Monthly Archives: May 2016

Meanderings

I am constantly surprised at the things that were so prevalent in our day that are totally different now. We never had a word for “recycling” or a concept like a wooden bridge on Lawrence Street. When I was a kid, they used to recycle pop bottles (Tonic), and you collected them for 2 cents apiece, and brought them back to the Grocery Store, where they were thoroughly washed out and reused with new tonic in them. During the sixties, no deposit bottles were introduced, and the death of the refillable pop bottles was introduced. Then Maine and Vermont started to require 5 cent refunds on bottles bought in those states, and recyclables were introduced.

Hundreds of items have been changed or their names have been altered. Remember “Old Mother Hubbard” dog food? It was there. So was “Drewery’s beer” and “Bubblers.” We keep tearing down buildings. I literally took pictures of an old decrepit building and it was torn down the next day. The University of Massachusetts has ripped down neighborhoods. Some of it is progress, but replacement of a neighborhood for a parking lot seems to be akin to that song about tearing down something to ‘put up a parking lot.’ We have to be careful of what we allow to be torn down. Jack Kerouac’s bridge on University Avenue should never have been torn down if there was even the slightest chance that it could have been saved and used for pedestrian foot traffic.

It seems like every day, I get some mail from people looking for money for this cause, or some other. My favorite charity is the Civil War Preservation Trust, which buys old Civil War battlefields for public use. I cannot give them alot of money, but I can give them some once in awhile. That makes me feel good.

In one of my favorite movies, “The Field of Dreams,” the character played by James Earl Jones tells the character played by Kevin Costner that the game of baseball was one constant. It has not basically changed since its inception. It is an interesting conversation and is heightened when James Earl Jones goes out “with the fellas.”

In my city, Lowell, Massachusetts, the one constant since the inception of an educational system in the city has had one constant, and that is an academic curriculum. While national educational standards were important, the need for an academic curriculum was paramount. Prowess at the high school level was rewarded by the Carney Medals, three to the top boys and three to the top girls. This was instituted in 1859 when girls had no civil rights.

Records in the School Department show a tenacity in our adherence to an academic curriculum. Our school department has experienced its share of valleys and its share of peaks. The question is, how did we press on? We just did. We incorporated grading at its inception. Records show we did so through sheer tenacity. Our country was in a fratracidal war, but we continued to offer an excellent education. Lowell was a leader then, and can be now.

Not that there weren’t times we let up on expectations. At one point, we allowed one of our principals to take his students en masse to St. Rita’s Shrine to partake in Holy Day Masses. Of course, today he would be fired for doing that. God has one outlet for today’s children in school, and that is in private and Catholic schools. At one point, the Archbishop of Cleveland told his parents that they would be excommunicated if they sent their children to a public school. He stated that “Protestant values” were being taught in Cleveland’s public schools. The Catholics were, he felt, being undermined. As Archbishop, he felt it was his duty to protect his congregation. This was his way of doing it.

Well, those are my meanderings for today. I hope you found something useful in them.

Immigration, Democrats versus Republicans

For the record, I want it known that I have personally listened to Donald Trump and find him to be shallow and stupid. He most reminds me of Warren Harding, the man who brought his mistress with him campaigning in 1920. Harding was most interested in what the presidency would do for him, not what he could do for everyone else. That is the epitome of Trumpism. He speaks in his fourth grade style, and appeals to the baser intellect.

One of the most respected American Presidents was President John F. Kennedy, who spoke so quickly that reporters could not get past the fact that he spoke on average 351 words per minute. He did not dummy up to appeal to the easiest listeners. He spoke his truths, and even proceeded to write them in books. The most famous of them was “Profiles in Courage,” in which he looked at a variety of men who sacrificed themselves on the altar of truth in order to appeal to the best instincts of the voting populace. When he wrote it some detractors said that he showed too little courage and too much profile. He sued and won. Some people had even questioned whether or not he wrote the book. He did, the court decided, and he collected.

The other book that Kennedy authored while in the Senate was called “A Nation of Immigrants.” That book fascinates me. He took on all of the issues belittled by Donald Trump, and he addressed them in a book that would probably now make him a has-been before his time. “Each new wave of immigration helped meet the needs of American development and made its distinctive contribution to the American character,” he wrote on page 17 of the book. He did not question whether it was necessary to make room for the immigrants, he allowed that room had been made for them for centuries. He did not press for a wall across boundaries anywhere on American soil. He admitted that America would be nothing without immigration. He charted the immigration from the 1620’s until 1960’s. “The Irish,” he said, “were in the vanguard of the great waves of immigration to arrive during the nineteenth century.”

“They had replaced England as the chief source of new settlers making up 44 percent of the foreign born in the United States.” My hometown of Lowell, Massachusetts did not automatically hold up the Irish as valuable citizens, although Mr Trump is, I believe, part Irish and a beneficiary of this immigration wave. He noted that, in the century between 1820 and 1920 four and a quarter million people left Ireland to come to the United States. Most needed jobs and in the beginning the jobs were among the lowest paying in our industrial society.

