Monthly Archives: January 2016

Peace, Prosperity, Immigration

Julia Ward Howe wrote in her poem, “The Glorious Fourth,” about immigrants,

Our friendly harbors open stand,
To hail the ships of every land.
The fainting exile at our door
Finds cheer and welcome evermore.”

I find poetry a way to take an entire emotion and reduce it to one word or a few words.

Ralph Waldo Emerson summed his experiences up this way…”The more cultivated, in their account of their own experience, cull out the pleasing poetic circumstance…and so seek to throw a romantic color over their life.” Kipling wrote of the sheer power of a machine gun over a village he was visiting in Africa.

George Edward Woodberry wrote:
“I pray for peace, yet peace is but a prayer.”
“How many wars have their been in my brief years?”

Then he counts them. To be honest, I have lost count. I live watching wars, and some instigators deserve death or imprisonment. George Woodberry is not the only person who has lost count. After 9/11, the average person never saw a bag left against a wall in a subway tunnel the same way again. And, the Boston Marathon massacre solidified that fear.

So, we continue to fight our wars. Anytime I run into a person in military uniforms I tell them, “Thank you for your service.” It is not much but it is from the heart.

Donald Trump wants to keep Muslims out. He is in direct competition with Julia Ward Howe. We have always been the nation that welcomes persons who have lived in hell in their own lands. My great-multiple times- grandfather came from Ireland before the potato famine. He sailed here in a ship dedicated to losing years on his life by working as an indentured servant for a Canadian farmer. He was destined to be there for nineteen years. If he had come to America during that time, he would have only had to stay indentured for seven years.
Instead, he waited 19 years for his freedom, and, when he got it, he bought a Conestoga wagon, a covered wagon, and took his family to South Dakota, where he got his forty acres and a mule from the Homestead Act. He died late in life, particularly for that time, in his eighties, and he left his eleven children eleven thousand dollars each. By 1980’s standards that panned out to 6.2 million dollars each.

Unlike Trump, John Kennedy wrote a thoughtful book on immigration while he was in the Senate. He traced the immigration decisions of people who came to various ports in order to become citizens. My father-in-law came here at the age of four to Ellis Island. They found a bump on his head and were going to send him back to Greece with his mother. Her cries and actions made them change their minds, and he became the father of a United States Senator and Presidential candidate, Paul Tsongas.

Kennedy’s book was entitled “A Nation of Immigrants.” In it he says of the days after WWII, “Political persecution was not ended by the destrution of Nazism or by the victory of WWII. Hundreds of thousands were made homeless in the 1950’s by Communist oppression behind the Iron Curtain. In 1953 Congress passed the Refugee Relief Act to admit around 200,000 refugees…made it possible for approximately 30,000 freedom fighters who escaped from Hungary…to be admitted to the United States.”

In the 1950’s it was very difficult to come to America, but here were 200,000 people who were met with open doors. My brother-in-law, who was Lithuanian but drafted into Army Service in Vietnam, has a metal plate in his skull where a shell fragment hit him. He worked hard after heroism as a machine gunner in a Huey helicopter, to become a Post Office employee who recently retired. He is quite a man.

“Trumpspeaks” is a name for what the Donald has to say. We cannot build a wall in Mexico. We need to beef up our border patrols, not build a wall that can be easily breached. Walls have never in history worked. They are testaments to a false sense of security, and people go over, around, or under them regularly. Even the small Berlin Wall could not keep the Germans in East Germany in East Berlin. The Great Wall of China, did not work. Castles in Britain were stormed and taken over by Scottish troops.

Let us see if Donald Trump can even write a book. He speaks to his audience at a fourth grade level, so it would be easy enough to translate or listen to his dictation.
Where are the smart Presidents in this day and age? Based on my review of all of the people running, few are in that crowd. Let Trump come up with realistic solutions to complex problems. What is he doing about opiods, or drug abuse? Where is he on Parliament’s attempt to disassociate him from England by stating that they do not want to see him on their soil? How tough must it be to get banned from Britain? I mean, I have heard of being banned in Boston, but this man is ridiculous.

Those are my meanderings for tonight. I hope they helped you think.

Testing Strategies

I promised a few weeks ago to explain, to the best of my ability, how Common Core Testing would be used in conjunction with the requirements of the MCAS to determine if the students were learning. Since then, I have heard of one school that climbed from a four to a one in standings. That means quite a bit, because that school was at the bottom of the list and climbed, with other schools into the top tier.

PPARC was abandoned as part of the testing package. The Mayor is deeply committed to the STEM learning project, which may or may not be something that sticks. Hopefully, it will be something that helps out and makes testing more accurate.

