Monthly Archives: April 2016

Reblog: The Case for One High School

The Case for One High School

I am a firm believer in Lowell High School. It is where I studied and graduated. It prepared me for extremely good grades in my Bachelor’s Degree and my Master’s Degree at UMass-Lowell. Because I went to Lowell High School I met a number of interesting people, including the late Senator Paul Tsongas, U.N. Undersecretary General F. Bradford Morse, and Dr. Patrick Mogan, who served as our past School Superintendent. I acted in plays in that school. We did plays that other high schools would not touch, such as “Tom Jones,” and “Rebel Without a Cause,” as well as “Jesus Christ, Superstar.” I met many interesting people in that school, many of whom became good friends. Senior Class President Michael Viggiano stood out as did Bill Lekites, who ended up running the air force of the United Parcel Service (UPS). Jim Neary was a good friend. Most of the preparation for my life was done in my three years at LHS. I have more than a passing interest in what is being promoted as a move towards educational excellence through the expansion of the current high school.

My interest in LHS did not end with my graduation from the high school. My interest in the school continues on to this day. I taught there for fifteen years until medical problems caused me to retire. In that time, I learned about a variety of things. I learned that so called “Business” students were interested in being prepared for college. I learned that a large influx of foreigners could not grind the school to a halt, but rather raise the school to new heights by preparing people with a very limited English background to acheive great success. I learned that there was tolerance in this city for people who were not even “blow-ins” (which I certainly was) but immigrants. I learned to love to teach American History to people who had just arrived in America. I learned how to help deal with a student who lost a parent in an horrific accident and had to deal with a new life without that parent.

My Freshman year, I was in Harvey, Illinois, attending a large high school in an integrated city. The high school had over five thousand students, making it much larger than Lowell High School. We had problems, and things got really difficult when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed. We moved from a high school that was over forty percent minority to one, LHS, that was largely Irish and Greek in inclination. My brother was so bored, that he studied like crazy and soared to the top of his class at LHS. I was not bored, I was challenged by my relationship with my father, School Superintendent Dr. Wayne R. Peters, to make the high school large enough to house the many people, over two thousand at that time, who studied there. At the high school, I was not a good student, but I was good enough to get into Lowell State College, and I was well-prepared by the high school to excel at LSC.

After spending my time at Lowell State College, I got the nod to write the headline story for the college newspaper, “The Advocate,” to write the main story about the formation of the university. At the time, we did not know whether it was going to be Lowell State University or the University of Lowell. My degree, as I was in the first graduating class of the university, was from the University of Lowell. That was awarded in 1976. John Duff was the President of the University. We had presidents then.

As a teacher at Lowell High School, I had the most difficult classes. They were largely Business students, students whose study habits would see them having a difficult time outside of the menial section of the business world. Vocational students attended the Lowell Trade School. Business students graduated and were expected to take the most menial of jobs. We educated them, but we did not prepare them. At least, that was my thought. I sat on a committee dealing with “tracking,” as it was called, which voted to remove the “Business” label and teach College and Honors students. That happened early in my tenure at the high school.

So, I taught College bound students. With the assistance of the Memorial Library staff, we put somewhere around four hundred books on History, Politics, and Social Studies on stacks in my room. Any student who found an interesting book there could take the book and read it and not bring it back. It was their book to keep. This was designed to start the students forming their own bookshelves at home.

In my first years at the high school, I was teaching what we called “Communications,” which was really an English class. My Master’s Degree was in English, so that was fine. Then I got moved into History, which was my hobby and avocation. I got classes that had more and more Southeast Asian students. I had to make the school day interesting to those students, so I tried my best. Souvanna Pouv of the Cambodian Mutual Assistance Association, still calls me “Mr. Peters,” so I guess I had some respect somewhere there. Recently, on one of the television shows I produce “This Town’s Character,” Bopha Malone asked Souvanna why he did not call me “Jim.”

“Oh, I couldn’t do that,” he said.

I learned more from the students than they ever learned from me. I learned about respecting the individual, promoting a work ethic, and loving a course of study. I learned that Lowell absorbed thousands of Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Thailand immigrants who looked at you with expectation and the hope of a promise. I learned that my own children would embrace the differences between their friends and give back more than they ever took. I learned all that from the students, both Asian and Caucasian. It was a lesson that I learned well.