“They were mostly country folk, small farmers, cottagers and farm laborers,” he wrote. My Irish ancestors landed as indentured servants in 1842, well before the potato famine. I have no record of why they left Ireland to come to the United States. I do know that their family had to work for a Canadian farmer for over 19 years in order to pay off their being carried by sailing ship to the North American continent. When my many times great grandfather wanted to start his own life, he took advantage of the Homestead Act and got his forty acres and a mule. He transformed that, through incredible luck and effort, to 1100 acres in South Dakota, enough land to make him rich and all of it farmed by his family. I used to go to South Dakota and meet the clan. I got to meet his grandson, my great-grandfather, a man named Harkin whose claim to fame was geing eighty years old and climbing a ladder to paint his unpainted barn.

What we learn about our ancestors heightens us. It makes us larger than life. Immigration in Lowell started with our ancestors man-handling gunpowder to blast canals into Lowell which would use water as a power source to make weaving manufacturing mills in Lowell. That industrial might is still in place and those mills still exist. Visit the Lowell National Historical Park to see it.

Immigration was a necessary part of building this America. In my opinion, NAFTA robbed us of our impetus to be strong. The North American Free Trade Agreement robbed America of the beauty of building its own products. Trump is right in one thing, we need to make America Great Again. NAFTA has to go.

We need to fight the people who are really harming our nation. This includes those countries which use lax safeguards in our American economy, such as low tariffs, to bring America down. Instead, we need to watch our progress and intelligence, and use immigrants, if they have the knowledge, to build products of a greater nature, such as electronic equipment, because that is exactly what other countries do to us.

In the 1980’s during a Republican administration, the Chinese forcefully pushed an America AWACS plane down on Chinese soil. What should have ha[pened os the bombing of the plane to keep the software and hardware out of Chinese military hands. What happened was that our President declined to attack and destroy American technology, giving the Chinese information that was worth trillions.

We may have to make America great again, but we do not have to do it at our own expense. Relations with China partially depend on our ability to deliver nuclear weapons if they are needed. The last thing the Chinese want to do is become embroiled in a nuclear war with the United States. That is why I am so against President Obama’s desire to denuclearize. Nuclear Arms keep us safe.

I was against Obama’s trip to Hiroshima. My father would have died attacking Japan in 1945. I would not be here without the use of the atomic bomb. And General Curtis LeMay looked at ten Japanese cities in 1945 and came to the conclusion that he could not tell the difference between eight cities and Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Eight had been firebombed. Firebombing was the use of five gallon tanks of gasoline dropped with standard bombs on a city. He could not tell which cities had been firebombed and which had been nuclear bombed.

John Kennedy stated that the Irish climbed the social and political ladders by becoming forman and section bosses on the railroad building. “Rung by rung” they climbed the ladders of respectability. One of my favorite Kennedy stories actually had something to do with “Honey Fitzgerald,” JFK’s grandfather. He was being challenged by a man who was urging people to write him in on the ballot. He went so far as to have the printer, who was a friend of his, to not put glue on the ballots’ backs. When the people voted against Honey Fitz, the opponent’s glue was not applied and the ballots lost their vote. The Irish knew how to use the system.

“Many of the first immigrants, like many of the (our) most recent, came to America to escape oppression at home.” Kennedy said. People still come to the United States to escape oppression at home. “Many of the new settlers did not come as free men,” he stated. They were, like my great many times grandfather Harkins, indentured servants. They worked without wages. In America, they could only be indentured for seven years. That period was settled by the framers of the Constitution.

We have not ever been able to settle on a number of people who became, eventually, American citizens. “From 1870 to the end of the century, more that eleven million persons came to America, an increasing number from southern and eastern Europe and the Near East.” He stated in his book. These people were not wanted, they just came. Just like the Muslims.

We take the time to worry about the rising different, immigrants. I will write more on this issue in the future. But, let’s not forget that the United States was able in the past 150 years, to include millions to our ranks of citizens, including my own State Representative. In my family. someone very close to us became recent American citizens. They would not be members of our family if we excluded them from citizenship. So, the fact is that we learn from persons who grew up citizens of different countries. We will never stop immigration. Trump can state that he will stop people with a huge wall (remember the Great Wall of China?), but that method has never worked. Look at the Berlin Wall which was torn down after Gorbachev ordered it abandoned.

We did not want the Chinese, the Eastern Europeans, the Jews, the Irish, and myriad others. We can try to turn people off of the United States, maybe by abandoning the Manifest Destiny of Andrew Jackson, which was the settling of the United States from the East coast to the West coast.

This is a moral divide. No one is right, and no one is wrong. We have done it all before. We cannot say to the Muslims that they have no right to settle here if we have sent them passes in the past. Mexicans are going to try to transgress our boundaries. We are an egalitarian society. We believe that everyone basically has a good heart and is aiming for the highest of values. We need to concentrate on making those of a different class, religion, or national origin. We are Americans, and we know, no matter how frustrated we get, that people are basically good. That does not mean that we believe in permanent goodness. We have jails, courts, and other processes. Personally, I believe if we want to learn legal processes we can just go to our local Registry of Motor Vehicles. That is one place where everyone is at the same level of citizenship. Let people emigrate, let them immigrate. It is how our grandfathers did it.

