Buried deeply in a pandemic-fueled tribute article in Monday’s New York Times to the “soothing comfort” Johnny Carson infused in “The Tonight Show” was a reference to the TV host’s master talent of extracting interesting tidbits during small talk with guests. Aside from engaging in long interviews on weighty subjects, Carson might “suddenly decide to ask every guest on an episode what they recall about their sixth-grade teacher” (https://nyti.ms/32TpirK).
If you’re like me (btw, proper grammar would be “as I am,” but I tend to write colloquially, not always per the Queen’s English), you would have paused and reflected on your sixth-grade teacher, presuming, of course, you have any such memories. Gilda, for example, cannot recollect who her teacher was but she does remember being named valedictorian of her graduating sixth grade class at Public School 182 in the East New York section of Brooklyn. She also recalls attending a sixth grade prom, sixth grade being the end of public elementary school before the transition to junior high school.
I had four teachers in sixth grade. As I attended Yeshiva Rambam in Brooklyn, a Modern Orthodox Hebrew day school, through eighth grade, we had separate teachers for Hebrew and English studies, mostly women for the latter, rabbis for Hebrew classes except in first and second grades. In sixth grade we had one Hebrew teacher whose name I cannot remember, and separate teachers for mathematics, English language and social studies. It was my social studies instructor who left a lasting impression.
Perhaps it was because Mrs. Saperstein was the first teacher that looked young. She was tall and attractive, with short hair.
As the 1959-60 academic year coincided with the run-up to the presidential election, Mrs. Saperstein structured a candidates’ debate among the students. She chose to focus on eight hopefuls: Hubert Humphrey, John F. Kennedy, Nelson Rockefeller, Richard Nixon, Adlai Stevenson, Lyndon B. Johnson and two more whose names escape me. I was assigned to represent Rockefeller.
Rockefeller might have been my governor but I knew little about him. So I tapped into my human Google equivalent—my father. Though he had lived in America for just 20 years at the time, Dad was politically informed.
The day of the “debate” is rather fuzzy in my brain. I can see myself on the left as the eight candidates stood before our classmates. I think by the time my turn as Rocky approached class was almost over so my speech was gratefully cut short. Much like the governor’s campaign which he abandoned shortly thereafter, easing the way for Nixon to secure the Republican Party nomination.
For another of Mrs. Saperstein’s projects I was assigned to report on Bolivia. For that I consulted the Encyclopedia Americana my parents had recently bought.
All I remember from that exercise is that Bolivia was named for Simón Bolívar, a Venezuelan freedom fighter who liberated the region from Spanish rule, that part of the country lies in the Andes Mountains, that La Paz is the highest administrative capital in the world, that tin mining was a major segment of the economy, and that Lake Titicaca is part of the border with Peru and is the highest commercially navigable lake in the world as well as being the largest lake in South America.
Beyond that I retained very little knowledge about Bolivia.
Mrs. Saperstein didn’t last very long at Yeshiva Rambam. Within two years she left, with not even a mention in our 1962 graduation yearbook.