Now, we have a responsibility to all of the students at and coming to the high school. That responsibility is to build them a school that promises what this city always promised, to give our students the right to graduate with high expectations in the Math and Sciences; the Languages; History and the Social Sciences, and other areas of interest to them. If we build two schools, will there have to be busing to handle the fact that a great many students will be minorities from the various sections of city? Will we be in compliance with state regulations at a separate but equal level? Is there such a thing as “Separate but Equal, in our planning for the new school?

Lowell High has always worked because it integrated the Irish with the English, the French Canadians with the Irish, the Greeks with everyone else, and the Southeast Asians with the populace. Its saving grace is in its diversity. We have to be careful to maintain that diversity as we go forward. The building of a high school needs to be done at one level, that level being the one that educates the greatest number of students with an eye towards integration. We cannot build two high schools. That would pull apart what Lowell has been so successful at acheiving, a greatness because of our diversity. Integration of separate cultures as part of our code of honor.

Lowell needs one high school. LHS should be left standing. All of my children are graduates of Lowell High School, so I practice what I preach. It needs to be built as an adjacent building to the existing high school. The only way I see that happening is building it on the site of the past Merrimack Mills, which is the headquarters for the Lowell Five Cent Savings Bank. That would put it next to the Riverview Towers but also next to the Merrimack River. That would be the least expensive, even if we have to buy out the bank, option. Somewhere, especially at Cawley Stadium, we would have to buy out all of those lienholders who have businesses near the baseball and soccer fields. That would be extremely expensive.

The trick to understanding education is that there is little that really significantly changes over the years. True, some people do invent wonderful inventions and open up new areas of opportunity. However, the words used to describe an educational innovation seldomly are altered. In 1836, Lowell’s School Superintendent required teachers to give up their Saturdays to study “White’s Pedagogy.” According to Webster’s Dictionary, pedagogy is just a fancy word for teaching. Why do we demand that new words describe old actions? Education is nothing if not a study of the obvious. We think we know more than the teachers because we went to school. The teachers make up new words and rules, more phrases and degrees, to separate themselves from the basics of teaching. Those Saturday classes could probably have been shortened by allowing the teachers to interact together and determine what drives Johnny to learn.

Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson wrote the “Declaration of Independence” together. But, they disagreed on just what education was about. Jefferson saw it as an academic exercise, while Benjamin Franklin saw it as a vocational exercise. We still argue about those goals two hundred plus years later. Some parents and teachers define education in terms of vocational goals, while some see it as something to make you “think.” It is academic. I have a large library. It contains approximately three thousand books. I picked

a few to make a point. In “The Qualitative School” Duane Manning says “In what other way can mathematics become a part of people’s lives to the degree that a modern technical society demands?” (1963) Sound familiar? Content validity was just as important in 1963 as it is in 2015. What we need to know, I believe, is to what extent we are reteaching, and to what extent people learn. Louis Armstrong sings that we will never know what young children will know. He may be right. The question we have to ask is what degree is comfortable. Education is a well-taught and well-thought-out topic that we will study the way Jefferson and Franklin did hundreds of years ago. The technology changes, but the basics of learning, and the need for greater learning stay basically the same. Let’s support the professionals who donate so much of their time to learning how to teach. And, let’s not repeat ourselves ad nauseum. Parents need to be active in their children’s learning, how we do it will help decide how we rebuild Lowell High School.

Lowell vs Lowell

There is a misconception that the rift between residents of Lowell who lived in Cambodia is something new. Based on my talking to various members of the Cambodian community in the past few weeks, there seems to be an unalterable rift between those persons still loyal to the sitting Prime Minister, and the elected officials who were, before massive genocidal actions reputably carried out by high ranking members of the current Cambodian government, specifically its Prime Minister and his Cabinet.

It is not that easy. While there have been a great many victims of the genocide, no one in current Cambodian government is taking credit for the holocaust.

People who first came here as friends are, in some cases, not speaking with one another in view of the charges being leveled against one another. Successful politicians are being hounded out of office, not by their fellow Americans, but by their own kind. It is Cambodian-American against Cambodian-American out there and it shows no sign of “bottoming out.”

