When It All Comes Together

The magazine, “American Educator” is published by the American Federation of Teachers seasonally.   In their Fall Issue, in 2015, they ran an article on the relationships  between Communities and Schools.  In it they said “…(it was) understood then, and continues to understand now, that  students need the organized support of their communities to succeed, and that schools alone cannot provide all the educational and developmental experience young people need to graduate and succeed in life.” (American Educator)

“Our public schools should be centers of flourishing communities where everyone belongs and works together to help young people thrive.” (ibid)  They are saying, quite succinctly, that students need the active community that will help them identify themselves and make them a success.  My first ten years of life were spent in small towns in Iowa, and I know my uncles and my father were identifying themselves by their activity with their hometown.  One uncle owned a printing company, a large one; another owned a clothing store; and the other owned a steel manufacturing company.  My father used the GI Bill to get his Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Doctorate and became a successful Superintendent of Schools in a number of towns and cities.  They all succeeded because the town they came from was very supportive of them.  They were from a flourishing community that rewarded them for their hard work and effort.

There was a rise in effort to build up a thriving school system.  Strangely, I thought, my father was never Superintendent of his hometown.  But that was his choice.  His town developed a new high school when the old one was totally usable.  They sold the old bricks from the old high school to alumnae.  That helped buy some new curriculum for the new school.

It is true that communities need to be supportive of their school system if that system is meant to last.  I have written a great deal about Lowell, Massachusetts and its school system.  It was started in 1831, and its first high school graduating class consisted of a reknown surgeon, two future governors, a war hero, and a man who founded the New Hampshire City of Manchester.  There was a great deal of community involvement in the early school system.  Its existence helped form a vibrant audience as its alumnus’s grew older.

Curriculum is difficult to assess.  It has to be timely, yet somewhat historic, it has to be true to certain values of its community,  and its larger government structure, such as the state it is in.  It has to answer to its parents, its professionals, and its professors.  Anyone can take a huge interest in it.  In Lowell, the early mill owners did not see the need for a school system, and it was up to the professionals – ministers in this case – to start the school system.  The primary individual in Lowell who had  influence enough to start the school system was the Reverend Theodore Edson, the pastor of the Episcopalean Church called St. Anne’s situated in downtown Lowell and developed for the mill girl’s betterment.

Curriculum is fluid.  But it also can be stagnant.  The early school committees in Lowell came up with very specific curriculums with which to move the education of its sons and daughters towards their goal.  One stated goal of the early school system was that “Lowell’s elected Yankee officials still believed in the link between learning and patriotism.”  Catholics, they felt, could become more meaningful partners of patriotism if they learned in public schools (Minutes of School Committee – 1850).

The Irish turned away from public schools in droves.  One destined to  be famous was William O’Connell, who would become the Archbishop later in his life.  His observation of the times was that he was “an outsider looking in.”  He could not help but notice that “the agents thrived but…all of the money enriches others than Lowell men.”

Father O’Brien became pastor and garnered his forces to exhibit Catholic mores.  Famine-ridden Irish gathered around Father O’Brien because community leadership was “a logical extension of their role at St. Patrick’s (Paddy Camps).”  Even Benjamin Butler entered into the fray.  He organized the Irish vote into a group of fellow Democrats.  In the meantime, Catholic Schools were flourishing, setting their own curriculum standards and expecting their children to become Catholic.  They used the curriculum to maintain their religious beliefs.  Every Catholic school taught Religion in its curriculum.  In spite of this, the Catholics wanted to be accepted by “Yankee Lowell.”

When Father Tucker showed up, he hired Gaelic-speaking Priests.  They furthered the cause by refusing to teach in English, despite the fact that they all understood and spoke it.  When the famous “Know-Nothings” dropped out of the curriculum question the Irish used the Yankee vacuum to build their own communities through the church.  St. Patricks was the lead church at the time.

I do not know exactly where I read this, but one researcher said that Irish mothers collected wages from the husband and the children and, on Friday, after the collection, she would buy what was needed for the home.  Hopefully, she could read so she would not be cheated.

Mill owners were, as they would be now, most interested in the bottom line.  Kirk Boott was solidly against education in Lowell.  He hired the Irish because they were cheaper than the Yankees.  (Paddy Camps)  The Irish were a “Permanent replacement for Yankee operatives in the late 1840’s.” (ibid.)

The curriculum in 1850 was very much like the curriculum now.  There was an affinity for Arithmetic, Grammar, Foreign Languages, Science, and History.  In addition, specials were taught as part of the curriculum.  They had Music, Gym, and Art.  Of course, there was no computer.  And the sewing machine and typewriter had yet to be invented.

Every generation feels that it is tackling new problems in its schools.  I am just making the observation that very little changes.  Even combined efforts to stop curses like drug problems were in vogue.

In spite of this, as the magazine said, it is necessary for the community to get involved with its children’s schooling.  With more involvement comes less confusion and the children know what the consequences will be.  In Lowell, in 1850, they did not even have grading yet.  Grading would be launched in the 1860’s.  And it  would have a massive effect on children’s learning.  I wrote about that in an earlier blog.  It is flying somewhere in the cloud.