Monthly Archives: March 2017

Education in Lowell, MA – The High School

I was listening to a song whose title escapes me, so if any of you recognize the lyrics, send me the name of the song.  Anyway, the song contains the line, “Battle lines being drawn, nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong.”  We are having something of that type of battle in Lowell, MA. currently.   Last night, some of it came to a head with a motion that was passed with some exceptions.  The Mayor and another friend of mine, voted against the proposal.  They were excoriated.

 

There is a proposal in the city to build a new high school.  Where to place it seems to be a question.  Also, construction and transportation of students seem to be unanswerable questions.  The strange thing is that the current high school is performing up to standards as it is currently.  I heard a song today that describes the imbalance; “Battle lines are being drawn, nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong.”  That is kind of where we are now.  People from the wealthiest part of the city are vying for construction, while most of the rest are in favor of enhancing the current high school.  It is up to the City Council which hit the skids last night with the Mayor basically telling people that the cost of the new construction will be fifty million more than reconstruction of the old building.  Really, there are three old buildings.  One was built in 1893, one in 1922, and one in 1983.

The 1893 building had the best construction.  It still lasts.  The 1922 building had an asbestos problem back in the 1990’s and six million dollars was spent on ridding the building of the problem, according to a high level retired official.  The 1983 building is the problem.  The building is new, but the construction is not good.  The roof leaks in the gym.  Problems exist with the swimming pool.  That area is basically the problem.

Another song describes the way the problem was handled for years.  I do not know the name of the song, but many of you probably do.  It goes, “Dream on, dream on, dream until your dream comes true.”  If you could tell me who wrote that song I would be happy.  I do not know, I just remember that part of it from the radio.  Anyway, Lowell has sunk some money into the new building, to no avail.  We are basically dreaming until our dream comes true.

The first question I asked in all of this was why we did not sue the 1983 contractor?  That did not go over well.  Millions have been spent on that building and fixing it has never happened.   I pointed it out to John Glenn with pride when it was 1984.  It bombed quickly.  I probably should have asked Senator Glenn for help, but who knew what would happen?

Anyway, as stated, the 1983 building just leaked.  The air conditioning never worked, the heat was a problem, but the building itself handles thousands of students a day.  It looks, smells, and acts like a high school.  I could fit four hundred books into the book racks on the side of the classroom and have thirty five desks for my students.

The one thing I never noticed about that building was that the Chemistry Department did not teach, from my perspective, in the lab rooms.  The lab rooms were not used for laboratory experiments.  People have taken this to be a problem with the labs.  They  seemed fine to me, and I was across the hall from them.  They were used as academic classrooms.  Not as laboratories.  Now, that may be the one lab room across from my homeroom, but I just observed it.  I have no idea if things happened earlier or later.  But one of the reasons for a new high school was the lack of lab time.

I am not certain that the high school needs to be new entirely.  Some problems were intrinsic to the building.  Some were man-made.  Some were caused by outside factors.  Like the lack of air conditioning.  Or the problems with heat in the winter.

I am not totally convinced that Lowell needs a new high school.  I think it does.  But it is not always using the best of the existing structure.  I taught in the 1983 building and I loved it.  I worked almost all of my time in the building and received almost entirely rave reviews.  Perhaps one middle-of-the-road one, but virtually all superior.

It was terrible when I went to see a basketball game in the Fieldhouse and the snow leaked through the roof.  The students could not play.  But that was a symptom, not the disease.  The high school is a high school.  It is big, it needs construction, and it can hold the entire sophomore, junior, and senior classes.   The freshman class takes place in the Freshman Academy.  All of my kids went to Lowell High School, as did I.

The point I am trying to make is that the high school, despite all of its problems, does not need three hundred thirty million dollars in repairs.  It can expand onto land taken in eminent domain cases.  It needs a tunnel to the parking garage.  Three of my fellow teachers got hit by cars trying to cross the walkway and they and the kids need a tunnel.  They need air conditioning, they need adequate heat.  They need a new fieldhouse.  But this is a poor city, with a large immigrant population.  We cannot afford all of the perks being tossed about by the City Fathers.  We cannot afford the fifty million dollars difference in taxes on a newly constructed school.

Finally, Amazon recently put up their world headquarters and it is going to cost an estimated fifty million dollars.  For the entire complex.  We are saying this school should  be made for 350,000,000.00 dollars.  Let us find out what Amazon did.  Maybe we can learn something.

