What I am Learning About Elementary Schools

I am not an Elementary School teacher.  My wife is, however.  She has been teaching me for years with her stories of students and work-related lore.  However, I looked at things through high school aged glasses.  I believed, and still do to a certain degree, that not much had happened from early American education until today.  I think I have been wrong.

There are certain truths that have not changed much.  One of those is the introduction and permanence of early academic literature and teaching methods in the classrooms of yesterday and today.  I asked the Lowell, Massachusetts Public School system to provide me literature on what was being taught in the fourth grade today, and I compared it to yesterday.  It resulted in an interesting conundrom, that being that the titles of the courses taught remained the same from the 1830’s to the current day.  But, that did not mean that education had not changed somewhat.  In fact, it had.   I learned this by comparing books from earlier years to the current testing excessive academic curriculum.

I picked up a couple of modern books to compare today’s Fourth Grade to yesterday’s.  I have to be honest.  These books from today were being given away at a local neighborhood school.  Maybe they had no ability to sway the students, I do not know.  But the Core Curriculum was the bastion of defense.  If there was going to be some radical comparision, it would be in the books and augmented by the Core Curriculum.  It would not be conveniently displayed in a couple of no-cost books found in a file labeled “FREE,” in the hallway of a primary school in Lowell, Massachusetts.

So, here is what I found.  There is a continual effort to make lessons current and forward-thinking.  Many of the lessons were based on the embryonic curriculum of the past.  Many of the titles of the 1800’s, were used today in the effort to massage learning out of the students of today.  As I pointed out in another article, some repetitiveness was in the academic curriculum of the 1800’s.  Academics is, by definition “of a school” and “Conventional.”  (Webster’s Dictionary).  Conventional does not sound good when describing the STEM Curriculum, or any other curriculum partially based on the scientific and engineering requirements of the past fifty years.  When I was a third-grader, your mathematics curriculum required you to take a 100 question mathematics test in three minutes or less.  I took addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division by the time I had finished the Fourth Grade.

Mathematics is much more thought provoking now.  You have to determine why something happened, not just what two numbers equaled.  STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, I believe) was the result of a diminished capability of students to solve important questions that test their ability to answer questions on the process, not just on the accuracy of rote memorization.  Kindergarten students now know how to read, I was simply being taught to color and spell my full name when I was that age.  Reading, and I am not saying this because my wife is a Reading teacher, is necessary much earlier than it used to be.   I was taught to read in the First Grade.  I would be eclipsed by today’s schoolchildren.

Due to my substituting and following the teacher’s instructions, I have learned a great many things.  One thing is that Americans do not quit.  We continually try to give our children something that they did not have control over in earlier centuries.  There is nothing wrong with this approach, it is called progress.

What is the point?  It is simply that few students do not want to learn.  Some students, such as those in ELL programs, have to build up their knowledge of English before they wrestle with all we are aiming at them, but they are like any child.  They want to progress.  It does not do any good to tell people that the language of the United States is English.  There is no official language of the United States.  ELL students deserve the same consideration as any English-speaking child in this country.

One way we can help a child who is having difficulty is to lean on those people who are Specialists in their fields.  We learn History from a person like myself, a History Teacher.  We learn Mathematics from a trained professional mathematician.  We learn Language from a career professional who teaches English, Khmer, Spanish,

Substituting Enlightens My Perspective

Today I did something I have not done in eleven years.  I went to school and taught.  Contrary to many of my pre-conceptions education is exciting now.  Students are still required to be academic, so I am partially right, and Math is still taught with books, but strangely, the computer is available for every child.  Laptops have replaced those old CPU’s and Monitors, and there is a freedom in teaching using the computer as a tool in the classroom.  Somewhere out there is a Steven Jobs currently working computers as a sixth grader.  Or the guy who started Facebook is looking down the barrel of competition.   We are all just on this planet to learn.  It is a kind of freedom we have not seen since the “Age of Reason.”  And that was roughly two to three hundred years ago.

I have cancer, which I found out last week was in remission.  The drugs they used on me were not the same treatment they gave to my brother-in-law just twenty short years ago.  It was the same diagnosis, but a vastly different treatment.   I went to my Oncologist last week and she told me I was in remission, which I have told anyone who will listen.  Paul Tsongas died twenty years ago, unbelievably, and I firmly believe that if the drugs I was given were given to him, he would be here today.

So, I have two revelations.  School is different than it was eleven years ago when I retired for medical reasons.  Medicine is progressing and cancer is less a killer than it has been.  Two good things I was wrong about, and I do not mind admitting my intransigeance.  I still lean towards real books over the Kindle or the phone, or the computer, but I have to admit one thing, I am of retirement age, and things are vastly different than they were in 1954, or 1964, or 1974, etc.  I am learning.  I still prefer photographs to computer photos.  I still would rather work in the darkroom than many other places, and I love the feel of negatives on my fingers.

