Peter Stuyvesant Station
New York, NY 10009
610 West 115th Street
New York, NY 10025-7771
The crown jewel of Stuyvesant HS publications has been The Spectator, the newspaper launched on February 25, 1915 under the editorship of Joseph E. Kasper '15. The first Spec sold for two cents, and the front page reported the sports results: “Clinton Buried”; “Pauling Beaten”; “Track Team Cleans Up Dickenson.”
Early Spectator editorials called for honesty, hard work, and initiative; later, the editorial page campaigned for more school spirit, higher marks, and greater attendance at school dances. In the May 22, 1918 issue, the paper published a list of Stuyvesantians who contributed to the war effort by selling Liberty Bonds. In the early 1930s, the humor columns “Spooktator” and “Dutchmania” appeared, and in 1933, The Spectator became free of charge to students. Periodically, the paper printed the school honor roll, and in 1939 Mortimer Bader ’40 achieved Stuyvesant’s highest seven-term average: 93.875.
Throughout the 1950's and 60's, the paper won the Columbia Scholastic Press Association Gold Medal and First Place awards. Outstanding editors included Morton Fleischner, Chic Goldsmid, Alan Weinblatt and Jonathan Weiner (1959), Peter Warshall and Peter Scarlett (1960), David O'Brien, Joe Bondi, and Joel Papernik (1961), and Dean Ringel, Elliot Hefler and Marvin Milbauer (1963).
Then, with the support of the savvy faculty advisor, J. Stanley Quinn, editor in chief Neal H. Hurwitz (1962) wrote columns against the daily pledge of allegiance conducted by Dr. William Roeder over the loudspeakers in each home room and against the Board of Education’s ban on "leftist" speakers in public schools. The paper interviewed the Freedom Riders and reviewed the murder of Patrice Lumumba. Editors Hurwitz, J. Michael Nadel, Mark Blitz, and Joshua Chasan, and writer John Hochman (all 1962) produced the irreverent humor supplement, The Instigator, as well.
As the 60's progressed, The Spectator served more and more as the voice of Stuyvesant’s students. By the 1970s, The Spectator reported student criticism leveled at the faculty, supported anti–Vietnam War demonstrations, and conducted debates on issues of censorship, cheating, and student politics. Thanks to the work of Martin Saggese and Arlene Pedovitch (1976), Tom Allon (1980), and Paul Golob (1981), to name only three editors, The Spectator documented an era.
The respectful, if somewhat vapid, Spectator of the 1920s and 1930s evolved into an independent paper during the 1960s. There were signs along the way that growing independence would one day culminate in crisis.
In 1960, an article in the Daily Mirror charged that Principal Leonard J. Fliedner had censored several Spectator stories and had revoked several graduation awards for student editors. In 1976, school officials barred the Voice, a student publication, from conducting a survey on student sexuality.
None of these conflicts, however, was as explosive as those of April, 1998. Festering tensions between faculty, administration, and students erupted with the publication of The Spectator’s April Fools issue.
It was Micah Lasher’s first issue as editor-in-chief. It featured a wraparound spoof edition of The Spectator called “The Defecator,” which contained articles poking fun at faculty members and the college advisor. Inside the wraparound, Lasher’s column called for the end of Stuyvesant teacher employment practices based on seniority.
Eight days later, the day before spring break, Spectator editors found the assistant principal of technology in the paper’s windowless office changing the computer passwords. The room’s locks had also been changed. The New York Times reported that Principal Jinx Cozzi Perullo, “had halted publication of the school newspaper indefinitely after months of infighting that pitted student editors against one another and against their faculty adviser. Those disputes were inflamed by a handful of articles criticizing the conduct of individual teachers and the policies of the city teachers' union.”
Perullo said that the paper would not reopen until a charter had been crafted by The Spectator’s staff and approved by the administration and the Student Union. The Spectator was shut down.
“The educational response would have been to sit down and talk about how we could fix this and make a better paper,” Lasher recounts. “Administrators defeat themselves and create controversies which arise not from the content of the coverage, but from the administrators’ censorship."
Several students charged that the paper was shut down to appease angry faculty members over editorials on United Federation of Teachers politics, teacher hiring practices, and faculty conduct. According to the Times, the day after the April Fools issue, Perullo and leaders of the teachers union held a meeting, in which the teachers complained about being “bashed” by the newspaper.
“The teachers thought that kids should write about ‘kid things,’” Perullo said in an interview that appeared in the Times on April 17, 1998. “I believe it’s the kids’ right to write about things that involve their lives, and teachers are a very large part of their lives.”
What was lacking, Perullo maintained, was a written set of guidelines defining the roles of each position, the procedures for selecting the editor-in-chief, the relationship of the editorial board to the advisor, and rules for other aspects of the newspaper’s management.
On April 22, 1998, the Student Union president and vice president drafted a letter supporting Perullo. It stated, “Perullo has always been an advocate, protector, and benefactor of students...She has encouraged us to speak our minds, to find the truth, and critically evaluate the state of our school.”
Publication of The Spectator resumed on April 24 after two weeks of shutdown.
