Principled Principal

By Selle, Robert R. | The World and I, November 1999 | Go to article overview

Principled Principal


Selle, Robert R., The World and I


When a bailiff began to lead New York City high school principal Howard Hurwitz from a federal courtroom on his way to prison in 1975, District Court Judge Jack Weinstein stopped the bailiff, saying, "Bring back Dr. Hurwitz!"

"You're one of the great generals in the school system," Hurwitz recalls Weinstein telling him.

The judge then promised him many things, Hurwitz says in an interview, if he would only comply with a federal law and turn over to the court the breakdown of the nationality and race of the teachers and students in his school.

"I said, 'Your honor, I'll never give you the information.' And I never did. Brilliant guy," the 83-year-old Hurwitz says of the judge, "but he wasn't convincing me to give it to him. No way." Hurwitz, who served for three years in the Army Air Force in World War II, retired from the school system after 40 years and is now chairman of the conservative Family Defense Council (FDC).

The school principal saw the federal law and the ensuing court battle as efforts "to bring about a correction of the number of Jews in the school system--and I wasn't going to play along with that Hitlerian technique."

The anecdote brings into sharp relief Hurwitz's doggedness, toughness, and adherence to principle, which he has brought to bear on everything from his opposition to homosexual activism to his support for drug legalization.

This last is rooted in a horrific experience Hurwitz and his wife, Nettie, married for 58 years, had when a drug addict burst into their home a year ago. The criminal knocked them to the floor, threatened them with a hammer, tied them up, and stole cash and the jewelry his wife had accumulated over their decades of marriage.

The FDC chairman asserts that crime would plummet if drugs were legal. Moreover, he says, the cartels would be bankrupted and tens of billions of dollars a year would be saved on law enforcement, some of which could be channeled to drug treatment. Society's quality of life and family structure would be strengthened accordingly.

INTO THE NATIONAL SPOTLIGHT

As a high school principal, Hurwitz ran a tight ship, emphasizing discipline and an atmosphere of learning. The community loved him for it.

In 1976, he achieved nationwide fame when he expelled a student he felt was "psychotic." His action caused the schools chancellor and Board of Education to fire him.

The obdurate Hurwitz refused to step down. The schools administration sent security guards to oust him. But dozens of activists from the community stepped in and set up a protective cordon around his office, where he remained barricaded for three days and three nights.

Hurwitz emerged a national hero and has since been sought after as a lecturer on education problems and school discipline. He later wrote a book, The Last Angry Principal, that recounted his educational philosophy and experience in the New York City schools.

Aside from his clashes with authority, probably the greatest difficulty in his life has been raising his son, Donald, an only child who was born at one pound nine ounces in 1944. Complications from his low birth weight restricted the flow of oxygen to his brain, leaving him mildly retarded.

The boy's disability, the amount of time Nettie chose to devote to helping him partially overcome it, and Hurwitz's long hours at school and at a second job (he was a key editor at Scholastic Magazines, which publishes Senior Scholastic, World Week, and Junior Scholastic) created a sometimes tense and stormy family life. But the result is that Donald--who a prominent pediatrician had said would never read, write, or talk--does all three quite well.

Hurwitz has written a biography of his son, Donald: The Man Who Remains a Boy, published by Simon and Schuster. It is one of 12 books he has authored, along with some 3,000 articles, columns, and booklets.

"I've written every day since I was 20 years old, when I was first published," he says proudly. …

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