This playground is bounded by East 81st and 82nd Streets, Avenue J, and Flatlands Avenue. It stands near Intermediate School 68, also known as the Bildersee School. Both the playground and school are named for Issac Bildersee (1887-1952), the controversial assistant superintendent of Brooklyn public schools during the 1940s.
Born and bred in New York City, Dr. Bildersee came from a family closely tied to the cause of education. His sister Adele Bildersee was Dean of Brooklyn College, and his other sister Dorothy served as principal of Brooklyn’s PS 217. Dr. Bildersee received his B.A. from City College in 1905, and spent the remaining 47 years of his life as a dedicated teacher and executive in the New York City school system. Bildersee taught in three Manhattan elementary schools, then taught English at De Witt Clinton High School from 1920-1922. In 1922, he was appointed principal of PS 205 in Brooklyn. From 1929 to 1946, Dr. Bildersee served as principal of the Seth Low Junior High School in Brooklyn. From 1946 until his death, he was an assistant superintendent of Brooklyn public schools.
In December 1947, Bildersee issued a controversial order banning the singing of Christmas carols with strong religious connotations in 23 of Brooklyn’s public schools. Bildersee’s ban quickly led to controversy among many groups, including the Department of Education, the Commission on Moral and Civic Affairs of the City Protestant Council, and the Catholic War Veterans of New York.
Bildersee’s order also banned any religious symbols, decorations, or references to the Jewish celebration of Hanukkah. Some groups, such as the American Civil Liberties Union and the American Jewish Council, favored the ban. Many other groups opposed it. The Roman Catholic Knights of Columbus called the order “an insult to Christmas.” Bildersee insisted that his order was not meant to discourage holiday celebration, but to protect all religious groups from offense. He explained that the ban had been issued in accordance with the state constitution.
Although the United States and New York Constitutions grant the right to freedom of religion, public schools are required to maintain a separation between church and state. On December 5, 1947, Superintendent William Jansen of Brooklyn public schools overruled Bildersee’s ban and issued an official letter suspending the Christmas carol ban. Jansen ruled that schools would hold holiday events deemed appropriate by the individual schools’s principals. He also wrote “It is expected, as always, that the principle of freedom of religious worship will be respected.” Dr. Bildersee died on August 23, 1952, at the age of 65, in Star Lake, NY, leaving behind his wife Selena and three children.
The City of New York acquired this property in 1960 for the purpose of building a playground in conjunction with the construction of the Bildersee School. The population of the Canarsie neighborhood was growing rapidly at the time, and the construction of I.S. 68 was required to relieve overcrowding in Junior High School 211 (John Wilson Junior High).
The playground opened on November 23, 1965, as the I.S. 68 Playground, jointly operated by Parks and the Department of Education. The playground now features basketball and handball courts, benches, and tables. In 1985, the parkland was renamed after the adjacent school, further honoring Bildersee and his dedication to both the schools of New York City and the ideals of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.