With help from Columbia's School of Journalism, The Spectator staff drew up a charter. It specified that the outgoing editor in chief and editorial board would select the new editor in chief. It also clarified that “student journalists, in concert with a faculty adviser, will make the final content decisions for The Spectator.”
And that was how it was in the 1950's and 1960's.
It can be said that The Spectator was my life-altering experience. I entered SHS thinking that I would one day have a career in Chemistry, but that was quickly put to rest when it became clear that I was a lousy Math student.
I wanted to throw in the towel and go to my neighborhood high school, Erasmus Hall, but a kind, very understanding guidance counselor, Mr. Okean, gave me the courage to stay, work through the rough spots, and find my way.
English and History were my favorite subjects, so, I joined The Spectator as a reporter. I learned everything I could about the paper.
I became News Editor, and I found SHS invigorating. Once, I got out of bed in the middle of the night, in the dead of winter of Dec., 1957 to take an early morning walk on the upper East Side with former Pres. Harry Truman. I introduced myself as a reporter from one of the nation's finest high schools. I interviewed him about Russia's math and science education vs. our own. I was 16. What an unforgettable experience!
The Spectator was my life and made me realize what I wanted to do after college. In my senior year, I was named co-editor in chief with Alan Weinblatt. I also won first place in a writing contest sponsored by NBC News. The prize was a summer job in the NBC Newsroom, where I worked throughout college with legends in broadcast journalism.
I think back to Mr. Okean’s quiet advice. Without that, I might be selling televisions instead of producing and writing TV news programs and documentaries for ABC News for the last 31 years.
And, I'll always remember Harry Truman's first words to me: "What's on your mind, sonny boy?"
Morton Fleischner '59
I vaguely remember coming back to The Spectator office at the beginning of the 1960-61 year and finding that we had been moved from our former quarters so that "The Cyclotron" could be installed over the summer! There was a some piece in The Spectator that year along the lines of "Does Stuyvesant have the Bomb?" and if so, what we would do with it.
In this case, evidently, the pen did prove mightier than the sword: The Spectator continues to thrive (well, publish) and the Cyclotron has fallen into a wormhole.
Steve Monblatt '61, Arlington, VA
In 1958, I was living on Lincoln Place in Brooklyn. One side of the street was districted for Boys’ High; the other side was districted for Erasmus, where I wanted to go. Erasmus was friendly, coed, and academically reputable, but I lived on the "wrong" side of the district line down the middle of my block. So my dad went to the Board of Education and met with Fred Schoenberg, deputy chancellor and former Stuyvesant principal and student. Fred Schoenberg told my father that I should test for Stuyvesant, get in, and then score better than 85% in Latin my freshman year. Then I could transfer to Erasmus since it was the only school in the city that offered Greek!
I got in to Stuyvesant (from PS 9-The Brotherhood School), did well in Latin (with Dr. Blanche Joffee), but I never transferred to Erasmus because I fell in love with The Spectator. I decided early on that I would be solo Editor-in-Chief in the first term of my senior year, which I did, and that’s one reason I was accepted by Columbia with tuition scholarship.
Working with the amazing students on The Spectator solidified my sense of self-worth and my commitment to excellence and integrity. I respected the courage of Quinn and Brody. I also worked with the dynamic Irving C. Fischer, MD (1927), Founder/President of the SHS Alumni & Scholarship Association, and I edited the Alumni Journal (1961-62), which put me in touch with Stuy greats from 1904 to 1962!
I am still proud of the Gold Medal for Journalism that teachers like J. Stanley Quinn and Sylvia Brody "persuaded" Principal Fliedner to award me at graduation.
Neal H. Hurwitz '62, Campaign & Executive Director, The Campaign for Stuyvesant/Alumni(ae) & Friends Endowment Fund, Inc. (1998-current)
Co-Editor Arlene Pedovitch '76 and I were co-business managers of The Spectator while writing many news articles (almost always with a joint byline), and then served as co-editors (probably the first to make that transition!). We were truly a team, and we remain close friends nearly 30 years later.
Marty Saggese '76
Yes, we were quite the duo, and we came up with a proposal to do work for the Alumni Association, a newsletter, in return for some funding for The Spectator. We also did in-depth interviews with prominent Stuyvesant alumni.
The years at Stuyvesant were formative years of our lives, and for me, enriched from the beginning by the years working on The Spectator.
Arlene Pedovitch '76
In the 1970s, The Spectator trained aspiring journalists who cared less about math and science and more about the high adrenaline stakes of Woodward and Bernstein.
In the stuffy basement office of 345 East 15th Street, The Spectator’s staff labored around the clock to cover news and sports of the vast Stuyvesant community. Those days and nights focused on these highlights:
The more things change...
Tom Allon '80 Publisher and CEO, Manhattan Media (Our Town, Westsider, Avenue, etc.)
During my three years on The Spectator, the charter primarily protected the paper against interference from the administration. Because of its existence, we could print important and controversial material without first struggling with an administrator for consent. We often cited this in our editorials, in an effort to fully exert our unique freedom as a high school newspaper. The charter’s guidelines for choosing new editors, and its definition of the staff’s relationship with its faculty advisor sometimes left room for dispute. But these guidelines formed a concrete basis for our independence and a blueprint for our values. The charter represented The Spectator at its best.
Abbie Zamcheck '03