The problem that I had with the original MCAS was the time off-task of the students who were not in the testing unit. I also had a problem with the fact that the people correcting the MCAS were not always in education and in some cases were undergraduates from universities in Boston and its environs. Core Curriculum centers on righting those areas of concern and making our interpretation of test results much more controlled and less dependent on people who have never been teaching.

As stated, in that blog, was the fact that there are still areas of Core Mapping and Testing that we have not yet covered. The purpose of this essay is to list and explain those eighteen areas. Core Curriculum is extremely busy. There are a great many items to write about.

“The rapid rise of Common Core Standards (CCSS) is an unprecedented event at the national level.” That is written by the State Department of Education in its introduction. The idea is to “raise the bar” (ibid) for what students should know and be able to do. Students are currently tested in English and Mathematics. More inclusions will happen at a later date. Now, just to make this easier to explain, we take a common question from the Common Core test. “Determine two or more central ideas in a text and analyze their development over the course of the text; provide an objective summary of the text.” Notice that the student is asked to think. He has to determine where the question is going, and analyze the development of peak ideas in the text. It takes an awful lot of thinking.

Massachusetts has the best testing results in the nation. The local Teacher’s Union has bumper stickers to that effect in their office on Merrimack Street. There are curriculum “maps” which guide the teacher’s teaching. There is less of an emphasis on “teaching to the test,” in Common Core. A Map will contain a sample Lesson Plan, The Lesson Plan contains ‘step-by-step’ guide for the activities taking place in the classroom, making certain the fact that they are learning items that might be in the test, but under Common Core, their learning includes the opportunity to teach beyond the test and teach items or Curriculum that are more spontaneous than in the traditional MCAS.

The test includes Curriculum Maps to bring to the students the background knowledge of “a diverse array” of events, people, places and ideas. When I was teaching to the MCAS, I could not include things that were not determined to be in conjunction with the testing material. This CCSS makes it possible for a good teacher to teach other items to the students that correspond to what is happening in the unit.

Maps were written by teachers for teachers. The CCSS takes pride in the fact that Maps were written by sitting teachers, three dozen in all. That hopefully means that the questions will take into account things that might not be included in the test. “Together, these teachers brought dozens of years experience to the mapping project,” according to the source document (ibid). The CCSS standards are written by writers, and reviewed by teachers, administration, and the Massachusetts Department of Education.

The teachers determined what was going on the tests. They designed them to test the student’s ability to co-relate the facts of each question and illustrate their basic knowledge of the Map information. In 2010, a public review of the Maps project yielded hundreds of helpful comments. These were incorporated into the project.

The Maps will continue to improve. There is a second on-line addition of questions that is available to the teachers twenty four seven. The purpose is to allow teachers to critique the Maps and the questions on them. “Comments on the Maps is available for public view” (ibid.). There have been more than three million “hits” of the Map site to date.

Most of the information on this blog is the result of the workings of the CCSS. Its President and Executive Director is Lynne Munson, and she was the source of most of the information. I thank the Department of Education for their fastidiousness in explaining the entire program. As a teacher who threw in a great deal of information that was part of his curriculum, the Common Core seems to be much more gripping than the MCAS. I look forward to seeing how it is implemented and reviewed. I think the children will benefit from the changes in the test material.

Two High Schools

I was emailing my friend Cliff Krieger who commented that he was one of the minority who wanted two high schools. I thought about it, and was spurred on by a passing remark from a friend who said that he had heard that Sal L. was planning on tearing down the Hood Plant on Thorndike Street. It is better known as the Thorndike Factory Outlet.

That got me thinking, what could we put in such a massive building that would fix the problems that the building has structurally? And, suddenly, I became a proponent of the two high school idea. The only city project that could take over and re-form the old mill to a new level would be the millions coming into the city to build a new high school. I admit that it is a stretch, but we will not be the “Mill City” if we tear down every mill building which is not located in the National Park area. Now, if the owner cannot afford to maintain the building, which, as I said, was just a rumor, then the city buys it for a song and rebuilds the outside and inside with the money for a new high school.

About ten years ago, I sponsored a talk by former Presidential Democratic nominee, Michael Dukakis, to speak specifically on this issue. He lamented the idea that old buildings with so much history in them need to be torn down. Members of the University of Massachusetts, Congressman Marty Meehan’s Office, City of Lowell representatives, and people from the community came to back Mr. Dukakis. If they agreed then, and they said that they did, then little has changed. I was looking from my gravesite at the Concord River for years oveseeing the Omni Mill Building. One day I met a friend there and there was no mill building left. These things are expensive to maintain but we must all take part in maintaining them. What would have happened to Downton Abbey if that building, which is a lot more expensive to maintain than a mill building, was torn down after it passed its age of usefullness? A great many people would have missed a great show. Similiarly, if the mill buildings in town go the way of the Omni, our descendants will have missed a great show.