So, I am learning.  And today, I learned that computers can help the child in the classroom.  I kind of thought they still did Fortran, Basic, and Cobol.  They do much more, while using those languages as a base from which to grow.  I cannot look modernity in the eye quite as casually as I did before.  Children are learning and they know a great deal more than I do or did.  That is the good thing.

Here I sit listening to my 33 1/3 records, specifically the best of the Supremes, I have a date with my darkroom,  and I intend to cook dinner over a wood fire in the barbeque.  But, I have to admit to the supremacy of the CD, the difficulty of working in a darkroom, and the widespread use of a George Forman grill.  Life will never be quite as difficult as I made it out to  be.  There is a certain finality to the passing of institutional hegemony.  For those who do not know that word, it means preponderant influence or authority.  I had to take that out of Webster’s, the big book,  not the handy text.  Even the computer did not have that one.  But, it is the right word for my treatise.

Thus, here I am admitting that my love of historical solutions to small problems is probably a waste of time.  It is not going to change me.  I will still think a book made out of paper is better than a Kindle version.  I will still prefer photographs over prints.  I will still cook on a wood fire over even charcoal, let alone electricity.  But I have to admit that you guys may have a point.  Modernity is here to stay.  I am embarassed it took me so long to figure it out.

Tomorrow, I go to a school and learn from totally different student body.  I will still believe that most of their academics are rooted in historical references.   But, they  believe in their computers.  And that is not such a bad thing.  They have an outlook that may just conquer cancer and heart disease.  Two of my many diseases.  I do not believe that they are going to cure my Parkinson’s though.  Give it time, they will.  Those kids are smart enough to do a bit of everything.

 

Acrimony and Absolution – The Lowell Search for a New High School

I am not on the administration side of the placement of the changes to the high school.  I am against the Belvidere site because I believe that people are playing off the most powerful neighborhood, with less than 300 students attending the city high school from that neighborhood, with one of the proudest neighborhoods.  That neighborhood sends slighty less than 1,100 students.  Now, the City Council is not supposed to take a stand until the state comes back with their recommendation but it is widely anticipated that seven of the nine City Councilors are going to vote for the powerful neighborhood’s pick.  I believe they are vacating their promise to be nonpartial.

Most of my feeling on this is the result of statements made by these seven City Councilors expressing favor for the Belvidere choice.  I firmly believe that they have already painted themselves into the corner of political expediency.  The most logical choice is to maintain the present high school and adding onto it.  That includes the need to vote for eminent domain of a local business that was founded on an eminent domain taking decades ago.  I resigned from the Zoning Board because I could not keep myself from forming opinions on certain matters that necessitated a “judgement,” not a formed opinion.  The least these seven can do is stay neutral until the state makes its best recommendation.  But, it is pretty clear that that has not happened, or at least will not happen.  The votes are in and the lead horse is the one from the most voter rich Ward and Precincts.

The losses to the city are incredible.  Sidewalks will have to be completed in certain areas, roads and infrastructure will have to be initiated and followed through by the city.  The bus company that currently takes the students home after school has stated that they cannot continue that practice, driving their ridership down and increasing the numbers of school buses, with or without seat belts.  Even the seat belt issue is being put in abeyance.  Nothing is going on in the city that is concerned, I believe, with the individual tax bill.  Taxes are very high for seniors now, and they will definitely continue to climb with the most expensive high school in Massachusetts.  They have to climb, per one of the City Councilors who is backing the expensive option, there is also a Police Station and Fire Department building that need to be erected shortly after the high school.

When I broached the issue of expensive and expansive sidewalks, a backer of the expensive side said that we did not have to worry about that, because sidewalks would not be put into place until the next decade.  We still have to pay for sidewalks.  Just not in this decade.  We have to pay for streets, and we have to pay for the high school.  That is enough.

So, if some Councilors see themselves in this picture, then I suggest that they cool off, and wait for the state’s recommendation.  There are too many people being ignored in this process.  I called the process acrimonious and I stand by that.

Is it All the Same, or is Schooling Different Through the Ages?

Recently, I found myself wondering if there was any noticeable difference between curriculum in the fourth grade in the 1800’s and 2017.  I had concluded that there was a very small difference and I asked the Lowell Curriculum Office for current curriculum to be compared to the 1800’s curriculum requirements.  Too often, I believe, there is a tendency by parents to think they are as educated as the average teacher or administrator because they went through school themselves.  I ran into a couple of ancillary articles that spoke to our situation in current times.  One was entitled “Educating Latino Students in an Age of Uncertainty.”  That one was covered in “The American Educator” magazine.  But even that one was tainted by the realization that Japanese students in the 1940’s (I should say Japanese-Americans, I think), and the Native American students throughout the history of European presence in North and South America.

