Monthly Archives: December 2015

Education – The Meeting House of Our Society

The title is taken from Paul Tsongas’ campaign booklet, “A Call to Economic Arms,” which was written in 1991 for the 1992 election for the Presidency of the United States. In the book, Paul did something that no one has done as well since, he wrote out what he felt the major problems were in the United States and spelled out how he would work to fix them, if he was elected President. Paul was the candidate who saw the death of Social Security if it continued to be borrowed from, despite the fact that it was a fund into which each of us contributed. He had other ideas, and sometime I will take the time to write down his specific ideas, hopefully in a biography.

Paul Tsongas was a prolific writer, and he had many ideas about education. “Education…(he said), everyone is for it. It is the motherhood and apple pie issue…Well, at least the rhetoric would suggest so. The reality is quite different.” (Page 32)

President Bush said in his defeat of Michael Dukakis, that he wanted to be the “Education President.” Paul wrote, “Money for serious funding of schools? That’s really a local and state issue…that is how we think in America.” (ibid.) Democrats, he wrote, love to talk about it but ask them to fund it, and you just might get a reactions that is “purposely false.” Improvements to education, “…to many Democrats means alot more money.” It does not mean, he stated, serious structural reform. Merit pay and teacher competence standards are offensive to some teacher unions. He goes on to cite things like Boston’s takeover of the Chelsea Schools, and uniforms for students, ideas that are dated today. “This is to argue that new and radical concepts need to be tested.”

He wanted executives in many fields to talk about the last time they went to the urban schools and visited them. He bet that the answer would be few and far between. What was necessary was “…initiatives that would reduce taxes and devastate public education.(Page 33) When a person had a good idea about education, he warned, “Political realities intruded.” (ibid.) Students who cannot or do not vote, “have no counter-attack capability.” Further, he stated, “Let’s criticize bold ideas after they have found to be flawed, not before they are tested.” In short, he was daring America to make education a stable part of the American economy.

We must all get to know what the inside of a classroom looks like, he thought. Political leaders must make this strata part of the “Meeting house of our society.”

The focus of our efforts should be, he said, in the pre-Kindergarten stage. The second would be in the area of skills training. Not everyone wants to go to college, and there must be some form of across-the-board skills training which rewards students who want to be in manufacturing and related areas. Benjamin Franklin was known for his efforts in this vocational training. Thomas Jefferson was an academic.

Samuel Eliot Morrison wrote a History book entitled “Growth of the American Republic,” in which he stated that “The most tangible social gain during this period of ferment was in popular education.” ( Oxford University Press 1962; New York, NY)

Everyone has a little Abraham Lincoln in them. People may not write their lessons on wooden shovels anymore, or teach themselves to read, or become a great orator, a great lawyer, a great debater, and President of the United States, but they can teach themselves bits and pieces of all of these things. Education was and is very important in our home and in my parent’s and my wife’s parent’s homes. I was once given a box of books by an older lady who dropped them off for my family. I read everyone of them. I learned history, and English, and I became a voracious reader. I understood Abraham Lincoln’s love of the written word and why, after borrowing a book from a friend who lived nine miles away, he finished the book and brought it back in a snowstorm. I realized at a later age that his “You cannot live in a house divided” speech came from the New Testament in the Bible. He applied it to his 2nd. Inaugural speech, which is widely accepted as his second great speech, right behind “The Gettysburg Address.” In my opinion, we need to tie ourselves to books, any reading, within reason, is a good use of time.

Samuel Eliot Morrison said that, in order to appeal to the masses, Preacher Jonathan Edwards wrote three books while he was teaching the Native Americans, “The Nature of True Virtue,” “Original Sin,” and “Freedom of the Will.” Each was Calvinistic in character, but that was not necessarily a bad thing. His teachings gave churches of the time a “new lease on life.” (ibid.) “… Certain passages in his works express the “Supreme importance of (man’s) relationship with God.” Edwards was known for his desire to see the Pilgrims and their descendants taught to read. The Pilgrims wanted their children to learn to read so they could pass on the stories in the Bible. So education in the New World was taught by each Pilgrim to his child or children. They were the people who taught us how important it was to read and write, and do Arithmetic.