I regret moving here right after the girl’s manufacturing houses were leveled and that concrete jungle replaced them. The University of Lowell has decimated Moody Street and its environs. We have all cheered the actions of the university but there were many neighborhoods in the recent construction that exist no more. Many were replaced by parking lots, which reminds me of that song about taking away Heaven and putting up parking lots. The Richard Howe Bridge saw the decimation of a major historical building when it was constructed. We had a group of people trying to save the old bridge as a tourist attraction by putting up Kiosks and trees and gardens on the old bridge. Now the Kerouac Bridge is no more. I agree that the new bridge definitely needed to be built, and it was named after a good friend of my father’s, and a great guy, but we could have used the Kerouac Bridge as a student crossway and pedestrian bridge. Marty Meehan rejected that one even though I told him of all of the romance and studying that would take place on that pedestrian bridge.

We are tearing down our city. I went to see Steven Stowell the City Historian, who is a wonderful person and good friend and I asked him why we could not get grants to repaint the signs on Father John’s Medicine and similiar sites. He stated that the paint pigmentation would not look old enough. So, I went to the library, found a book, and looked up pigmentation in the 1890’s. They actually have that information in the Library. I went back to Steve and told him that the correct 1890 pigmentation was ten percent dye to ninety percent turpentine. That would give us the correct color. Steve looked at my second head and just smiled. I do not believe he believed me. That is one of the problems with my not having enough to do.

A good, well-built second high school cannot be built in Belvidere. There are no buses going in that direction and it would be too expensive to take the land. Heaven knows we are spending enough on taxes already. The latest increase was sobering.

Taking the land is paramount. We have to take it and pay every landowner the market value of the property. That is why I am comfortable with the idea of a fourth building at the Merrimack Mills site for the high school, if we do not cater to people who want two high schools.

Here is the situation as I see it. If we do need a second high school, we need a building large enough to house it. That is the Hood Milk Plant or Thorndike Factory Outlet. There is not going to be enough parking and a lot could be placed next to the Rogers School. The Rogers School would have a role to play also. It would be a separate building housing the gymnasium and some classroom space for the school to grow into, and hopefully prosper in its turning out “scholars” as our 18th and 19th. century School Committees called the students.

To its side would be the parking area. That may have to be a two or so story building. Red brick would be nice. The Rogers School would definitely have a role to play.

The other city-owned property that would have a role to play would be the South Common, which could be used for sporting assignments and gym classes. We might have a problem with some of the homeowners on beautiful Highland Street, as those buildings are all mansions, including the one that Paul Tsongas and his sister Thaliea grew up in. But, saving the Hood plant would be important to them, and even the Rogers School does not fit into that neighborhood.

One of the largest problems of a second high school anywhere else in the city is the problem of transportation. Buses cost heavily. Our current bus budget, for the grammar and middle schools, is in excess of fifty million dollars. This location would allow students to take their neighborhood buses to the Kennedy bus facility and walk to school without crossing Thorndike Street. There would probably have to be a pedestrian bridge across Thorndike Street, but that might be allowable with the new traffic pattern changes cited by the City Council a few weeks ago.

The building needs extensive repairs. Over two hundred million would do that. It does not need to be built from the ground up, which will save money.

The mill building is saved from demolition and there is precedence for having a mill building as a school, we did it very well at the Freshman Academy at Lowell High School. While the Hood building would be expensive, it has the potential for a great many classrooms. And, as I stated, we are slowly demolishing the city.

I asked a friend who has a fairly well-placed position in Lowell if he thought this was doable? He honestly thought it had its problems, mostly with parking. I could say that the parking garage could go where the factory has parking currently, but I do not want to deface a historic building. A strolling park like the Lucy Larcom Park would look nice there, and in the good weather, teachers could be surrounded by history as they teach outside. The jail, or Keith Academy, is next door. The Eliot Church is across the street, the home where Paul Tsongas first ran for office is across the street, too. There are many historic sites near the property.

So, that is my approach to a second location for the high school. Either way, we have to help the owner save that mill building. It is one of the largest in Lowell. I have Hood bottles from that site. Just rebuilding it would be historic.

So, that is my idea. There are many concerns but I believe we can overcome them.