There was a major push in Lowell, Massachusetts in the 1800’s to incorporate Irish Catholic children into the public school system.  It was called Article 7.  It was designed to mix the English-speaking Irish into the Melting Pot of Education.  The result was exactly the opposite of the intent.  Most Irish ended up paying extra for tuition in a Catholic school than send their children to a free public school classroom.  It was said that the mother in the Irish home kept hold of the money made during the week and sent their children to school with the money to pay tuition.  Such familial ties were hard to break.  But the nuns could do no wrong, and the priest was next to God Himself.  So the Irish went to Catholic School.

That is one difference.  Latinos often go to public school now, even if they are Catholic.  Let’s take time to see what they were learning back in the 1880’s.  In the grammar schools, they tackled the “4th. Reader,”  the “Intermediate Reader” for better students, and the “5th. Reader” for superior students as well as those going on to the 5th. grade.  In Grade Four today Reading Standards from the Common  Core Standards for that Grade level require the teacher to  “Refer to details and examples in a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.”  In other words, read the lesson carefully and be prepared to explain it.  “Key Ideas and Details: RL4.2” requires the teacher to “Determine a theme of a story (something that was required in the 1800’s) drama, or poem from details in the text; summarize (I believe this is an instruction for teaching) the text.”  As in the 1800’s, the heaviest weight fell on the individual teacher.

The next instruction is to is to “Describe in depth a character, setting, or event in a story or drama, drawing on specific details in the text (a character’s “thoughts, words, or actions).”  RL4.4 states that the teacher is to determine the words and phrases as used in a text, including those that allude to … “characters found in mythology,” giving as an example the word “Herculean.”

We are at a bit of a loss here because no copy of the 1800’s reading manual with its instructions, can be found.  It is not outside the realm of possibility, however, that instructions for those students included “drawing on specific details” and “Determining the meaning of words and phrases.”  The final instruction is to “Compare and Contrast” the point of view of a major figure  in the text.  I have a few old texts that lend themselves to being compared and contrasted.

The fact is that the teacher today is laden with instructions made by the Common Core State Standards that integrate meaning into a text.  The reality is that probably, those Standards were required in the 1800’s too.  It is known that the Superintendent required the teachers in that time to go to a class he personally held every week on Saturday, and study “White’s Pedagogy.”  Now pedagogy is a fancy word for Webster’s definition which is “the art, science, or profession of teaching.”  In other words, they tried to instill a practice that allowed students to be recognized for their inherent abilities within the parameters of what they knew about their own curriculum.  I am not saying that in the past century or two, teachers taught the way they do now, but I am saying that there was not a huge difference between their preparation in today’s Common Core 4th. grade and their preparation in earlier days.  And, certainly, making a visual is nothing new.  Students in the old days were required to make visuals of their studies.  Art was a firm requirement.

Now, we have made it harder, although I had the opportunity to see a standard 8th. grade Social Studies Test a few years ago, and it was brutal, even for me.  Of course, history changes but the requirements for these students was incredibly difficult.  MA. 8.A tells today’s students to “Locate and analyze examples of similes and metaphors in stories, poems, folktales, and plays, and explain how these literary devices enrich the text.”  In other words, apply what you have learned.  A metaphor is “a figure of speech,” in which a word or phrase “denoting one kind of object or idea is used in place of another to suggest a likeness.” (Webster’s)  A simile is figurative language.  It shows a comparison.

The goal of the Common Core is to “read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poetry, in the (requisite) grades for 4th. and 5th. grades.  Text complexity proficiently, saith the Common Core instructions.  Thus lies the 1800’s 4th. and 5th. grade reader.

I have to say, that reading on the text is difficult.  In the 1800’s three books taught you how to read.  Today, there are stories, not necessarily textbooks.  Computers are a major drain, but they heighten accessibility.  In the past, that task was dependent on books.  Whether or not the computers do it better is a question.  Chaucer can be equally difficult in a text as in a computer screen.

As we go through this lesson, we will see some similarities, and some differences.  What was required of Grammar Schools in the previous centuries is still required to some degree today.  We will glance at those instructions that seem to be similiar and those that seem to be different.  Hopefully, we will see a pattern emerging that will explain differences in philosophy if not in practices.  Surely, the argument will be made that “the more things change the more they stay the same.”  But that does not mean that today’s children are being short-changed.  In fact, Massachusetts is in first place in the United States in testing results.  Something must be working.

 

Education in Lowell, MA – The High School

I was listening to a song whose title escapes me, so if any of you recognize the lyrics, send me the name of the song.  Anyway, the song contains the line, “Battle lines being drawn, nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong.”  We are having something of that type of battle in Lowell, MA. currently.   Last night, some of it came to a head with a motion that was passed with some exceptions.  The Mayor and another friend of mine, voted against the proposal.  They were excoriated.

 

There is a proposal in the city to build a new high school.  Where to place it seems to be a question.  Also, construction and transportation of students seem to be unanswerable questions.  The strange thing is that the current high school is performing up to standards as it is currently.  I heard a song today that describes the imbalance; “Battle lines are being drawn, nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong.”  That is kind of where we are now.  People from the wealthiest part of the city are vying for construction, while most of the rest are in favor of enhancing the current high school.  It is up to the City Council which hit the skids last night with the Mayor basically telling people that the cost of the new construction will be fifty million more than reconstruction of the old building.  Really, there are three old buildings.  One was built in 1893, one in 1922, and one in 1983.