We need to get serious about education. In Lowell, MA. we are contemplating a new addition to the high school or even a new high school. The Superintendent is new but aggressive and is trying to get parents working with the local schools to set standards and get information. He has established a local group of people who are interested in the schools to help him, and they seem to be ready to do so. He is looking at mandated testing, busing, and curriculum. He has appointed two of his employees to work with the parents and they seem very aggressive. It is a good thing.

Lowell has a high school that, in its first graduating class, saw 12 or 13 people graduate. Governor-to-be Benjamin Butler cited the fact that there was a highly competent surgeon in the ranks, many businessmen, and one Governor of New Hampshire. People used to pay to get into Lowell High School. It would be nice if that was still the suburban thing to do. Lowell High School also was the school that started to recognize the right of a girl to an education, a fight that still goes on throughout the world. They awarded separate awards to the “scholars” who worked hardest and got the best grades when they started the Carney Medals in 1857. Three women and three men received the awards upon graduation.

Tom Brokaw, the television anchorman who wrote “The Greatest Generation,” recognized the right of a serviceman and some servicewomen, to take advantage of the “G.I. Bill of Rights,” and many people in that generation went to college for no charge. Senator Elizabeth Warren of the U.S. Senate cites the need to help students out with the high cost of college but I have never read or heard of her citing the precedence in that bill. My father went to school under the GI Bill and got his doctorate. As far as I know, he never paid tuition, he was given the chance based on his WWII experiences in the U.S. Navy. He cites the activities of a man who became a Protestant minister at the age of seventy-nine using the GI Bill as his ticket. He also cites Art Buchwald, the humorist, who went to college without finishing high school at USC. Another man walked thirty blocks in NYC to get to college. He too, used the GI Bill.

Senator Mark Hatfield overcame his misconceptions about the people by serving with them in the US Navy. He voted against the War in Vietnam, Grenada, and the Persian Gulf. He was a highly principled man. Brokaw cites him because of his overlooking the more strident Republican voices and joining in across-the-aisle politics. He also became educated through the GI Bill.

So where am I going with this? I just want to point out that we are not always breaking new ground in the Congress. The GI Bill was widely supported and so should Senator Warren’s efforts to pay off some of our debt to colleges. I personally owe tens of thousands of dollars, not for my education, which I paid for at the time of my attendance, but for my children and their mother, five persons in all, who have tried to get better educated to conform to the requirements of their efforts to gain a good college education that makes them more employable. You have to go to college now to even start a normal job. My wife and my children try to give of themselves by working for the people in government, teaching, and being a paramedic first responder. We have paid over seventy thousand dollars to the United States government, and it is not getting cheaper to go, it is getting more expensive. We still have tens of thousands to go. Education in Abraham Lincoln’s time could make you a lawyer without going to law school. Try that now. You would be escorted out of the Admissions Office. Lincoln was not the only President to be from a log cabin but he is the best known. He taught himself, learned a lot, and never, in his own words, went to a serious school. If we are going to revere Lincoln, and we are, then we need to recognize the tremendous differences between the type of education that he received and the one we pay for on our own.

Christmas Meanderings

It is Christmas evening, which I guess can be confused with Christmas Eve(ning) but that is a stretch. I got everything I wanted, since I had no list of things that I desired. My family was with me, my mother was up from Naples, Florida, and we greatly enjoyed her company until she left with my older brother, Tom, and they spent some time together. So, it all worked out well. I got my mother a couple of books, a plant that I thought was a real Bonsai tree, but my son discovered that it was plastic. It looked real to me.

