New York City Day #6

This morning was one of the most memorable of this week. Why, you may ask? This little piece of history is actually a piece of popular culture history. I got to eat breakfast this morning at the diner from one of my favorite TV shows of all time: Seinfeld. I am living this week in the neighborhood that inspired Jerry Seinfeld's TV show, and the diner from the TV show is 2 streets away. I ate with a few teachers this morning before heading to class for our final lecture and discussion.

It was absolutely raining cats and dogs this morning; not having an umbrella, I just put on my Yankees cap and bolted across campus as fast as I could through the rain. Out of the window of our classroom is a clear view of the neighborhood of Harlem. There was a Battle of Harlem, which although it was minor in the Revolutionary War, was significant, because it was an important stronghold that George Washington lost before entirely abandoning New York as a lost cause.

Harlem used to have an awful reputation for being a dangerous neighborhood, but has actually encountered a nice revival; it has been cleaned up, is much safer than before, and new restaurants and shops are opening up and down Amsterdam Avenue, one of the main thoroughfares through Harlem. The picture to the right is of Harlem, overlooking Morningside Drive. Notice the row houses and tenaments in the distance. It still is not a totally safe neighborhood, but has improved greatly in the past few years.

While in class today, we discussed the separation of church and state, as well as the abolition (or elimination) or slavery after the American Revolution. A few interesting facts that I did not know until today:

  • Massachusetts was the last state to get rid of a state mandated religion. If a state were to have a state mandated religion, it would mean that, even if you are not personally a member of a religion (let's say VooDoo religion, for examnple), you would have to pay taxes from income, property, and goods to support the state established church. All citizens, regardless of thier personal religion, would have to pay taxes for the construction of VooDoo churches, the upkeep of VooDoo burying grounds and churches, paying VooDoo pastors, paying VooDoo bills, etc. So -- I am Catholic, and could still go to my Catholic Church, but would be required (with no way out) to financially support the state established religion of VooDoo.
  • Virginia was the first state to eliminate their state established religion.
  • Massachusettians and Connecticutians both were so fearful that, after the American Revolution, the government would impose a state or national religion on them (based on England's previous policies when they were colonies), they refused to approve the First Amendment to the Constitution for these two states - until the 1930s. That means they held out for at least 150 years on principle alone!
  • Massachusetts was the first state to abolish slavery, even though the people did not decide. The Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) made the decision for the state. In fact, the SJC still makes decisions today, over 200 years later - but on current issues and policies, such as gay marraige.
  • For many years before, and even after the American Revolution, in order to vote in an election, one would have to take a religion test to vote. In a public election, where you are not voting on religious issues! Today, the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution's Bill of Rights guarantees separation of church and state to all American citizens.

After lunch (and more running through the rain), we had teacher discussions about how to present the American Revolution to our students. It was awesome. I shared some ideas, I got some good ideas, and am looking forward to using them when I return in the fall! Once we were finished with our discussion, I went shopping for some teacher supplies and books at the Bank Street School of Education Book Store, which had a lot of neat things to see.

I return home tomorrow (Saturday). Although I am looking forward to going home, I am going to miss this incredible opportunity I had to talk to fellow teachers, discuss how to teach students better, and my new friends. I'll keep you posted....

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