My final word is that we cannot afford to use up any more green space to make school buildings.  If you need a school building, buy the lot and build on the lot, like UMASS-LOWELL does.  We do not have to eat up green space, and we do not have to spend millions of dollars we do not have.  I just paid off my mortgage, and I am looking forward to excessive taxes from this effort.  I was looking forward to a respite, but Lowell does not give them.  The City Council just raised the taxes by 5%.  That is enough of  an increase.

John Glenn’s Visit to Lowell, Massachusetts

The John Glenn story was magical.  Paul Tsongas had cancer, but no one knew except family.  John Glenn did not know.   In order to keep up the facade Paul enlisted me to greet and bring John Glenn down Merrimack Street to Shattuck Street where we were to take the left and meet Paul next to the big wheel at the Mack Building.  I met Presidential hopeful John Glenn  in front of the SUN Building, the newspaper headquarters, not the skyscraper.  Somebody in the Fairburn Building, head stuck out a convenient window, yelled down to Channel 5 reporter, Mary  Richardson, “Hey Mary, you’re great!”  Other than that the initial crowd was very respectful and kind.

Suddenly, the Ohio Senator stepped out of a car, greeted me and we got ready to walk down Merrimack Street.  City Manager Joe Tully, had gotten the two block walk downtown bare of crowds.  John  Glenn was going to walk down an empty Merrimack Street with just me as company.  I was in heaven.  John Glenn was taller than I thought, or I was smaller than I thought.  We walked with purpose down Merrimack Street and I told the Senator the history of each building we passed, especially St. Anne’s Church.  At first, we did not talk, so I gathered it was my duty to tell him about the history of the area.  I told him about the death of Kirk Boott in front of St. Anne’s.  He was interested.  I pointed over to the high school.  I talked about the 1893 building and pointed out the new high school wing.  I also talked about the new and old City Halls.  He did not have many questions.  It kept going to my head that I was escorting an American Icon down the street.  Finally in front of Palmer’s Ice Cream, he asked about the mill girls and I answered as best as I could.

No one was on the street to take my picture with the first American to orbit the earth.  He did it three times.  I kind of regreted that, although there was, in the next day’s Lowell SUN, a picture of Mr. Glenn with my father directly behind him.  I concluded that my father was a photo hound.

Eventually, it was time to turn onto Shattuck Street and there was a huge crowd held back by a police line.  Paul popped out of the big wheel and smiled broadly, Mr. Glenn smiled just as broadly.  My solitary walk with John Glenn was over.  We went to the Market Mills, John Glenn pleased with the size of the crowd.  He stood on the ramp in front of the LTC and gave a speech.  I remember he said, “You know, I have to call members of the Senate ‘Honorable’ but there is one man here that needs to be called ‘Honorable’ and I mean it.  Paul Tsongas is honorable.  He is one of the few members of the Senate to be called ‘Honorable.’     Paul beamed.

We went into the Market Mills, with Paul and then it was time for Mr. Glenn to tour the Wannalancit Mills with his wife Annie.  Vicki and I were picked to accompany the solitary Annie Glenn throughout the newly fixed Wannalancit Mills.

I remember a man, unknown to me, handing the Senator the book, “The Right Stuff,” which Mr. Glenn did not like because he did not like the depiction of himself.  Still, John Glenn stopped and signed it.  That man died a few years ago, and his book is worth something now.

The thing I remember was that Annie Glenn’s famous stutter did not happen in the entire tour we gave her, and she was very talkative.  She was gracious and funny and lucid.  I really enjoyed her company.

That was a chapter out of the scrapbook I keep of Mr. Glenn in 1963 when he went into space.  I got to take him on a walk.  It was great to be related to Paul Tsongas, that was for sure.  The most famous pilot in history walked down the street with me and I was proud to be honored as his tour guide.

IMMIGRATION AND THE U.S.A.

I believe in open borders and greatly miss the Open Canadian/United States border we enjoyed when were younger.  Times pass, people change, and Illegal Aliens settle in the United States of America.  But, not every alien is an illegal and it is that dichotomy that causes us to hesitate on emergency acts in the country.  I did a major blog, which I have been willing to discuss for a year now, all without fruition, and we conveniently forget who we are and how we got here.

 

    John Kennedy said it best in his book on immigration.  He noted the large group of immigrants who moved here from Ireland, something like 47 million people in forty years during the 1800’s.  His great-nephew recently made the observation that he would not be allowed into the country now with the anti-illegal immigrant laws on the books.  Joseph Kennedy sounded wise beyond his age when he spoke on his rights as a citizen of the United States.  His uncle said, that “Each new wave of immigration helped meet the needs of American development and made its distinctive contribution to American character.”  Imagine how foreign Italian mafia lords must have looked to our great-grandfathers in the 1900 to 1940 range.  Imagine, people who shoot their own kind for profit?  How foreign was that?  We are scared now, but given what passed before us, how scared can we be?

