Monthly Archives: September 2015

Schools of the 1870’s

We are skipping an important period of time in this blog. We will get the school history of the post-Civil War era and the implementation of curriculum and our method of coping with the losses of the war. But, in order to do this, we have to find the necessary documents, which have not been easy to acquire. So today we skip a decade, to the late 1880’s. This was a period of great growth in the schools, with the addition of three new junior high schools, which were the Varnum, the Moody, and the Butler. There were various changes to the school system; new buildings like the new Green School, built with the same name as its predecessor, which was built next to a tannery where they made leather out of dead animal skin. The stench was such that they felt they had to move the original wooden building and build another.

Another school that was then new was the grammar school named after Lowell’s most famous cleric. He was said to be the Cardinal that they patterned the person in the famous movie, “The Cardinal,” after, a seasoned veteran of politics perhaps learned in the political atmosphere of Lowell, even back then. Cardinal O’Connell has a fountain dedicated to him next to City Hall. He was a great clergyman who is remembered through history as the clergyman who was as famous as John Eliot, the man who converted the local Native American to temporary Anglicanism. Temporary because the Chief chose to return to his Native American religion later in life. That religion made him a God, who could supposedly take the form of fire when in his home.

The High School took many hits in the early days. The Superintendent in the early 1800’s closed the high school for a period of months because “It may be observed that if all of the schools then in operation were continued…the expenditure would exceed the sum granted…By closing the High School a greater response was curtailed.” (The Minutes of the Lowell School Committee). So the high school was closed in January, saving the cost of heating and keeping teachers.

By 1888, the School Committees Standing Committees included:

1. Accounts
2. School Hours and Hygiene
3. Teachers
4. Referrals and Printing
5. Books and Supplies
6. Salaries
7. Penmanship and Drawing
8. Music
9. Evening Schools
10. Rules and Regulations

Schools consisted of the Varnum, the Prince, the Green, the Reform School, the Colburn, the Franklin, the Bartlett, the Moody, and the Pine Street schools.
Grammar schools consisted partly, but not only of the Race Street, Cabot Street, and the Highland Schoolhouse (I told you that one existed, but this is the first time I could prove it). There was also a Committee on School Houses. Imagine how the system would be now if all of these committees still existed.

Lands and buildings were overseen by the city, and to this day, there is an ordinance which states that the land the schools are built upon are owned by the city, not the School Department. The Superintendent of Public Buildings oversaw the condition of the buildings and their location. My father taught me that when I was still in high school.

In a lighter observation, it was voted on a motion by Dr. Osgood that the privys should be inspected at each school house, with part of the motion reading, “what changes are needed to improve their sanitary conditions.” This motion was designed to “make them suitable for the accomodations of the scholars.” (School Committee Minutes of 1888).

Meetings started at “Seven thirty o:clock.” There was at this meeting an observation that the Committee on Sanitary Conditions needed more time and they were granted more time. (Page 7, ibid.)

A Mr. French and Miss Hattie petitioned the School Committee grant them inclusion in the Lowell High School system because they both hailed from Tewksbury. It was decided to include them for a stipend. They had to pay a fee.
They also had to pass an examination, showing they were fit for inclusion in the High School.

The School Committee was based on the then-used Alderman system of elections and they were voted in by geographical area. Now the system is broad-based and prone to vote in a city wide election of School Committeemen and women. The High School Committee, it was recognized, had full powers.

Teachers were certified by Committee. They liberally used Executive Sessions in their governing of the school system. The classes available were:

1. Writing
2. Drawing
3. Music
4. Reading
5. Spelling
6. Geography
7. Grammar
8. Arithmetic

Those were the components of the curriculum. They are not broken down into individual expectations. In the first few blogs on the school system it was not easy to discover what the curriculum was about, or where and how students were placed. This list provides us with a fairly comprehensive view of the interests of the day. There is a great change in teaching how you learn, but very little change in the subjects which were taught. Lowell was intensely interested in what was taught and it must be surmised, how it was taught.

While local newspapers carried the news of the war, the School Committee, in its efforts to allow the war to have little effect on the learning and new lessons, implemented educational changes that altered forever the goals of the local school population. One of the most important changes was the building of a new Greene School, necessitated by overcrowding and the fumes of a local tannery nearby.