The 1893 building had the best construction.  It still lasts.  The 1922 building had an asbestos problem back in the 1990’s and six million dollars was spent on ridding the building of the problem, according to a high level retired official.  The 1983 building is the problem.  The building is new, but the construction is not good.  The roof leaks in the gym.  Problems exist with the swimming pool.  That area is basically the problem.

Another song describes the way the problem was handled for years.  I do not know the name of the song, but many of you probably do.  It goes, “Dream on, dream on, dream until your dream comes true.”  If you could tell me who wrote that song I would be happy.  I do not know, I just remember that part of it from the radio.  Anyway, Lowell has sunk some money into the new building, to no avail.  We are basically dreaming until our dream comes true.

The first question I asked in all of this was why we did not sue the 1983 contractor?  That did not go over well.  Millions have been spent on that building and fixing it has never happened.   I pointed it out to John Glenn with pride when it was 1984.  It bombed quickly.  I probably should have asked Senator Glenn for help, but who knew what would happen?

Anyway, as stated, the 1983 building just leaked.  The air conditioning never worked, the heat was a problem, but the building itself handles thousands of students a day.  It looks, smells, and acts like a high school.  I could fit four hundred books into the book racks on the side of the classroom and have thirty five desks for my students.

The one thing I never noticed about that building was that the Chemistry Department did not teach, from my perspective, in the lab rooms.  The lab rooms were not used for laboratory experiments.  People have taken this to be a problem with the labs.  They  seemed fine to me, and I was across the hall from them.  They were used as academic classrooms.  Not as laboratories.  Now, that may be the one lab room across from my homeroom, but I just observed it.  I have no idea if things happened earlier or later.  But one of the reasons for a new high school was the lack of lab time.

I am not certain that the high school needs to be new entirely.  Some problems were intrinsic to the building.  Some were man-made.  Some were caused by outside factors.  Like the lack of air conditioning.  Or the problems with heat in the winter.

I am not totally convinced that Lowell needs a new high school.  I think it does.  But it is not always using the best of the existing structure.  I taught in the 1983 building and I loved it.  I worked almost all of my time in the building and received almost entirely rave reviews.  Perhaps one middle-of-the-road one, but virtually all superior.

It was terrible when I went to see a basketball game in the Fieldhouse and the snow leaked through the roof.  The students could not play.  But that was a symptom, not the disease.  The high school is a high school.  It is big, it needs construction, and it can hold the entire sophomore, junior, and senior classes.   The freshman class takes place in the Freshman Academy.  All of my kids went to Lowell High School, as did I.

The point I am trying to make is that the high school, despite all of its problems, does not need three hundred thirty million dollars in repairs.  It can expand onto land taken in eminent domain cases.  It needs a tunnel to the parking garage.  Three of my fellow teachers got hit by cars trying to cross the walkway and they and the kids need a tunnel.  They need air conditioning, they need adequate heat.  They need a new fieldhouse.  But this is a poor city, with a large immigrant population.  We cannot afford all of the perks being tossed about by the City Fathers.  We cannot afford the fifty million dollars difference in taxes on a newly constructed school.

Finally, Amazon recently put up their world headquarters and it is going to cost an estimated fifty million dollars.  For the entire complex.  We are saying this school should  be made for 350,000,000.00 dollars.  Let us find out what Amazon did.  Maybe we can learn something.

My final word is that we cannot afford to use up any more green space to make school buildings.  If you need a school building, buy the lot and build on the lot, like UMASS-LOWELL does.  We do not have to eat up green space, and we do not have to spend millions of dollars we do not have.  I just paid off my mortgage, and I am looking forward to excessive taxes from this effort.  I was looking forward to a respite, but Lowell does not give them.  The City Council just raised the taxes by 5%.  That is enough of  an increase.

John Glenn’s Visit to Lowell, Massachusetts

The John Glenn story was magical.  Paul Tsongas had cancer, but no one knew except family.  John Glenn did not know.   In order to keep up the facade Paul enlisted me to greet and bring John Glenn down Merrimack Street to Shattuck Street where we were to take the left and meet Paul next to the big wheel at the Mack Building.  I met Presidential hopeful John Glenn  in front of the SUN Building, the newspaper headquarters, not the skyscraper.  Somebody in the Fairburn Building, head stuck out a convenient window, yelled down to Channel 5 reporter, Mary  Richardson, “Hey Mary, you’re great!”  Other than that the initial crowd was very respectful and kind.

