Noteworthy Graduates: Justice Doris Ling-Cohan

New York Teacher Newsletter
September 23, 2010

Photo by Pat Arnow

Justice Doris Ling-Cohan is the first Asian-American woman to be elected to the New York State Supreme Court. Although she grew up in Chinatown, she attended school in Brooklyn, where her father owned a laundry. She attended PS 219 and PS 177, then Bensonhurst’s Seth Low/IS 96, and finally John Dewey HS. She graduated from Dewey in 1972.

In her own words below, as told to staff reporter Ellie Spielberg she describes the importance of her New York City public school education:

I had a 2nd-grade teacher who was amazing. Mrs. Monsky. She instilled in us a love of learning for the sake of learning. She taught us French simply because she loved the language. And it is because of her that I love to read.

At PS 177, I often felt like an outsider, being a child of Chinese immigrants. It was assumed that I was not bright and I was put in the slowest class.

A wonderful 5th-grade teacher came to me at the end of the year and knelt down at my desk so she was at eye level with me.

“I want you to know I really fought for you. But the best I could do for you next year is 6-2. You don’t belong there. You belong in 6-1 because you have the highest reading level in the school.”

It turned out that even in 4th grade I’d been reading at the 11th- and 12th-grade levels. But it took that one wonderful teacher to dig deeper into the records of the school’s only Asian kid.

At John Dewey they had everything right when they designed it, and it’s still based on those principles. I attribute my love for learning, and my success, to the enthusiasm of the teachers and the philosophy of the school.

Learning to work, think and analyze independently are life skills that every adult needs. Dewey taught that to all of us.

All three of New York’s Asian-American female judges graduated from there: In addition to myself, there’s Honorable Margaret Chan of the New York City Civil Court and Honorable Toko Serita of the city’s Criminal Court.

I think I would’ve turned out to be a completely different person if I hadn’t gone to John Dewey.

September 22, 2010

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