So, Rithy Uoung, the first elected Cambodian-American in Lowell or any other American city, lost his election to a little-used law which stated that he could not hold down his job as an employee of the Lowell School Department and be a member, even a nonpaid member, of the Lowell City Council. Vesna Nuon, who strongly wants to get his job as City Councilor back has been very active trying to get elected again. And Rady Mom, who has sworn to me that he does not back the Met regime in Cambodia, has been tarred by both of the other Cambodian former office-holders as a member of that regime, largely based on a handshake with the Prime Minister – a handshake he should have eschewed.

I asked Rady Mom if he was in favor of the Met regime. He unequivocally said a resounding “NO!” His handshake was as one dignitary to another. What people should be judging him as is a person who has delivered to Lowell. His fellow Representatives believe he has delivered well, and plays the game of politics well. That is what they have told me. Whether or not he was trapped may be inconsequential, it is the situation he felt he was placed in during his visit to his old country. Many can say, He claims it was an attempt to be proper.

If the Prime Minister was the ghoul they paint him to be, it would have been better to not shake his hand. But this is not the first time that a politician from Lowell has made such a mistake. Both the Irish and the Greeks had their differences with members of their former nationalities.

We will go backwards. In 1906, I learned at a Middlesex Junior College event, the Greeks in America, were struggling to push ahead in the United States. They had all joined together to build a massive, gold-domed church called the Holy Trinity. Its gold was partially found on the hands of young Greek women who gave their rings to the contractors to melt down and put on the dome of the church. All of the Greeks worked together. But there was a rift. Half of the people supported a man back in Greece who was the Prime Minister, while the other half, who were interested in the Greek Monarchy, wanted to support the sitting King. After church one Sunday in 1906, fisticuffs broke out en masse after Mass. Greek took on Greek in a tussle that was so violent it spread to the church itself. It took place, the speaker said, in front of the church. The end result was that another beautiful Greek Church, the Transfiguration, was the result of the melee. Greeks would not speak to Greeks, would not vote for Greeks, would have nothing to do with one another in some cases, for years. Two separate churches were the result. They are still in widespread use today.

Now, it is time for the Irish. In 1831, the Portsmouth NH Journal wrote:

“In the suburbs of Lowell, within a few rods of the canals, is a settlement, called by some, New Dublin, which occupies rather more than an acre of ground. It contains a population of not far from 500 Irish, who dwell in about 100 cabins, from 7 to 10 feet in height, built of slabs and rough boards; a fire-place made of stone, in one end, topped out with two or three flour barrels or lime casks. In a central situation is a school house, built in the same style as the dwelling-houses, turfed up to the eaves with a window in one end, and small holes in two sides for the admission of air and light. In this room are collected together perhaps 150 children.” {Our Story: 175 Years of Service; St. Patrick Parish, Lowell, MA}

According to “The Irish Catholic Genesis of Lowell,” {George O’Dwyer, 1920} Boott was troubled by the increasing violence in the Camps. His Irish maid, a Mrs. Winters, told Boott that “the only way to control the Irish was by getting a priest.” So Boott worked with Bishop Fenwick of Boston and started a Catholic Church. The first priest to visit the area was Father Mahoney, who came monthly to Lowell, and reported to Bishop Fenwick about the growing numbers. In May of 1831 a small riot took place in the Acre between Yankees and the Irish. Women picked up stones and held them in their aprons to allow the Irish to have ammunition. “During the construction of the church a group of Yankees entered the Acre decrying the Irish presence. So far so good. Irish (the Red Sox) against the Yankees. English language newspapers “made it a point {ibid.}” that many of the English rioters did not represent the view of the majority of the Yankee population. The first church was completed by July 3, 1831. The church population consisted of “1,000 souls. {ibid.}”

Cholera and typhus killed many people. So did accidents. Father James McDermott followed Father Mahoney. He negotiated with the School Committee for public funding of Catholic Schools. “Potato Famine” Irishmen and women fought with the Irish Americans already in Lowell. There were skirmishes.