Educational Philosophy of the 1880’s

Anyone who has been following my articles knows that I believe that nothing in education really changes. There is ample evidence of this in the philosophy of the School Committee in Lowell in 1880 and throughout the decade.

Testing, grades, curriculum (pedagogy), and items that we believe we are inventing were actually in place that decade. There was even a Committee on Hygiene, as well as, the need to keep busy on matters we personally allow students to determine for themselves today, the uses of which have exploded in the computer age. It had its origin in early School Committee Minutes.

The purpose of this exercise is to illuminate the philosophy of the day as described by the Superintendent of Schools and others in their day. They were very prolific in their opinions and recommendations. Not unlike today.

Let us just check in the words of the writers of the School Committee program of their day. “A babe, its little mind is capable of receiving impressions much earlier than you suppose.” In other words, start education at home and early.

“Teach him by example. Children are great imitators.” according to one writer. In a less academic setting, a writer argues that you should, “See that the little ones in your care are kept from falling.” (Page 12)

“Show your love for him,” admonishes one teacher.

In a line that could be cut from today’s Republican rhetoric, it is advised that good government means “not too much governed.” Pg. 14

Not everything was so black and white. In a statement that shows teachers their limits, the philosophy states that “Teachers require certain general rules for guidance.” As if they cannot make up the rules themselves. Gripes one paragraph, “Some teachers can guide one hundred scholars while some fall short in the management of 30 or 40.” When I was teaching I had about 35 and that was difficult. One hundred would have done me in.

Parents recognize, stated the Superintendent, “The importance of regularity in attendance of their children at school.” The administration agreed that that was an important piece of their learning. “There must be regular and punctual attendance at school.” stated one teacher. The Superintendent chimed in that “His habits of punctuality are just the qualities for a successful businessman.” (Pg.17) Punctuality and attendance were strengthened through exercises in the classroom. Students who did not comply were disciplined.

Lowell was a factory town and the people were pushed to be punctual and proper in their dealings with one another. A teacher was held in great esteem. An administrator and the Superintendent were even more esteemed.

In 1881, the Mayor was Frederick T. Greenhalge. The School Committee was broken into two units, and Charles C. Hutchinson was President of the Common Council. There were two standing committees, one “On Accounts,” and one on “School Houses and Hygiene.” Incredibly, there were 47 Primary Schools, numbered, not named. In addition, there was one High School and five Reform Schools. It is not indicated in the Minutes whether the Reform Schools even had a curriculum.

Charles Morrill was the Superintendent of Schools. In a Report to the School Committee, he stated from his office in a city government building that “We claim a constant advancement towards perfection.” Again, in my opinion, that is fairly consistent with what happens now.

The four castles of the school system were the Abraham Lincoln School in the Highands, the Moody School at Rogers Park, the Pawtucket Memorial School, and the Butler School. Mr. Morrill stated that “We may take today…an honest pride n our system, in our school teachers, and in our scholars.” Children were always scholars, not students.

As stated, it was the recommendation of the School Committee that scholars under the age of seven not go to formal schools.
“No parent should be so cruel as to send them out from home merely to get rid of them.” it was stated in the School Committee Report. Also, it was noted that “Children are naturally selfish; they must be taught unselfishness and generosity.” In addition, it was required that “A clear idea should be formed as to (the development) of his character.” It was very important to shun companions and courses of action that lead down to destruction.

When I moved here in 1969, at the age of sixteen, little had changed in the 1880 school philosophy versus the 1960’s model. The Lincoln, Moody, Butler, and Pawtucket Memorial schools were still being used. Some textbooks dated back decades. Teachers seemed, to me the Superintendent’s son, to be more interested in their two unions than in changing education. I remember being yanked by a teacher whose identity will remain mine to know (he is deceased), into a Men’s Teacher’s Room and having the lone lightbulb pointed out. “That is what we are fighting for, you can tell your father.” I never did tell him about that.

Through our efforts to make PTO’s stronger, the Citywide Parent Council more visible, and other parental committees more prevalent, we are breaking down those barriers. Even I would not say that our current schools are totally reflected in our historic past. Many changes have been made.

I have a television show which features the current School Superintendent. Sometimes my questions are good, and sometimes they are a bit lame, but he opens his office once a month to answer questions on where the school system is headed. That is one thing that I do not see in our school histories. Lowell now has a school system to be proud of, and a potential multi-million dollar high school in the works. I believe it should continue to stay downtown. Time will tell. In the meantime, let’s take from the past a point of personal preference. Mr. Morrill states that, “The example of a manly and dignified teacher…becomes contagious. The scholar is sure to catch the inspiration.” We can only hope that more scholars do catch the inspiration of our educational history.