 

    JFK said, “The Irish 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 forty four percent of the foreign born in the United States.”  There is very little in common between the Irish and the English they replaced.  And what about those English?  They come here, fight the first immigrants, the Native Americans, and take over their inheritance settling millions on Native American soil.  In fact, the Native Americans cannot understand the idea that you can own land.  In their religion(s), land was like the sky.  It could not be owned.  Now we say that we can control even the sky.

 

    “They were mostly country folk, small farmers, cottagers, and farm laborers. My great great great ad nauseum grandfather traveled here from Ireland to escape the law in Ireland.  Not that he was a master criminal, he just did not believe that the English could control Ireland.  Now that is called a patriot.  He came over with his wife and four children.  Eventually, he and his wife would parent eleven children, most born in Canada.  That is where he served as a slave (indentured servant), to a Canadian who’s last name started with a “D.”  He had to put in so many years, nineteen of them, because he had to pay for his, his wife’s, and his four children’s passage to America.  Eventually he paid off his bill and he left Canada for the plains of South Dakota, taking with him his Conestoga wagon and his wife and eleven children for forty acres and a mule.  

 

    What we learn about our ancestors heightens us.  It makes us larger than life.  The first Lowell Irish were the only ones crazy enough to handle using gunpowder to dig the canals of rock.  The Irish eventually did safer things, but not what we would call “safe.”   They moved the canal rock to build an Episcopalian Church, St. Anne’s, in downtown Lowell.  Mill girls were a step above the Irishmen  who blasted the canals.  Imagine digging so many miles of rock, solid rock, in order to build a church you would never be invited to attend.  Religion was, as Karl Marx once alluded to, the opiate of the masses.  By working the girls for six straight days and taking them to Episcopal Mass on the seventh, the mill owners felt that they had their lives in hand.  Little did they know, to Kirk Boott’s astonishment, that the girls would be willing to go to school after work let out of the mills and on Sunday’s.  Boott felt it was just short of madness.  Theodore Edson, the Pastor of St. Anne’s Church, was the first publicly  elected school official in Lowell.

He spoke to the girls every Sunday, in ways that railed against the mill owner’s interests.  He was there when the girls went to school, and when they started the first girl’s bank in Lowell, the famous Lowell Institution for Savings.

 

    We are at an awful bend in the road of immigration reform.  We have often cleared out illegal immigrants.  We even took a group of Japanese-Americans and moved them into concentration camps because they were part Japanese.  It did not matter, as it does not matter now, that they were more American than Japanese.  We just felt comfortable with them out of the way in California.   So we moved them east, into large towns, often called concentration camps,  occupied by Japanese-Americans.

 

    The Irish played a brand of politics that we do not necessarily understand but laugh about today.  One example was the most intelligent piece of mayhem in American politics.  “Honey Fitzgerald,” JFK’s well-loved grandfather, was being challenged by a man who was urging people to write him on the ballot, since he had not had the necessary number of signatures on his paperwork.  “Honey Fitz” convinced the printer, who was his friend, to not put glue on the back of the stamps with the man’s name printed on them.  Each ballot was gathered at the election precinct and each ballot had the man’s name fall off of them.  JFK thought it was a good story about electioneering and how far the people would go to get elected to an office.  It was a good story about how far the third generation Irish would go to get their opponents off of the ballot.  Imagine how it played to those people whose forefathers had settled in the 1700’s.   It must have been a terrible breach of the election game.

 

    This entire immigration scandal is a terrible divide of the morality dictated by the forefathers.  Indeed, in the immigration question, no one is right and no one is wrong.  We have done it all before.  We cannot say that the Muslims have no right to settle here.  Mexicans, who are starving, are going to traverse our boundaries.  We have better homes and food than they can get in their native country.  We suffer under the assumption that everyone basically has a good heart and good values.  No matter how frustrated we get, we believe in the basic goodness of the people.  That does not necessarily mean that we believe in perfect goodness.  We have jails, courts and other processes.  If you really want to know how to handle the masses, go to a Registry of Motor Vehicles office.  There, no one is special.  Let people emigrate, let them immigrate.  That is how our forefathers did it.   And accept the fact that no one whether English or Irish, or Muslim or Greek, is worth more in the eyes of the law.    We have all had the  opportunity to make our mistakes according to the mores of the first people who emigrated to America.  And, in war or in peace, we have all had the opportunity to fix our mistakes.  Let’s allow those who have come after us to have the same protections we were allowed.

 

    That is basically my stand on immigration.  It is very close to the usual American beliefs.