“There were periodic outbursts of violence within the Irish community, often based on rivalries between counties back in Ireland.” [ibid.} Many of the original dissenters were members of the St. Peter’s and St. Mary’s Churches. It was easy for the early priests to make St. Patrick’s the
Mother Church of Lowell.

I have repeatedly written of Sister Desiree. She became Mother Desiree and was very well-known and loved by the girls in the Acre. The Rule for the Sisters’ did not allow them to teach boys. Brothers ran Keith Academy until the 1970’s.

The point is, that the Irish, particularly around 1842, fought with each other. As early as 1831, Bishop Fenwick oversaw the spiritual needs of the Lowell area. Successive priests saw patterns of people who did not support other Catholics or other Irish. Their dedication to education made it possible for them to acheive great things. Cardinal O’Connell was a Lowell boy. He still is remembered with a horse trough and statue by City Hall.

The nonjoining of various persons of one immigrant nation or another is a part of Lowell. We believe that we have the right to disagree with one another. It is what spices our politics. Lowell is known for its political divergence. Nothing really changes, we are all tenants here and eventually we will be called “home.” It is how we practice for our roles as citizens that counts. Hopefully, we will do it well. Our lifetimes are what is measured not the time we spend after our deaths. Lowell is being Lowell.

The 18th. Middlesex District

I was driving to my home from the Commonwealth’s First Cambodian New Year celebration with one thought, that being that I had heard of Bud Caulfield’s claim that friends were asking him to run for State Representative. I have been asked the same thing by many well-intentioned persons. It occurred to me, however, that me (myself), my wife, and my children seemed to be the only persons living in the district that were not running for Rady Mom’s seat. Let us be serious, the numbers of people running would eclipse those initial Republican debates. City Manager Murphy was not far off in his St. Patrick’s Day joke that one table was taken by State Representative hopefuls.

Now, I do not want to disparage Bud Caulfield. He was my son’s championship Little League team Coach thirty some years ago. He also was one of two City Councilors who supported my sister-in-law Niki Tsongas’ candidacy for Congress in 2007. Rita Mercier was the other one, and I have a soft spot for both of those people, because there was no way of knowing that they would come in first and second in their next Council election. Finally, he was my pick for the person I would support to be City Councilor in 2009, Bud met me in a parking lot last week and let loose with some vituperative generalizations about Rady Mom’s not coming to the City Council meeting that centered on the son of the Cambodian Prime Minister’s desire to come to Lowell.

The day before – Monday – I had cornered Rady Mom in a diner and told him that, if he supported the father of that man, who was allegedly responsible for the deaths of millions, that I could not support him. I explained that no voter could be corralled into supporting him if he backed that man. I talked about the Armenian Genocide, the Holocaust, the Greek/Turkish genocide, and the execution of the American Native American. I told Rady that we did not have a great deal of patience for genocide, and that, in the Native American case, we had perpetrated our own bloodbath using shoddy documents to cover our tracks.

Rady quickly made it clear that he did not believe in that murderous technique in his native Cambodia, and certainly was not on the side of those who wanted this man to come to Lowell. I believed him. I had asked one of his opponents for some information on what I needed to know. It was clear that there was no love lost between the followers of the Pol Pot regime and the democratic group. Rady Mom convinced me of that during our conversation.

Rady’s opponent told me about that evening’s rally at the City Council. When, as Bud Caulfield had told me, Rady did not go, choosing WCAP instead of grandstanding at the meeting, I recognized that Rady would not generally choose the easiest way out. That way, in my opinion, was to go to the City Council meeting. It would have been wise of him to go, but his personal values were that, I believe, there was greater honor in handling it on the radio, which he did the next morning.

Did I agree with his assessment?

No,I told him that I wished he had gone to the podium the night before. But I recognized that it was his decision. When Bud got strident about his claim that Rady made a mistake, I just listened and absorbed.