Suddenly, the Ohio Senator stepped out of a car, greeted me and we got ready to walk down Merrimack Street.  City Manager Joe Tully, had gotten the two block walk downtown bare of crowds.  John  Glenn was going to walk down an empty Merrimack Street with just me as company.  I was in heaven.  John Glenn was taller than I thought, or I was smaller than I thought.  We walked with purpose down Merrimack Street and I told the Senator the history of each building we passed, especially St. Anne’s Church.  At first, we did not talk, so I gathered it was my duty to tell him about the history of the area.  I told him about the death of Kirk Boott in front of St. Anne’s.  He was interested.  I pointed over to the high school.  I talked about the 1893 building and pointed out the new high school wing.  I also talked about the new and old City Halls.  He did not have many questions.  It kept going to my head that I was escorting an American Icon down the street.  Finally in front of Palmer’s Ice Cream, he asked about the mill girls and I answered as best as I could.

No one was on the street to take my picture with the first American to orbit the earth.  He did it three times.  I kind of regreted that, although there was, in the next day’s Lowell SUN, a picture of Mr. Glenn with my father directly behind him.  I concluded that my father was a photo hound.

Eventually, it was time to turn onto Shattuck Street and there was a huge crowd held back by a police line.  Paul popped out of the big wheel and smiled broadly, Mr. Glenn smiled just as broadly.  My solitary walk with John Glenn was over.  We went to the Market Mills, John Glenn pleased with the size of the crowd.  He stood on the ramp in front of the LTC and gave a speech.  I remember he said, “You know, I have to call members of the Senate ‘Honorable’ but there is one man here that needs to be called ‘Honorable’ and I mean it.  Paul Tsongas is honorable.  He is one of the few members of the Senate to be called ‘Honorable.’     Paul beamed.

We went into the Market Mills, with Paul and then it was time for Mr. Glenn to tour the Wannalancit Mills with his wife Annie.  Vicki and I were picked to accompany the solitary Annie Glenn throughout the newly fixed Wannalancit Mills.

I remember a man, unknown to me, handing the Senator the book, “The Right Stuff,” which Mr. Glenn did not like because he did not like the depiction of himself.  Still, John Glenn stopped and signed it.  That man died a few years ago, and his book is worth something now.

The thing I remember was that Annie Glenn’s famous stutter did not happen in the entire tour we gave her, and she was very talkative.  She was gracious and funny and lucid.  I really enjoyed her company.

That was a chapter out of the scrapbook I keep of Mr. Glenn in 1963 when he went into space.  I got to take him on a walk.  It was great to be related to Paul Tsongas, that was for sure.  The most famous pilot in history walked down the street with me and I was proud to be honored as his tour guide.

IMMIGRATION AND THE U.S.A.

I believe in open borders and greatly miss the Open Canadian/United States border we enjoyed when were younger.  Times pass, people change, and Illegal Aliens settle in the United States of America.  But, not every alien is an illegal and it is that dichotomy that causes us to hesitate on emergency acts in the country.  I did a major blog, which I have been willing to discuss for a year now, all without fruition, and we conveniently forget who we are and how we got here.

 

    John Kennedy said it best in his book on immigration.  He noted the large group of immigrants who moved here from Ireland, something like 47 million people in forty years during the 1800’s.  His great-nephew recently made the observation that he would not be allowed into the country now with the anti-illegal immigrant laws on the books.  Joseph Kennedy sounded wise beyond his age when he spoke on his rights as a citizen of the United States.  His uncle said, that “Each new wave of immigration helped meet the needs of American development and made its distinctive contribution to American character.”  Imagine how foreign Italian mafia lords must have looked to our great-grandfathers in the 1900 to 1940 range.  Imagine, people who shoot their own kind for profit?  How foreign was that?  We are scared now, but given what passed before us, how scared can we be?

 

    JFK said, “The Irish were in the vanguard of the great waves of immigration to arrive during the nineteenth century.   They had replaced England as the chief source of new settlers making up forty four percent of the foreign born in the United States.”  There is very little in common between the Irish and the English they replaced.  And what about those English?  They come here, fight the first immigrants, the Native Americans, and take over their inheritance settling millions on Native American soil.  In fact, the Native Americans cannot understand the idea that you can own land.  In their religion(s), land was like the sky.  It could not be owned.  Now we say that we can control even the sky.

 

    “They were mostly country folk, small farmers, cottagers, and farm laborers. My great great great ad nauseum grandfather traveled here from Ireland to escape the law in Ireland.  Not that he was a master criminal, he just did not believe that the English could control Ireland.  Now that is called a patriot.  He came over with his wife and four children.  Eventually, he and his wife would parent eleven children, most born in Canada.  That is where he served as a slave (indentured servant), to a Canadian who’s last name started with a “D.”  He had to put in so many years, nineteen of them, because he had to pay for his, his wife’s, and his four children’s passage to America.  Eventually he paid off his bill and he left Canada for the plains of South Dakota, taking with him his Conestoga wagon and his wife and eleven children for forty acres and a mule.  

