Schooling In The Schoolyard


History In The Making

 While many locals think the talk of the town, on Monday, July 20, was the start of the Summer Classics Basketball season, the real surprise event began at 8 a.m. that same day. Same location, St. Francis de Sales (SFDS) schoolyard, same local hero– Keith “Bugsy” Goldberg in charge, and the lucky participants, were again Rockaway’s youth.

But there wasn’t a ball in sight.

In an effort to help educate young people, Goldberg volunteered to present ten days of history lectures and discussions in an attempt to help the next generation have a better understanding of what is currently happening throughout the United States. Goldberg says he was inspired to launch this endeavor, “so that our next generation can have a clearer understanding of how we got to where we are today, why a society forms a government and the institutions that come along with it, and why the United States has created the best government and society, to the benefit of more of its people, than any other.”

The lectures began this week, and will continue Monday through Friday, until July 31. These history discussions are targeted for SFDS parishioners in grades 5-8. Each lecture begins at 8 a.m. and lasts approximately 30 minutes. Goldberg, of course, is following COVID-19 guidelines, by requiring anyone who attends to bring a mask, while listening in open outdoor space of the schoolyard. SFDS Pastor, Rev. William Sweeney, has been in attendance each day, and is, as always, supporting the neighborhood’s young people.

Goldberg has outlined ten history topics that he plans on teaching to the children. The topics are taught in chronological order, beginning with Pre-Columbian World History. Additional topics that Goldberg will discuss are Age of Exploration and Colonial Period, American Revolution and the Founding Documents, Westward Expansion up to the Civil War, The Civil War and Reconstruction, Industrial Revolution up to World War I (WWI), WWI and the Interwar Period, World War II, The Cold War, and concluding with Post Cold War to the Present. In his Facebook post outlining his intentions to start these ten days of lectures and discussions, Goldberg stated, “I am not a teacher by profession, but I was a History Major and received the History Department Award upon graduation from Queens College, where my mentor was the former Ambassador to the United Nations from Greece.” Although Goldberg is not a certified teacher, he explained that, “hopefully this will be an experiment that can be repeated and replicated by others.”

One St. Francis de Sales Catholic Academy (SFDSCA) teacher is encouraging all her middle school students to attend. She mentions the important quote of George Santana, when discussing Goldberg’s venture, “Those who do not remember the mistakes of the past are condemned to repeat them.” She, like many of the parents whose children are attending, feel it is so important that the students study World and American History, so as to try to comprehend the complex social issues that children are facing today.

Kristen O’Grady Franchock, parent of two SFDSCA incoming seventh graders who attended the lectures, said the following when discussing why she encouraged her children to attend: “Keith ‘Bugsy’ Goldberg, Colgate graduate, is a great local resource to educate our children on American History, Economics, and Civics. Bugsy has always set a great example of community service for our parish and always has our kids’ best interest in mind.”

During day one’s lesson, Goldberg addressed a common misconception among Americans today. That is the difference between a democracy and a republic. Goldberg cleared this up simply for the young students. SFDSCA incoming sixth grader, Madeline Youngberg, said, “I learned that when Rome was all together in one piece, other religions started to try and take over, and then Rome had to split into East Rome and West Rome.” The differences between the Ancient Roman republic and Ancient Greek democracy needed clarification, and this understanding will enable young people to fully comprehend our freedom of speech and other civil liberties that are often taken for granted.

The record breaking heat and the early hour did not deter Goldberg’s enthusiasm when addressing issues of importance like religion, slavery, and controversial and famous figures in history. The connection between events in the past and today’s challenges were clear. Correlations were drawn by Goldberg and by the students between Columbus’ journey to the New World, and the exposure it caused the Native Americans to experience (new immunities, diseases, etc.) and today’s global pandemic. These challenges weigh heavily on the minds of today’s young people, and the through Goldberg’s classes and continuous conversation, youth are gaining a better understanding of the pandemic. Rockaway’s youth are being inundated with conflicting information about the importance of a mask, how germs spread, and how to remain safe. The historical connection and the contemporary reference help enable the students to grasp these concepts better, and hopefully it will enable them to make appropriate choices for their own health and safety.

As we go press, there have been three days of lectures taught by Goldberg so far. Goldberg has received an overwhelming amount of support from Rockaway parents who have encouraged their children to attend. SFDSCA parent of two incoming seventh graders, Betsy Kuhlmann, said, “Thank you, Bugsy, for always putting our community first, and showing our children what it means to be a true citizen. It is so wonderful for our children to be able to listen and learn history from one of the best local historians.”

And when the history of Rockaway is written and spoken of, the contributions of one Bugsy Goldberg will surely be included.

By Marina Cregan