Three Options, Only Two Viable, by Marshall Hyman

22 Jan

Marshall HymanMarshall Hyman is a retired teacher, living in Southern California, where he was born and raised 69 years ago. His family moved to Los Angeles in 1942 from Brooklyn, NY. He attended local public schools and graduated from U.C.L.A. He’s married and lives in South Pasadena.

In 1965 I was a recent college graduate. Everything I did at this time was influenced by the draft. I knew  wouldn’t go to Vietnam. I had three options, as I saw it. Only two were viable.

  • Get drafted.
  • Enter the Peace Corps.
  • Leave the country for Canada.

Although I wasn’t politically aware, I did know I opposed this war and that the war had nothing to do with my security or anyone else’s.

My mom was a liberal and my dad was completely apolitical. My dad had trouble holding a job. Among other positions, he worked as a movie theater manager, on an assembly line making TVs, for a printing company, in department stores and liquor stores.  In 1956 in junior high school my social studies teacher gave us a poll. If we could vote, would we vote for Stevenson or Eisenhower?  The vote was 34 to 3 for Stevenson. Most of the kids were Jewish West L.A. kids. I was one of the three that voted for Eisenhower. I was just following what my dad did.

Although I was also Jewish, religion never took hold with me, but I attended a religious school because I was a  compliant kid—and besides, it was fun socially. I was pissed that I couldn’t play Little League Baseball, though, because I had to attend school on Saturdays.

My best high school teacher was an obvious leftie, and in college I admired the leftist professors. They are the teachers that most influenced me.

In college at UCLA I was aware of the Freedom Marches of 1964-’65.  One of my professors discussed them in class. I don’t think it ever occurred to me to go down South myself, but I did sympathize with the cause.

In the summer of 1965 I traveled in Europe. This was the start of the major escalation in Vietnam by President Johnson. my student deferment was about to end. While in Europe I read an article in the International Herald Tribune that the U.S. had ordered thousands of helmets from a helmet factory. By now we had over 500,000 men in Vietnam. The Westwood draft board couldn’t reach its quota—too many rich kids, and their lawyers working to keep them out of the army.

All my friends talked incessantly about the draft. My two closest friends were 4F. I was 1A. I applied to the Peace Corps and was accepted. I was issued a deferment (not an exemption). For three months I was given Spanish language training at the University of Arizona in Tucson.  I loved it. It was very intense. We had classes for four to six hours a day and I did well.

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Then I was sent to Venezuela. I spent two years there. I had assumed that I’d be assigned to some squalid jungle, but in Caracas I was near what I considered a “South Miami Beach.” I worked in a little park in a barrio surrounded by a rich neighborhood. The park offered recreation for the poor kids. (Most of the poor families lived in the hills, where poor people tended to live in South America.) I told the Peace Corps that I wasn’t really needed down in that rich neighborhood, so  I was transferred to a hillside barrio. There I worked with liberal theologians and priests, mostly Belgian and Dutch,  and got introduced to early liberation theologists who loved Elvis.  I was given the assignment of teaching P.E. and English. Next I was transferred to an urban area to work with an Internado—institution that housed orphans or wards of the state. Again, I was teaching P.E. and English. It was run by a Croatian priest—a disagreeable man whom we called “the beast.” I didn’t find out that he was a pedophile until later.

Venezuela requested from the State Department volunteers for agriculture, technology, and recreation. I ended up working at a YMCA.

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I received room and board with a family when I first got to Venezuela, then I got school food or ate at restaurants. For a while I had a room with no facilities. I quickly learned Spanish. There was a guerilla movement, mainly in Colombia, which is adjacent to Venezuela, so we had to be careful in certain areas. I only heard about it, never saw any danger.

In 1958 the dictatorship had been overthrown. People were proud of their free elections. They had their first president, a liberal democrat. However, oligarchs still ran the country even though it was a functioning democracy.

There was a major student strike in Caracas that brought the city to a standstill. The military shut down the campus during the strike. I believe they were protesting student repression. Also, the government did almost nothing for poor people; it  mostly built roads and fought rebels. Venezuela, like other poor countries, was a single commodity nation. However, in Venezuela, that commodity was oil—so Venezuela was probably the wealthiest country in South America. It had large middle and wealthy classes.

