MARCH 12, 1960
SARASOTA, Fla.—On Wednesday morning of this week I went with my friend, Mrs. Joseph P. Lash, to visit one of New York City's vocational schools. This is a school that prepares young people to work in the food trades as butchers, bakers, and cooks in restaurants, hospitals or catering establishments.
Now, I should think one of the first things that must be taught a youngster going into these occupations would be that he has a great reponsibility to the public. A lack in the knowledge of hygiene or in personal cleanliness could mean food poisoning for many people. Therefore, it seems to me, these students should have all possible facilities for personal hygiene and their shops should be well equipped.
Many of these young people come from homes where such hygienic care is not possible. So, such provision would seem to be one of the most important things in the school. But the shops and facilities where I visited are in a building which Abraham Lincoln also visited, after he spoke at Cooper Union.
The only good thing about the building is that the ceilings are high. The stairs are rather steep and narrow, and there is no elevator. There is one toilet on the first floor, which all the boys have to use. There are but two showers and one bath for all the boys. Their coats and outdoor clothes hang in the rooms in which they are trained. It seemed to me that no youngster could feel that the society in which he lived looked upon him with any respect whatsoever, being taught in such surroundings.
As to the equipment, in one bake shop the two baking ovens were secondhand 20 years ago. The students have to put what they are going to bake into an oven that will only warm and prepare the food before moving it into the second oven when it is empty. With a great deal of care and coaxing, this second oven finally bakes the rolls and cakes.
I am sure this leads to ingenuity, but I am not sure it gives the students experience in using the kind of equipment that they will find in any decent bakery or restaurant.
Meat-cutting is taught in a room where the roof leaks whenever it rains. After the recent snowstorm the students arrived on Monday morning to find the whole floor about two inches deep in water. The food freezer is out of order, so that it cannot be used. And repairs to any of the equipment are not paid for by the education department; they must be covered by whatever profit is made on what the students cook and sell. What the faculty manages to do under these conditions seems to me simply astounding. They deserve the greatest praise, and so do the students.
The youngsters' academic work is done in a building five blocks away and the students make the transfer within their lunch hour. Some of them have been caught riding the backs of trucks and stealing rides on the subway. This latter offense puts a black mark on their record, indicated by a mark on their free subway card. And I could not help thinking there were rather few boys I knew who would not be caught doing the same thing.
I was ashamed for my city that such conditions exist in a vocational school, training for work that is easy to obtain and which pays well. In Europe a chef is an artist. But these boys are not made to feel proud of their profession, and yet so much of the health of the city and of the people who live in the city and pass through it depends on these youngsters. How can we be so short-sighted?
I arrived home proud of the dedicated men who teach and make up the faculty of the two vocational schools, proud of the boys who manage to learn in spite of the difficulties under which they are taught. But I was ashamed of us, the citizens of New York City, who put so many difficulties in the way of our young people's advancement.