 

    What we learn about our ancestors heightens us.  It makes us larger than life.  The first Lowell Irish were the only ones crazy enough to handle using gunpowder to dig the canals of rock.  The Irish eventually did safer things, but not what we would call “safe.”   They moved the canal rock to build an Episcopalian Church, St. Anne’s, in downtown Lowell.  Mill girls were a step above the Irishmen  who blasted the canals.  Imagine digging so many miles of rock, solid rock, in order to build a church you would never be invited to attend.  Religion was, as Karl Marx once alluded to, the opiate of the masses.  By working the girls for six straight days and taking them to Episcopal Mass on the seventh, the mill owners felt that they had their lives in hand.  Little did they know, to Kirk Boott’s astonishment, that the girls would be willing to go to school after work let out of the mills and on Sunday’s.  Boott felt it was just short of madness.  Theodore Edson, the Pastor of St. Anne’s Church, was the first publicly  elected school official in Lowell.

He spoke to the girls every Sunday, in ways that railed against the mill owner’s interests.  He was there when the girls went to school, and when they started the first girl’s bank in Lowell, the famous Lowell Institution for Savings.

 

    We are at an awful bend in the road of immigration reform.  We have often cleared out illegal immigrants.  We even took a group of Japanese-Americans and moved them into concentration camps because they were part Japanese.  It did not matter, as it does not matter now, that they were more American than Japanese.  We just felt comfortable with them out of the way in California.   So we moved them east, into large towns, often called concentration camps,  occupied by Japanese-Americans.

 

    The Irish played a brand of politics that we do not necessarily understand but laugh about today.  One example was the most intelligent piece of mayhem in American politics.  “Honey Fitzgerald,” JFK’s well-loved grandfather, was being challenged by a man who was urging people to write him on the ballot, since he had not had the necessary number of signatures on his paperwork.  “Honey Fitz” convinced the printer, who was his friend, to not put glue on the back of the stamps with the man’s name printed on them.  Each ballot was gathered at the election precinct and each ballot had the man’s name fall off of them.  JFK thought it was a good story about electioneering and how far the people would go to get elected to an office.  It was a good story about how far the third generation Irish would go to get their opponents off of the ballot.  Imagine how it played to those people whose forefathers had settled in the 1700’s.   It must have been a terrible breach of the election game.

 

    This entire immigration scandal is a terrible divide of the morality dictated by the forefathers.  Indeed, in the immigration question, no one is right and no one is wrong.  We have done it all before.  We cannot say that the Muslims have no right to settle here.  Mexicans, who are starving, are going to traverse our boundaries.  We have better homes and food than they can get in their native country.  We suffer under the assumption that everyone basically has a good heart and good values.  No matter how frustrated we get, we believe in the basic goodness of the people.  That does not necessarily mean that we believe in perfect goodness.  We have jails, courts and other processes.  If you really want to know how to handle the masses, go to a Registry of Motor Vehicles office.  There, no one is special.  Let people emigrate, let them immigrate.  That is how our forefathers did it.   And accept the fact that no one whether English or Irish, or Muslim or Greek, is worth more in the eyes of the law.    We have all had the  opportunity to make our mistakes according to the mores of the first people who emigrated to America.  And, in war or in peace, we have all had the opportunity to fix our mistakes.  Let’s allow those who have come after us to have the same protections we were allowed.

 

    That is basically my stand on immigration.  It is very close to the usual American beliefs.

 

Meanderings on Dr. Khelfaoui, Ph.D

A long, long time ago, as Don McClean says in his iconic “American Pie,” I was born into a family that was adhered to education.  My father, at the time, was getting himself in trouble for writing against Joe McCarthy’s views on Commies in the government.  This was at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa.  After obtaining his Master’s Degree in Administrative Education, he became the youngest School Superintendent in Iowa.  At twenty six years of age, he took over the rural school in Cosgrove, Iowa.  Now Cosgrove was mostly a town which catered to the surrounding farms.  There were twenty six people in the town, and television was a brand new invention so it did not cover a small Iowan school district.  We had a television but because we were so far away from the station, I grew up without television.  I learned from my father, he made special toys for us, and we greatly admired him.  I even learned to clap my hands from him.  He used to cup his hands to make a louder clap than the other men in town.  I was a young boy there in Cosgrove.  I grew up in a town with a small population – including eight nuns and one priest in the town.  They were part of the twenty-eight.  I was very proud of him when he brought home a rowboat that he had built himself.  I thought it was beautiful.

I grew up with a Superintendent of Schools as my father.  Every new idea he learned at the University of Iowa doctoral program  was practiced on me.  After years of trying, he got his Ph.D and we had the best party I have ever been to when he got his degree.  One of my friends stole a cigarette from his father, and I learned not to smoke that night.  A neighbor watching us trying burst into laughter as we burned ourselves trying to light up.  Fortunately, I never did smoke cigarettes.  However, it was one of my lessons of my young life. And, it happened on the day my father became Dr. Wayne R. Peters.  Quite an accomplishment for a man whose father had always been a blacksmith.