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When I returned home in July of 1968, Los Angeles had changed drastically. In Venezuela I’d been learning about the student movement, urban rebellion, and the counter-cultural scene from some of the new people coming and going from the Peace Corps. Now I felt connected to the counter-culture, and I became an urban hippy: sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll.

I had to report to the induction center in downtown L.A.  But the week before my induction, I was offered a job with the Los Angeles United School District, which was looking for more Spanish-speaking teachers in response to the Blowouts in East Los Angeles schools. I was hired and awarded a life-time teaching certificate, even though I’d never taken a single education class. During the interview, I was asked, “What kind of certificate do you want? Secondary or elementary?“ I chose elementary and ended up teaching fourth grade. I was a beneficiary of a U.S. government policy called “channeling,” in which certain people were granted deferments due to the need for professionals in certain areas—not just in education but also in medicine, community development, and science.

In the spring of 1970 there was the big teachers’ strike to create a union. I knew nothing about teacher politics at the time. After the strike created the United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA), I became more politically engaged. By the mid-1970s I was chapter chair (shop steward) and on the House of Representatives of UTLA. I also started listening to KPFK (listener-sponsored radio) and going to anti-war rallies. In 1972 I registered for the Peace and Freedom Party and went to Venice [in Los Angeles] meetings. I lived in West Los Angeles at the time. But basically I remained a counter-cultural guy, anti-materialist. A hippy.

At work they were instituting the “open classroom” and other experiments. The first year they implemented the New Math and New Language, we used a textbook written by Noam Chomsky. It was all transitional grammar, intuitive—a completely different way to look at language. I loved it. I think it lasted a year or two before teacher and parent resistance got rid of it. Just like “new math,” it didn’t matter that the program was a more effective way of teaching, it was unable to overcome the “this is how I learned this” attitude of parents and the “this is how I’ve always taught it” attitude of teachers.

As I look back on those years, I realize how formative they were.  Something was going to happen to me during those charged times and I feel fortunate in reflecting that most of what I experienced was positive.  As the founders of the Peace Corps understood, I was able to bring back to my own community many of the altruistic principles that I learned about and experienced during my training and overseas service.  It feels like the road I ended up on in my life began in 1966.  Almost 50 years later, though the world has changed greatly, most of what I believe and how I try to act remains the same.  Though the big societal changes I wanted to see happen didn’t occur, I feel I was able to help many individual students during my teaching career and one never knows when a seed is planted, just how it’s going to grow.   Keep hope alive.

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5 Responses to “Three Options, Only Two Viable, by Marshall Hyman”

  1. Patricia Bernstein January 22, 2014 at 7:54 pm #

    We were with Adele & Rich this past weekend and thought of you. Hope the new year brings good things.

  2. Anna Estrada September 19, 2014 at 6:54 pm #

    Mr. Hyman
    I’m one of those students you inspired, so much so that I also volunteered in your preschool class one summer so that my son could attend your class and experience your exceptional quality teaching.
    I was a classroom teacher for 18 years, I have been an administrator for 11 years and am currently a Principal of a PreK-6 school.
    I had no idea you had such an interesting and unique history but always knew you were an extraordinary person . I would to reconnect with you please email me.
    Anna Rico

  3. roelfe1 January 8, 2015 at 11:59 am #

    I like the lucidity of your description of those tumultuous times, Marshall. Glad to know that you were able to make positive contributions through your work in the Peace Corps and later with the LAUSD. Robert

  4. Bart Briefstein May 13, 2015 at 10:15 am #

    Marsh, I really enjoyed reading this. I’d love to get back in touch. Bart

  5. Terry Dale September 27, 2017 at 11:00 pm #

    Hello Marshall,
    A coincidence: After viewing tonight’s episode of the Vietnam War, I was on the computer and noticed that today is September 27. This brought back an association of the long-ago past, and I googled your name and found this blog.

    I enjoyed reading your history, yet, when writing this blog, you didn’t know what was coming . . . . . harder than ever to keep hope alive.

    Terry from Stearns Drive

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