I also gave her a copy of 8MM films from our Peters family collection, during the years 1964 to 1974. It is amazing how technically advanced we are now. Everyone’s face was whited out by the huge lamp mounted on the movie camera. I remember being in the Annex to the Jordan Marsh Company when it was still in business. I worked in the Basement Store and they were selling out their 8MM cameras for $7.00, so I bought one for every adult in our house. I am the only one who ever used them. Now I am in high definition in Studio B at the LTC downtown. What a difference.

It would not be Christmas if I did not tell when the show is on. It airs on Wednesday at 7PM and on Monday at 9:30AM. That is for “Peters’ Principles.” The name came about because I have some principles and I like to discuss them with our local politicians, our merchants, and our recreational staff at the National Park Service.

So, back to Christmas. I got an electric dispenser for my hand cleaner. It automatically dispenses the cleaner. I was under strict instructions to spend wisely, which I did. Well, frugally at least. We will have to see how wise I was. With the upcoming Presidential elections, and a surging Donald Trump taking on Hilary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Sanders looks like he could take Iowa and New Hampshire. But those states are alot of fluff, in my opinion, because my experience in 1992 was that the Super Tuesday states are the ones that count. One day, my doctor said, “How does it feel being the brother-in-law of the Democratic front-runner?” It felt pretty good actually but it was fleeting. Paul called me on Super Tuesday and said on the phone, “Well, I lost Florida and Illinois, but you took Maryland and Massachusetts. How did that happen?” I had worked hard in both states. But, he had worked hard in the other states that day and had lost them. For a man who went all the way to the United States Senate never losing an election, it was sobering.

On my television shows, I always try to be polite and thoughtful with those who probably have little chance. I am very careful not to point that fact out. This election is coming much more quickly than others which seemed to come at a snail’s pace. Trump is scary, but when I saw him at the Tyngsboro speech, he had thousands in the “palm of his hand.” He made few mistakes. The only thing I remember is something I told a friend in Kentucky, that there were no minorities there. I did not see one nonEuropean American or African American. I did not see any on the bus after the speech either. I did see a crowd I would estimate to be at least consisting of 4,000 individuals.

So Christmas has given way to New Year’s and this being a Leap Year, like every Presidential year is, we will soon see the elections coming at us.

For New Year’s I will probably order Asian food and watch the “Three Stooges.” That is what I normally do, and I don’t see any major changes.

I have been reading my late brother-in-law’s campaign booklet, “A Call to Economic Arms,” and it is interesting history. Much of what is in it is now dated. It is doubtful that, in this current economy we would ever form UDAG grants for corporations like Wang Laboratories, Inc. I hated working at Wang and desperately wanted to go back to my previous employer, the Jordan Marsh Company. Computers were huge machines that held information in batch systems. Fortran, Cobol, Basic, and other languages had specific applications. Maybe they still do, i do not have much to do with current systems.

Well, that was not very much about Christmas. But, that is why this column is called “Meanderings.” You never know where my mind will end up. Often, it ends in the past. Tonight is one of those nights.

Curriculum in the 1800’s and Today

I have often written that little changes in the targets of proficiency and curricular adaptation. The courses taught in the 1860’s, if you have been reading my blog, were virtually the same as those offered today. If you have been reading it, then it is virtually the same then as it is now. The major differences are in our titles. We offer computer training now, which, of course, they did not have over one hundred years ago, let alone one hundred fifty years ago. But let’s take a little time to list those courses.

1865: Arithmetic
Manners and Morals
Voice Culture and Position
English (Tarbell’s)
History of the United States

2015: Primary and Kindergarten
Physical Training

In short, courses were similiar.

In 1826, to Kirk Boott’s dismay, the School Committee was chosen. It consisted of the Reverend Theodore Edson, Warren Colburn, Henry Coburn,Jr. , Nathaniel Wright, and John Fisher. Kirk Boott felt that he was covering every aspect of the individual’s needs, and he felt that they would be more inclined to work without the pull of school courses. But, they circumvented his fears, and founded a very ambitious working environment. He probably did not believe that the workers, the ladies, would be able to be curious about education in part because they worked on their feet for twelve to fourteen hours, took breakfast, lunch, and supper together. Who had time to learn?

