When New York City Schools Taught Kids How To Be Good Citizens

NYC Schools Used To Teach Kids The Responsibilities Of Citizenship

Something We Apparently Fail To Do Now

Teaching Civics, Respect & Unity, Not Divisiveness

Boys Club of PS 62 Hester and Norfolk St with policeman c 1907

Originally this piece was going to be about how dysfunctional the New York City school system is.

Then I realized that a critique of all the political correctness and hypocrisy that dominates decision making at the Department of Education and what kids are actually learning would require a book rather than an article.

Instead it would be better to examine what children used to learn in grammar school. The main focus was of course on reading, writing and arithmetic. A primary education as it should be.

The established standards applied to all children, regardless of religion, ethnicity, race or income level. But something else was taught that has been lost today: how to become useful and good citizens.

Simply put, Civics.

To understand this better let’s turn to a book that was in use in New York City schools during the early part of the twentieth century.

The book is called Good Citizenship by Julia Richman, District Superintendent of Public Schools in the City of New York and Isabel Richman Wallach. The content is intended for eight, nine and ten year-olds. The words and narrative are not difficult, but kids must have been a lot smarter back then to appreciate the concepts.

Good Citizenship was written in 1908 when New York and other cities were struggling with teaching an influx of recent arrivals.

For those children who were not native to the United States, the goal was to assimilate or “Americanize” them. It was not to embrace a rainbow of diversity, inclusivity or worrying about integrating the student’s culture into the curriculum.

After reading the sample chapter you may say, “well it’s all propaganda.”

Sure it is.

Damn good propaganda if you want kids to understand that the Police, Fire, Sanitation and Health departments of a city exist to aid society. Laws and rules are meant to be followed and kids should grow into ethical, civic minded adults.

The book includes such devious brain-washing chapters as:

Obeying the Firemen’s Orders
How the Police Department Fights Crime
Some True Hero Stories
How Citizens Can Help the Police
The Street Cleaning Department / Department Rules and Reasons For Them
The Health Department and the Schools
Fighting Contagious Diseases
How Citizens Can Help Guard the Public

Some immigrant children spoke little or no English at home with their parents being  recent (legal) immigrants. Put aside the status of immigration, and it sounds familiar doesn’t it?

It was important to have all children, not just immigrants, understand their duties and obligations as citizens and learn to respect, embrace and dare I say, love the United States and its institutions.

That sentiment has now been replaced by a dystopian view and false narrative where the United States and its institutions are inherently evil.

So what are your obligations as a citizen?

From the Preface

For many years instruction in Civics has formed a part of the curriculum of the highest grades in grammar schools and in the lowest grades in high schools. This instruction, aiming to impress upon the pupils the meaning and importance of the Constitution of the United States, and the functions of state and municipal government, fails to benefit the child withdrawn from school before he enters the upper grades, and utterly fails to show to children their personal obligations as little citizens.

Investigation has shown that the greatest number of violations of law in large cities are due not so much to disrespect for the authority of the Law as to ignorance of the Law, especially of that part of the Law covered by local ordinances. It is far more important for the welfare of the state that a child should be made to realize his present obligations to the commonwealth than that he should know the qualifications of a United States senator. The belief that a knowledge of things close at hand should be acquired first, and that such knowledge should be made to include the personal relations of the child to the Law, is rapidly becoming an educational principle. Within recent years New York, Chicago, and other large cities have introduced into their respective curricula instruction in Civics for the lower grades, Chicago beginning its work in this direction in the first year.

This book is planned to meet the needs of fourth year children, but in the hands of an intelligent teacher it can be used both in higher and in lower grades.

Although designed as a supplementary reader to fit a graded course in Civics, it will be found to contain much of dramatic interest, many ethical lessons, and a clear statement of the child’s opportunities for rendering civic service.

Below is a short chapter, “How Citizens Can Help The Police. Contrast the content with the fact that today the police are portrayed as enemies by many educators. The rule of “the community” or “the ‘hood” is don’t snitch to the cops. Defund the police has become the rallying cry of fools and the misguided.



When we think of the men of the police force, daily risking their lives for the protection of the citizens, it is but natural to ask what the citizens can do for them in return. Any policeman will tell you that the citizens, old and young alike, can do much to help the police, and that the entire city would benefit by such help. This is especially true of those matters that belong to
keeping order.

Every law made to prevent disorder has some good reason behind it. People may not always know the reason, but this gives them no excuse for disobeying the law. When a police officer tells a citizen that he must keep the gutter and sidewalk in front of his house or his shop, clear of snow and ice; that he must not obstruct the sidewalk with boxes, show cases, or push carts; that he must keep his fire escapes clear;. and that he must not waste water, nor throw refuse into the streets, it is useless for the citizen to argue the matter. Law is law, and the policeman must see that it is obeyed. He has no time either to explain or to argue the reason for the law, nor is it at all necessary that he should do so.

Surely any one can understand that unless householders sweep the snow from the sidewalks, people must find walking in winter disagreeable and dangerous; that unless each keeps the gutter before his own door clear of ice, the melting snow cannot run off into the sewer, and may make its way into cellars, doing damage to property. The street belongs to all, and no one has the right to cut off any of its space with show cases, or with boxes over which people may stumble. Nor need one look very long or very far for the reasons why fire escapes must be kept clear; why water should not be wasted; and why people are forbidden to throw refuse into the street. One person’s doing of any or all of these things may not cause a great amount of harm, it is true ; but think of the result if a hundred, or a hundred thousand others should do the same, each one feeling that he had as much right as his neighbor, to be careless or disorderly.