While admitting that the lack of educatinal progress was offset by education and its processes, the Superintendent noted that, in spite of or perhaps because of the Civil War, “…the cherished and noble plan (of educational excellence) was passing through fierce trials.” (Superintendent’s Report, 1862) “The plan,” he explained, “was to provide a decent education to all who wanted it. In spite of the conflict, idle hands will not remain (cause to be) idle heads.” (ibid.)

In order to do that, or guarantee that, the school system, continued to offer both evening and morning classes, with vocational curriculum being the mainstay of the evening classes (an academic offering still existed), academic pursuits continued as the core of the daytime program.

It is my belief that the educational system in Lowell follows a pattern. In an earlier article, I quoted Vesna Nuon, who forcefully shared his plan for the Lowell School Department and said that it was best to be interested in what type of teacher existed in the classroom. Classrooms, he felt, should be forcefully filled with learning.

I personally believe that in Lowell, there are patterns to our education of students. Whether they are in high school or working on their GED, there are peaks and valleys. The peaks are somewhat manic, while the valleys are somewhat depressed. It is up to the current Superintendent to make learning engaging and important. In the 1990’s, with the rebuilding of new schools, we were at a peak. With the introduction of new learning tools, such as the Core Curriculum, we still need to learn whether or not we are in a valley. Lawrence outscored Lowell last year by seventeen cities. Seventeen cities outscored Lowell from Lawrence. That cannot happen again.

We weather the valleys and we move on. The question remains, “How do we press on,” and how did we do it in earlier times. The School Committee Minutes state that we did so through sheer tenacity. We were in a fratricidal war, but we maintained our school system. In fact, it grew. We maintained academic prowess while hundreds of Lowellians went to war, leaving wives, children, and friends to continue the process of living. Questions abound. What was it like at the time? How did we continue our core curriculum? What did the school department offer its students? How did we progress?

We kept largely to the script of academic excellence, as opposed to vocational excellence. Academic pursuits entailed learning more than the “three R’s.” Lowell High School offered different programs to its academic group. Today we have the “Latin Lyceum.” Then we taught philosophy and the classics. When Lowell is attacked in its curriculum, it often moves in the direction of academics. Plato, Aristotle, Shakespeare all play a role. The history of our country is often emphasized. In the middle of the sixties and early seventies, while Lowell often missed its mark academically, Final Exams were begun. English History was taught by Wyman Trull, a truly great academic. Typing and Spelling were taught but not emphasized by the Guidance Department. In my experience, academic classes were the track that most took while trying to get into college.

That is my blog for today. We will jump into the 1870’s next to determine what the average student saw in his or her curriculum.

This article was submitted by Veasna Nuon.

Opiate Addiction

Families are destroyed by opiate addiction every day. It not only impacts the addict
but also their families and society as a whole. I don’t think there’s anyone who can’t tell you
of a family member, a friend, a neighbor, or a friend of a neighbor who hasn’t dealt with this
challenge. It is a crisis impacting our community on multiple levels.
So what can we do to prevent this? I believe policy makers, healthcare providers,
educators, legislators, those in the criminal justice system, and recovery systems, and all of us
need to pull together toward real solutions because battling this crisis will take all of us
working together. This is a public health issue so we need to find ways to clear the waiting
lists and get treatment for these folks; that’s our best hope. Education programs help to
inform people of the risks associated with drugs. The more educated people are of the
negatives causes and effects of opiate addiction, the less likely they would be to pursue that
dangerous path. But education programs only go so far, a longer-term solution to opiate
addiction prevention will only occur when the government increases its involvement. The first
step would be better surveillance and tracking of the source of drug suppliers, finding out
who are the parties responsible for putting these drugs on our streets.
Until then, it’s up to responsible parents and community leaders to keep the epidemic
in check. That, certainly, is not easy. We need everyone to be vigilant about what is
happening in each other’s lives and what is causing people to turn to drugs. The time to help
those who are suffering and protect the rest is now. Our community cannot continue to
suffer at the hands of opiate addiction.