making me feel just that much less alone in this beautiful, yet sometimes hateful neighborhood.

I'm not really a "conservative" either, by many standards. I've found, though, that for the vast majority on the Left, you're either a strict dogmatist or a hard-right Nazi. There doesn't seem to be anything in between. I've settled for being called "conservative" despite my little-"L" libertarian streak. I don't care much what people call me anyway, since there doesn't seem to be an accurate label that encapsulates all my views. But clearly the Left is repulsed by people like me. And very very slowly, over the years, I've learned to return the sentiment towards the Left, though I still haven't learned the skill of hating individual people because of their political views. I'm kind of hoping not to learn it, to be honest.

Your closing sentiment, "Just mind what you say," is just about the saddest thing I've ever read about this supposedly "tolerant," "diverse" neighborhood. It's also 100% true.

Do you mind if I ask where you sent your children to school? Were you happy with where they went?

Anyway, I may quote your comment if I can ever overcome my desire not to think about this situation and do some posts on the lonely position of the Park Slope Bush voter. You laid it out pretty well.

Posted by: EtherPundit at February 25, 2005 10:22 PM

Gosh, you'll be sick of my posts before the weekend is up, but I'm actually holding back. I just had to throw in my two bits on public education. I'm a public school teacher in a rural area in Illinois. I don't know about other schools, but in our district there is no liberal or conservative agenda. The NEA does not control my mind. Most schools have a curriculum guide. Ask to see it, maybe they have it on line. You could visit your neighborhood elementary school (make an appointment first) and observe the kindergarten class. My guess is that your neighborhood public school differs little in diversity from the private school. I know your reservations about the public school is the leftist agenda you suspect exists, but it's my egalitarian Irish background that rankles when people think their children shouldn't mix with the masses. In our community the rich farmers, lawyers, doctors kids go to school with the children of blue collar laborers, welfare mothers, meth makers, inmates, and desperate poor. What I dislike about private schools, other than those with a strictly religious agenda, is the sense of privilege that's imbued. You will never regret letting your children mix with those from different backgrounds. If your kid gets a whacko for a teacher, no permanent harm done. The private schools have just as many whackos. What is not appreciated is that the child is the product of the home and family, not the school. Chances are you'll have really smart kids. They'll learn more about the world in a public school and they'll add to the vitality of the classroom. Check out the public school. People like you have to support the public schools so our citizenry can remain educated.

Posted by: mary at February 27, 2005 10:38 AM

Interesting views re: public vs private. I can say that my husband went to public school in Brooklyn — for "integration" reasons he was forced to attend one far from his home — and feels he spent 12 years on busywork, getting beaten up and threatened virtually every day. I went to private schools and spent 12 miserable years as well. From where I sit, neither alternative has much to recommend it.

If I lived in rural Illinois, I wouldn't hesitate for a second to send the kids to public school. But things are different in NYC, very different. For one thing, the schools union is brutally powerful here, and shockingly corrupt.

But I'm not in love with the private-schools option either, and based on my experience, I don't think the kids in private schools are any "better" than those in public schools. The one advantage of private school is that teachers can be fired, and students can be expelled, should an out-of-control situation arise; firings and expulsions are virtually impossible in a NYC public school. As for the sense of privilege — yes, some private school kids have it, but so do an amazing number of public school kids. I mixed with some of the brattiest kids you've ever seen, but I never saw any relationship between wealth and brattiness. Some of the richest kids were the best brought up, and some of the middle class kids had all the class of Donald Trump on an amphetamine bender. The sense of entitlement, unfortunately, is not confined to the wealthy. It seems to be a general cultural failing across all classes. Again, as you say, it's for the family to raise their kids with proper values. And values don't seem to have much correlation with financial status, positive or negative.

Posted by: EtherPundit at February 27, 2005 02:34 PM

Your points are well taken. I guess it's apples and oranges. I'm defensive about the rap public schools get when we are lumped together. I know the Chicago teachers union is an abyss of corruption but so is the district. But so is the city union and so is the mayor's office. Patrick Fitzgerald, the Federal prosecutor who tried Ramsey Yousef, made his bones in Illinois going after state figures including the governor. I'm just in a "Downstate" classroom where I try to impart a love of learning, a sense of fair play, and an appreciation for all our civil liberties and civic responsibilities and plain old good luck to be born in America. It's been fun hanging out with you this weekend but tomorrow is Monday. "Won't you believe it, it's just my luck. No recess."

Posted by: mary at February 27, 2005 07:19 PM

oh shut up, you fuck! at least you can afford to live in Park Slope. How would you like to live in Midwood. Real fuckin fun.

Posted by: Anonymous at February 13, 2007 06:13 PM

park slope is a horrendous place. you should be ashamed of yourself for comparing it to berkeley. if your idea of a wonderful place is a bunch of wasp robots that all have attitudes, then more power to you. but don't fool yourself and suffer a sweet meaningless decay in this cr**hole in which you live! get out now while you can.

Posted by: boboli at March 27, 2007 11:23 AM

the letter was fataucl and all the facts can be substantiated with documentation that is public record.I disagree that the Principals do not have a contract. If Mr. Gaida did not have some binding agreement of his employment, they would not have paid him salary and benefits as part of his separation agreement which by the way is another contract.Second – You can choose who you want to vote for. If you want four more years of tax increases and wasted tax dollars being spent, then by all means vote for Murtha, Weischedel, Zarnich. Since Mr. Singleton is being endorsed by them and included in that group you can bet ya he will vote their way. Or you can choose to vote for any of the other six candidates. The newsletter informed voters of how their tax dollars were wasted and who was responsible for wasting their money.Third – the school address is a public address. It is used by the organizations such as PTA, the unions, the coaches, the cheerleader organization, the staff, the Superintendent, the Principals, and yes even the board members. Besides, if anyone used their own address on the return envelop of the newsletter, everyone knows that CAW would place a target on their back as well as pick on their kids. More importantly is the content of the newsletter which states true facts.I agree stuffing church bulletins wasn’t professional. But hay their actions speak volumes. Finally, voters have a choice. You must choose five. More of the same, then vote for Murtha, Weischedel, Zarnich and Singleton. Change the board, then vote for Bauer, Acon, Ziegler, Brant, Bailey or Long.Well-loved.

Posted by: Maria at September 28, 2012 04:49 PM