Citizens are foolish as well as wrong who obey the law only while the policeman is watching, and disobey it the moment his back is turned. If all of us always obeyed the laws, there would be very little disorder or crime. Think how greatly this would help on the work of the Police Department and how much better and happier our city would be for it!

The police are watchful, and their special training makes them quick to see signs of disorder and of evil-doing. They cannot be everywhere at the same time, however, and consequently many wrong things may be done which the police know nothing about. Here we have another way in which the citizens can help the police. Indeed, the law says that they must do so, for
it holds guilty and punishes those who know of crime and fail to report it to the police.

Sometimes persons are aware that a crime will be committed. Again, they hear of it after it has been committed. In either case it is their duty to report what they know at the nearest police station, and at the earliest moment. Whatever they thus report is always carefully investigated by the police, without delay.

Children, being on the streets a great deal) are likely to see many things. As little citizens it is their duty to report any serious accident to the first police officer they meet. Should you see any one send in a fire alarm when there is no fire, be sure to report it to the policeman at once, so that he can send the firemen back quickly. Sending a false fire alarm is a piece of misconduct perfectly inexcusable, and one that the law punishes very severely. While the fire engines are out in answer to a false alarm, and the firemen are wasting time looking for a fire which does not exist, a real fire may break out elsewhere, and their delay in getting to it would mean unnecessary destruction of property, and perhaps loss of life.

I am sorry and ashamed to say that strangers, especially foreigners who do not speak our language, are sometimes treated badly by mischievous citizens. It is a poor, one-sided sort of fun to send a trustful stranger asking advice, in a direction opposite to the one he ought to take, and it is a mean and disgraceful trick to play. When the foreigner thus misdirected finds out the truth, what is he likely to think of the city which permits its citizens to do such things? Should you ever see any one do anything of the sort, I hope you will try to set the stranger right, even if you go out of your way to do so.

You may meet a little child whose tear-stained face and frightened eyes show that it is lost. Very likely every step the poor, tired feet take, is carrying it further and further from home. At every crossing the tiny little wanderer is in grave danger of being run over and trampled upon. As a good citizen it is for you to take the toddler by the hand and lead it to the nearest policeman. He will take charge of the little one, and it will be fed and cared for in the station house, until its parents come to claim it.

Boys who belong to a “gang” or “club” can render excellent help to the police. No fear then, let me tell  you, that the policeman will be “down on” them, nor any need to run away when they catch sight of his blue coat and shining brass buttons. The club can then have all the right kind of fun it wants or can invent, and it will no longer be blamed, innocent or guilty, for every bit of mischief afoot in the neighborhood. It could even make itself a sort of assistant to the Police Department.

At any rate it might be worth while for the captain of a club to report to the policeman, and ask him in a businesslike way how the club can help him. He will be astonished for the moment, you may be sure; but if he sees the young captain is in earnest and intends to play fair, he will probably discover something the club can do for him or for the welfare and peace of the neighborhood.

A club might look after the fire escapes to see that they are always kept clear; or, very possibly, the policeman at the school crossing would be glad to have the club help him get the little children safely over the street. Or the club, if it examined its own neighborhood, might probably find some special duty which its members could handle to the satisfaction of the policeman and of the people themselves. Many a club of boys can in this way grow into a most useful “League” respected by every one for the capable work it does.

Little citizens, like grown-up ones, are members of society just as they are members of their family and of their school. As such, each one has certain rights, and also certain duties. The city protects the rights, and in return it exacts the duties. This is fair, is it not?

The duties are to help maintain order; to do what the law requires; and to keep from doing what the law forbids. People are not likely to forget their rights. When they also remember their duties, they become an honor to themselves and a credit to their city and their country.

Children who come to us from foreign lands should be most anxious to learn of these duties
and to do them. Foreigners often make the best kind of American citizens. One reason for this is the fact that many foreign-born children are among the keenest to perform all the duties that belong to good citizenship.

Not anymore. This thinking is passé.

Civics taught along with unity? No way. Groups of subversive disruptors have eliminated that.

Civics has been replaced by drivel such as diversity, Critical Race Theory and equality meaning “all students are equal” regardless of ability or intelligence. Of course Gifted and Talented programs should not exist if they’re not equitably represented. With that mode of thinking why not expand G&T program admittance by other important factors like blood type, height, weight, shoe size and what sort of pet you own?

The schools are failing in their most important assignment. They are not teaching children to become critical thinkers, research both sides of an argument and express an opinion or thought that differs from the herd.

A student that does that will be ostracized, suspended or worse.

Where does it look like we are heading as a united country?

The answer starts with the letters “C I V,” and it is not civics.

3 thoughts on “When New York City Schools Taught Kids How To Be Good Citizens

  1. Brian

    These days, everyone wants to protect and defend their rights and freedoms. No one ever talks about obligations and responsibilities.

  2. Jon

    Great post! I couldn’t agree with all of your points more. As a rule, I try not to be too pessimistic, but I’m really not looking forward to the future of out country. Things are bad now, but I think that they’re still going to get lot worse. And it’s very debatable as to whether or not anything will ever get better.


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