I have spent my entire life in public sector schools, except for one and one-half years in a Catholic School in Superior, Wisconsin. In most of those schools my father was the Superintendent. Once, for a half of one year he was the principal, but usually he was the Superintendent. School politics was the name of the game at our dinner table, and I grew up not trusting Teacher’s Unions. I am still that way today and I admit that I am not much of a union type. In fact, in Lowell a few years ago, I was slammed for pointing out the obvious, that public sector unions cannot go on strike. That is all that I said, but by the reaction I received from some teachers, you would think that I had dropped the atom bomb.
Education has been one of my longest-standing employers, I was voted head of the Parent’s Council in Lowell, I got two degrees in the subject, including my Graduate degree in English. I taught History for fifteen years and taught English in Catholic school for three years. I was a Principal for two. So, when I came to Lowell from Harvey, Illinois I spent hours in the archive room of the Memorial Library reading about Lowell’s history in education. It is stellar. Things that were not even thought of by other school systems were tried in Lowell almost two hundred years ago. One thing that I learned was that Lowell had one of the first K through 8 schools in the country. It was called the Highland School and was situated near the site of the current Morey School building. Whether it actually had a Kindergarten component is still a bit of a mystery to me, but it definitely taught children from the first grade on.
That is not to say it was the size of the Laura Lee or Riverside or Colburn schools. It was probably something close to a one-room schoolhouse located in the Highlands section of Lowell. But it had a curriculum based on a 1 through 8 model. And, the article said that it had school teacher who was proficient through the Eighth Grade. In those days you could be a school teacher with a seventh grade education. You could be a woman, but if you got married, you had to retire because of your student’s natural curiousity about procreation.
So, where does that leave us? I believe it would be safe to say it leaves us in a male-dominated culture, in which women were given the opportunity to teach. Every Saturday the Superintendent sat with the teachers and they reviewed « White’s Pedagogy » together. Everyday, teachers had to sweep their one-room schoolhouse clean, stoke their own stoves, and do all of the maintenance work on the building. If they did not do all of that extra work they were not considered good teachers. And, there was very little keeping a school « marm » from being fired at a moment’s notice. The Superintendent had a fairly safe job, as did the higher ranking male counterparts, but the female school teacher had very little protection.
Oh, and since they did not have school nurses back in 1828, the greater part of cleaning up for sick children fell on the school teacher
The mill owners placed great emphasis on the schools One was even heard to observe that he would rather have a young boy work the mills after having gone to school than have him slinging horse manure into a cart which kept the downtown attractive. The technical school was the result of that line of argument and Lowell had one of the first technical schools in lower-level grades in the nation..