History has determined that Kirk Boott was wrong in a number of areas, but this one was to take precedence due to his enmity with Dr. Theodore Edson, the School Committee Director and out-spoken critic of the mill labor system. One of his last acts, it is said, was to stand up in his chaisse and raise his fist to St. Ann’s in defiance of Dr. Edson. Kirk Boott then fell over dead on Merrimack Street.

One of the first things the new School Committee initiated was the opening of new schools and the teacher’s pay. Miss Field taught the school from April 17 to September 27, at 3.25 per week, board included.” (Illustrated History of Lowell, Mass.) “In 1828 the town appropriated $1200 for schools, of this District No 5 received $150.00.” (ibid.) The Appleton Mills opened in 1828 and the population of the local school burgeoned, numbering, in 1828, 169 scholars. (ibid.)

One of the primary tasks facing the new School Committee was the acquisition of a high school. The first graduates included a world-reknowned surgeon, the Governor of New Hampshire, and our own Governor and General Benjamin Butler, who made the statement that future seniors in high school would do well to be as driven in their studies as that first class.

On the opposite side of the spectrum was the new Kindergarten emphasis. Five year olds were admitted to Kindergarten 150 years before local towns would even entertain the idea of a Kindergarten.

“The committee are happy to state that the grammar schools are in a prosperous condition, the exercises being regulated with strict adherence to time.” (ibid.) I will try to attach a photograph of the Edson Grammer School in this blog.

The Washington School, which still exists in title, although in a much newer building, was founded in 1834. The high school took over a former grammar school on Middlesex Street for its first location. It was not uncommon for the high school to be pursued by persons from surrounding towns who were willing to pay extra to come to Lowell High School. Would that that was still so.

The Irish were giving the committee headaches. They insisted on abandoning District 7 and starting their own schools with a heavy emphasis on Religion, specifically the Catholic one. “The Irish population living on the Acre, so called, be formed into a district to be called District 7.” The Irish caused that not to happen.

It was noted that the “books, exercises, and studies should be all prescribed and regulated by the committee, and that no other whatever should be taught or allowed.” (ibid.) It is interesting to note that the current State Department of Education has something very close to that type of order in its handing out goals and objectives to today’s educators.

Which brings us to today. As I tried to point out, few courses change. Hopefully, we are teaching computers to our students on a timely and important basis. Hopefully, not every school system clings to the morass or potential morass, of accepting every piece of information that is generated by the state. I hope that it is still possible to work into your History lecture the best sleight ever to pass through a man’s lips, when John Randolph said of Henry Clay, “Like a mackeral by moonlight he shines, yet stinks.” Hopefully, the teacher has some leeway in utilizing their basic knowledge into their lessons to augment those lessons, not just say them verbatim.

Lowell’s educational future is looking pretty bright. Two people I have been pleased to meet and cover for the television show are Assistant Superintendent Anne Sheehy, a former classroom teacher; and the talented and alway amusing Mr. James Neary, who coordinates curriculum. They are undertaking a massive effort to get parents back into active roles in the school system. They are assisted by a variety of parents and former parents, who are often now grandparents. I sit on the Transportation Subcommittee and it is astounding how much our schools cost in bus time. We do not even bus the high school students and we have a budget of somewhere in the vicinity of 57 million dollars. That is alot of money.

My wife is a Reading Teacher and she tries to explain the new “Core Curriculum” to me. It is a gargantuan effort to coordinate what the students learn so they can continue to be the best-educated in the nation. She often starts off with, “Now you won’t understand this but…” I usually do understand it but it is kind of funny.