I was very proud of my father.  He was neat.  He gained a reputation as a reformer.  He instituted many changes in his school district.  It was exciting.  Years after Cosgrove, he became the Superintendent of Schools in Lowell, Massachusetts, a depressed milltown in the northern part of the state.  I think he was a magnificient superintendent.  He found thirty three classrooms not being used in Lowell High School.  He fought the two unions that then existed.  He started a Modified Open Campus to decrease overcrowding because he knew that Lowell could not afford new school buildings.  There was no tax base for that type of expenditure,  I believe there is no tax base for the “new” high school that can afford an estimated 100 to 150 million dollar expenditure.  I believe the existing building must be fixed and brought up to code.  But, that money will not necessarily come from the state, the city must spend a great deal of money getting prepared for the state’s largesse.  It will not be easy.

Now, that is how I feel about my legendary father.  The Lowell “SUN” stated that “The selection of Dr. Peters came after an extensive search for a highly qualified man.”  In its editorial on the movement to deny him tenure, the “SUN” said, ‘We believe that Dr. Peters has done a creditable job and, with greater cooperation could have accomplished more in the past three years.”   I agree with that assessment .

Where am I going with this.  It is really very simple.  I believe that Dr. Salah Khelfaoui Ph.D has also been doing a very creditable job during his short tenure thusfar in the city.  He is facing a School Committee that denied him a contract recently when Robert Gignac changed his promised vote to a negative one after promising the reformers that he would vote for the Superintendent’s contract.  This action reminded me of those people who voted against my father’s obtaining tenure.  It was the same type of mischief.

I told Dr. Khelfaoui that I firmly believed, and this is not to put anyone down, it is just an observation by a former teacher and administrator that he is the best Superintendent that we have had since my father learned how to play politics in Lowell.  His first year and one-half has resulted in a reintegration of the Citywide Parent Council, a slew of Parent Teacher Organizations, a review of the busing practices, a potential new High School, an effort by Robert Hoey to get fair pay for the para-professionals who act as teachers during the classroom teacher’s meetings, sick-days, Field Trips, etc.  Everyone, it seems, is aware of the fact that para-professionals are paid poorly.  Nothing is done to rectify the situation.

The teachers are paid far more equitably and get a living wage.  Para-professionals make far less, and many have four year degrees or are working towards them, in the field of education.  Dr. Khelfaoui is strongly aware of the discrepancies between what should be and what actually exists.  This man meets with me every month during “Peters’ Principles,”  We get a chance to talk a lot about education, something I have known about since I was about three years old and my father used to get me a carton of chocolate milk everyday.  Now, it is possible that that violated an Iowan law, but my understanding is that now we feed every child in the system.  Yesterday, the newspaper stated that Mr. Gignac and Mr. Hoey were examining the daily lunch for “quality,”  As one person said to me, what about taste?  Does the lunch taste good, as well as be of high quality?  Perhaps Mr. Gignac  can find out.

This is the best Superintendent since my father.  My father was so popular in Lowell that he got five thousand votes more than his second place challenger.  Mrs. Stoklosa was the second place challenger, and she was always gracious about that level of bullet-voting.  She never begrudged my father  his accomplishment.  She was a wonderful lady.

So, this is where I am coming from – First, Dr. Khelfaoui deserves a contract.  Second, the schools must give the man a chance, at least three more years, to institute his ideas for the curriculum.  Third, he needs the support of the most jaded School Committeeman or woman.  Finally, he deserves our respect for doing a tremendously difficult job with a staff that has been trimmed in order to save money on salaries.  Denying him a contract for no stated logical reason is the epitome of bad taste.  This man is essential to Lowell at this time and he is the person I want to see manning the wheel during a time when the city seems confused.  If, in the end, he cannot do the job, we at least must give him the chance to show his mettle.  Those Committeemen and Women who do not support him owe us an explanation as to why they feel that way.  He does not deserve to be denied a contract at the last minute for no given, or a sparsely legitimized, reason.

Constitutionality and James Madison

I keep a copy of the Constitution on my body virtually all of the time, except when sleeping perhaps.  The reason for this is because I spend a great deal of time with friends who are Republicans, and they are often wrong in their interpretation of a section of the Constitution I believe.  I read the actual document to them.  For instance, they all think the Second Amendment protects the ownership of firearms.  I generally point out that the Constitution protects the rights of the average man to own a gun.  But, it does not protect a man’s right to own a nuclear weapon.  There are definitely restrictions on certain automatic weapons, nuclear weapons, and chemical weapons.  I live in the state with the hardest law governing gun ownership.  It has not been overturned, despite its lack of allegiance to Article Fifteen of the Massachusetts Constitution, which also states that the right to keep and bear arms is sacrosanct.  Yet, despite that, Massachusetts residents have not appealed to the state courts to use Amendment Fifteen and free the right to bear arms.  It is not only protected by the state, it is protected by the U.S. Constitution.  And yet, we buy off on certain corrolaries to the law.