A fellow State Representative told me in a show that Rady was trying very hard in his first year to be a good representative. I believe that this is true. I also believe that he has accomplished a great deal in his first year as a State Reprsentative, largely through his willingness to integrate himself into Lowell’s famous “Delivery System.” There is 250 Million in funds for the Courthouse, as well as 1.7 million in funds to fix up Cupples Square, were two projects he worked on. He works well with many members of the House of Representatives. I saw that today when I watched his New Year’s celebration. He is full of energy, loves his job, and has no reason, despite what Bud or others might think, to lose it. That fellow State Representative is right, he has put in many hours to taking care of his clients. He likes to say, which is true, he represents 6.5 million people. That is the population of Massachusetts. Wouldn’t it be nice if all Massachusetts representatives saw themselves as responsible for every child, every adult, and every elderly person in the state every day that he is in the office?

I would do things slightly differently if I was in his shoes. But they are good shoes, well used and meticulously cared for, just like his district is. Go down to the State House tomorrow and get yourleftover sandwich from today, a free tour of the State House, and time with your State Representative. I guarantee that seeing him in action will impress you as much as it does me.

Meanderings

I am reading Henry David Thoreau, and I find him quite humorous. One of my favorite lines is one which has become famous because of the fact that it is right. That is that “A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone.” That quote came from his book, “Walden.” He determined that he spent the most money on his windows to his small house. The total cost of the entire structure was twenty eight dollars, twelve and one-half cents. Now, we never had half cents in these United States, but Britain did. Maybe he paid in British pennies.

Donald Trump is an enigma to me. He recently stated that the way to handle abortion issues was to punish the woman who had an abortion. I remember reading a story about a woman who had an abortion because they did not feel they could afford a child at that time. Five years later, she had kept her children’s swingset rusting in the backyard, where she looked at it and could sometimes see the ghost of the child she had aborted. Women do not need to be punished for abortions, and, just out of curiousity, where is the punishment for the father who goes along with the idea of abortion. I wish people adopted. I am sure that woman in the “Boston Globe” article felt the same way.

I was studying for this article and I found out that, in the 1800’s, men who were veterans were not compensated if they did not suffer their medical condition as a result directly of their service. Many veterans of the Civil War did not get enumerated for their service injuries. And, there was no such thing as PTSD. People thought that that was fair, and that nobody suffering as a result of their service should get any money.

For those of you who wondered about this, I believe it was William Howard Taft who was the President who got stuck in the White House bathtub. They had to use grease to get him out.

If Donald Trump wanted to be a valuable addition to the debate on where this country is going, he would learn history and stop speaking in Fourth Grade English. It scares me that we have so belittled ourselves that we speak, on average, in Fifth Grade English. But we do. Thus, we had the show on what we learned in Fifth Grade. It was a hit show.

I like Billy Joel. I especially like his song, “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” It is written for adults. After all, who can remember half of the people he sings about. He says it was a guitar song. I sent my students home to study the words, which I provided, and determine who the characters were. That was when I taught History. It was not uncommon to have students listening to the song on tape, back before CD’s.

What Thoreau does not tell you about Walden Woods is that, in the time he spent there, much of the wooded area was decimated to provide wood to the railroads. But, at least in the beginning, he had woods. One more quote from him that may be of some interest is, “I have always endeavored to acquire strict business habits; they are indispensable to every man.” He used them as bellweather beacons to clear land for his house, use what he could to make his own lumber for his house, and save money in a big way by practicing good business practices. That is why he spent just $28.12 and 1/2 cents. It was a valuable project and is one of my favorite places to visit in the summer. The swimming is great and every foot of depth was measured by Thoreau. Few ponds have been as totally studied as Walden. It is nice that his book is so lively.

Thank you for commenting.

I have to apologize to the 12,000 of you who have written me in the past four weeks. I have tried to get back to everyone on their nice comments on my blog, but I cannot possibly get back to 12,000 of you. Please excuse my slow typing fingers, I type 86 words per minute but I cannot keep up with the demand. I deeply appreciate your fervor and your dedication to my writing. I have, in those 12,000 missives written quite a few to people who tell me I am a great writer. I don’t know about that. I just try to write good stories. Thank you for writing to me, and please be aware that I will try to answer your letters or comments. Thusfar I have had one person tell me that my blog let him down. He was the only one who complained out of the entire group. Other than that, it has been wonderful. Thanks again. I have three TV shows and I asked the colleagues on the show how to handle this problem. They recommended what my wife who designed the format for the webpage, recommended. That I write to all of you on the blog. I hope that is good enough.