Here, then is my understanding of the Core Curriculum. It is a Master Test designed to fit into the parameters of the MCAS Tests. It will primarily, at first, test Mathematics and English (like those in the 1800’s but far more sophisticated, one can hope). It will consist of an opportunity for the teachers to choose from a wealth of information, making it like John Randolph’s quote. It will map out certain strategies, “designed to be taught in sequence…” but,
“Teachers could certainly modify the units if they need to be taught in a different order.” (How to Use Common Core Curriculum Maps; the State Department of Education). The maps are designed to be road maps for the school year. There are, however, important goals in each Map.

The Map contains “the following elements.” An Overview which provides a brief description of what the student is studying. An Essential Question which should have more than one perfect answer. I sincerely doubt that students in Benjamin Butler’s time had the freedom to veer off on a related theme. Focus Standards which are “taken directly from the CCSS.” There are also Suggested student objectives which the students shoud control when they complete a unit.

There are a number of other parameters to reach. Specifically 18 other areas that the individual teacher needs to know and specify. PPARC was dropped by the government in teaching the Common Core. That is not insurmountable as an obstacle. But it is the subject of another blog. I became very sure that this was the best way to keep a student on task without smothering him or her.

I will write more on my interpretations of the Core Curriculum in other articles. I believe it to be a good project, well-thought out, and well managed by the City Superintendent. I hope that you who are interested in the City Wide Parent Council or some other aspect will allow this prodigious work to take place without the difficulties we experienced in testing the first MCAS tests. Personally, I believe this is well presented. And, I believe that those in charge know what they are doing. They are not just following orders, they are determined to be advocates for education again. So, must we be.

Me and Technology

I have tried to live with technology and have failed miserably. My wife has a rule that I not try to change things on the computer because, whether it is Apple or Microsoft, I am totally confused. I get wonderful messages from total strangers complimenting me on my website for this blog, but my wife designed it, so the compliments should go to her. I live within her limitations on the computer. I try to Google, but the dearth of usable answers totally confuses me.

I have not always been so unforgiving of myself. Years ago, I spent years at Wang and Jordan Marsh working audits on computers. I learned programming in Cobol, Basic, and other languages. I even taught BASIC at a school to students who knew more than I did, probably. So what is the problem? The new prompts are the problem, they totally confuse me. I have yet to Twitter even once. I finally came to grips with Facebook, and now enjoy using it. I email my siblings and constantly say something the wrong way, which comes back to haunt me.

I am a film camera buff. I have a darkroom and enjoy black and white photography. I got into the digital age late and have cameras from that age that had limited Pixel counts.

I even bought the wrong items at the store. I bought an ADAM Computer, which was programmed in BASIC. I could handle that, but if I had waited I would have purchased an Apple, or something from Bill Gates. Instead, I wasted hundreds of dollars on a computer that had a short shelf life. I put alot of my money into VHS players and I even bought a BETAMAX. All of those became obsolete months after I spent all of my money on them. I invested thousands in Wang stock, and received worthless stock certificates when they closed their doors. I always thought the technology would take off, and I did not see the broader picture. A publisher had to tell me what a PDF file was, and I had to trouble friends with my questions.

I invested in technology that was doomed to extinction, like the dinosaurs. I have more DVD’s then you can count. I refuse to get rid of them on the theory that they will become worth something as antiques someday. I have three printers that work off of cables, a laptop computer that required thirty-nine diskettes to make it operable then it became obsolete within months, not years. I championed Wang and Digital and Apollo. All failed.

I find myself this week in my attic, taking down the least useful items, which is basically everything except the new printer Santa Claus is giving me, and the laptop I now use, which is dated.

So, for Christmas, Santa, bring me an Apple Computer. I just may learn to turn it on if I practice a bit.

Growing, Painting Ballrooms in Belvidere, and Other Assorted Topics

As a young child, I wanted to be an architect, but I lacked the motor skills to paint a clear picture, and I was told by my father that I could not do that because of my Mathematics grades. Mathematics was always a conundrum to me. It was a “difficult course” that I could not master. I went to college and took the course of study that did not require mathematics. My good friend, one of my best friends, was Mathematics major and future City Councilor, Gerry Durkin. That was about as close to college mathematics as I would get.