Here is what the Constitution says on the Second Amendment.  It says that the right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed and that the gun can be used to ensure the formation of a local military regiment.  The gun serves a purpose, in the Constitution.  It is there to guarantee that the average man can protect himself in an organized way, as in the formation of a militia.  Hence, each city and town, or even persons interested in the right to keep and bear arms (that phrase is catchy, isn’t it?) can form a regiment to challenge the laws of the Federal government.  Shay’s Rebellion struck down much of that interpretation and people left the rebellion defeated.

We cannot possibly guarantee that every miscreant on American ground has the right to form a militia.  But that is exactly what is in the Second Amendment.  Specifically the amendment says that “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security o a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”  The Fathers wanted to solidify the rights of the people to revolt against their government when the government became too overbearing.  The rights correlate with the right to protect your home from the government when it was too strong, or, as I said, too overbearing.

We often equate our right to keep and bear arms with the use of certain arms that are not legal in today’s society.  In the early 1970’s, a college student passed in as his dissertation, how he would use common materials to build a working atomic bomb.  He was visited by the FBI, the Secret Service, and persons from the military.  He had a working recipe for splitting an atom with sufficient force that it would do what the Hiroshima  bomb did to Hiroshima.  The government did not arrest him, if memory serves me right, but did make sure that he would do nothing further to exacerbate a dangerous situation.  He agreed not to share his plan, and not to build a bomb.  But Constitutionally he was within his rights to “keep and bear arms.”   He did not form a militia, he seemed like a normal student who guessed accurately how to make the most feared weapon ever devised by man.  And, I would argue that he was within his constitutional rights to do so.  There is no limitation on procurement or technology in the Second Amendment.

Enough about the Second Amendment.  It is well-reasoned that guns are legal.  That does not cover the Constitution, however.  There are now twenty-seven Amendments to the Constitution.  Some freed slaves, while others mitigated by an attempt to soften some of the laws in the Constitution, did other things that righted some of the oversights in the document.  Immigration policy was part of that movement, I believe.

Women were given the right to vote.  A right to vote was guaranteed to all citizens except those who were felons.  The Constitution was used to fix small but basic impediments to daily life.  The poll tax was deemed unconstitutional, I think.  Many items that we now take for granted were first espoused in the Constitutional Amendments.  It always puzzled me that the Equal Rights Amendment was given a time-line for passage.  Most amendments were not so laden.

Now, I am going to take a minute to make a twist in my thought processes.  So often, I have heard people lament that we have no record of what the original framers of the Constitution wanted to include, or omit, from the document.  I have been reading a book on the viability of the Constitutional Convention.  I have concluded that we know exactly what the forefathers wanted and we have it to the finest point in James Madison’s Minutes of the Constitutional Convention.  James Madison spent every day of the convention taking down elaborate notes which included precise quotes from the people who were writing the Constitution.  The only person he failed to quote was George Washington.  How could he make such a slip?  Washington did not speak to the Convention.  Other than that, Madison has everyone’s nuances.

I have a tome (book) called “Messages and Papers of the Presidents,” and in it Madison was one of the best writers of his time.   When describing the taking of American sailors off of their ships illegally, Madison says, “In this new posture of our relationships with those powers, the consideration of Congress will be properly turned to a removal of doubts which may occur in the exposition and of difficulties in the execution of the act above cited.” (Page 469)

I use that passage to prove that Madison could write, and do it well.  If we take time to study what Madison wrote about his fellow delegates, I believe we can ascertain what the forefathers were contemplating.  They had minor matters that took front stage, including the use of different money in each individual state.  There was discussion of that, although I do not believe it ever became an amendment.  There was a great deal of discussion of state’s rights, taxation, and slavery.  However, the slavery question was not as it would seem.  Massachusetts did not reject slavery until 1802.  It was a hot topic.

So let’s tell our elected representatives to take a few minutes to see what Madison wrote about the formation of the Constitution.  The answers are right there, staring back at us.  We can finally do what has not happened in America, we can interpret the Constituion based on its history.  That would be something.

I have had a few requests for some advertising here and there, so this is the blog with the advertising in it.  First, the Talbot House Inn (photo below) is a bed and breakfast of first class character and owned by my sister, Elizbeth Henry.  Not Elizabeth, her first name is spelled correctly.  She owns a huge building and a building down the street.  She is very imaginative and really rebuilt a declining old mansion and turned it into a wonderful overnight stay type of place.  She gets a lot of traffic so it is good to book your vacation early.  Anyway, the picture of the Talbot House Inn and the front of her brochure is found below.  It is an honor to have such a hard-working sister.  The house includes five rooms with private baths; Twin, Full, and Queen size beds and a full breakfast included.  The rates are very reasonable, especially when compared to a motel stay in a quiet Maine town.  There is a 15% military discount, probably because her husband was active in the Army and retired as a Lieutenant Colonel two years ago.  You can visit them on Facebook and TripAdvisor.  Enjoy yourselves!

talbothouse