I use the term conundrum as defined by Webster’s Dictionary as “an intricate and difficult problem. I also wanted to be a doctor with the same effect, and a chemist. I recently wrote about my chemistry situation. As a young boy I had the Gilbert Science Kit. I spent many enjoyable hours working on the kit. I made a form of gunpowder, but it did not ignite or explode. It just flaired up in brilliant colors of red and blue and yellow. I thought that I would be able to handle chemistry, but the closest I got to being a chemist was watching the Chemistry Laboratory on the third floor of the high school burn down. I want to be sure that I say that that was after the end of Chemistry classes for me, and I did not burn down the Chemistry Laboratory. Someone did, but it was not me. By that point in my life I had no exposure to the Chemistry Department, and did not even know the Chemistry teachers. I just wanted to clarify that. My father, the Superintendent, never did say how that fire started, but I remember well the billowing smoke. We had all quickly evacuated the building as black smoke covered the school.

So, I was left with my desire to become some kind of scientist, and I took the Political Science route. I became a Political Scientist. I have on my desk at home my B.S. in Science for Political Science. Where did that go from there? I argued repeatedly with my friend, but not at the time my brother-in-law, Paul Tsongas, that science was what propelled him into higher and higher positions.

Paul had a beautiful home in Belvidere on Fairmount Avenue. It had a full-sized ballroom, which I was sure was haunted, but that is another story. In each window of the ballroom was a little shutter, four shutters in size for each window, and all needed to be painted. A couple of friends went over to paint one day, but they quit. I was the only “regular” on the nonexistent payroll.

Paul was a painting artist. He insisted that each window and shutter be painted with a brush. There was no room for spray painting or roller painting in his house. So we painted the entire ballroom with a brush.
Each of those tiny shutters had to be hand brush painted, and there must have been twenty of them. I stood in one window, painting the trim and the shutters from the inside of the house, and repeatedly told Paul that his record of political success could be explained in Political Science format. His response, which I never accepted, was that he was “lucky.” In my entire life with Paul, he repeatedly attributed his success to “luck.” Without the mathematics skills to argue with him I had to let it sit. But, I was sure that it was science.

When he first ran for Congress, he hired a man who was very good with statistics; two men actually. One was our good friend, Dennis Kanin, and one was a statistician named Richard. Now, I might have gotten a little leverage here. These were two statisticians. But, if I asked Paul his standard line was still that he was lucky.

By this point my future wife and I were dating, and my father almost poured concrete in the political mix by saying he was going to run against Paul. I was livid. My potential father-in-law was estatic. Paul was cool and comfortable, calling my father, finding out what was bothering my father, and getting my father to back down, something I could not do. I was mortified that I had put all of this effort and time into the Congressional campaign for what could amount to be a little reward. I never asked Paul to work on his staff, so that is not the type of reward I am speaking of, I am speaking of the reward that comes with a good job being done.

When Paul became Congressman, the first, or one of the first things he did was see that the United States Department of the Interior stretch their vision to include the possibility of Urban National Parks be included with such giants as Yosemite. Recently, a local author, who I do not care to glorify, gave credit for the Urban National Park to another very important and influential man who definitely deserves credit. But, I remember the Urban National Park idea was Paul’s alone. He shared it with everyone, but in the beginning, he talked about it and told me that he was having difficulty with the Interior Department over the placement of an Urban Park in Lowell. He was the one who devised the Urban National Park. That was his.

I like writing about Paul, and intend to continue. There are many stories that I got close to, and I want to tell them. So I hope you understand that this was the ultimate campaigner who was always just “lucky.” I still say that science and mathematics had something to do with his campaigning but I can say that, if he were alive, he would tell me that science had nothing to do with it.
Luck was everything.