Monthly Archives: May 2017

Ancient Facts About the Lowell Public Schools

Alright, it is not like I have not ventured down this highway before.  I have often written about teacher preparation and curriculum from the beginning of the school system and I have uncovered some important facts.  I noted at one point that the curriculum is academic and it is still usable and used.  I compared the current Fourth Grade curriculum as spelled out in the Core Curriculum with the Fourth Grade requirements inherent in the 1850’s and 1860’s spelled out in the School Committee Minutes from that period of time.  But, there is always room for adjustment and there was a time when the Lowell Public School system was stellar and noteworthy.

We believe we have invented the current situation.  In fact, the early Superintendents were far and away mentionable in their accomplishments of their day.  One of the biggest problems we had was the need to continually supplement our curriculum by bringing the best speakers and curriculum experts to the teachers for their benefit in the classroom.  One Superintendent enlisted the best minds of the day to further teach the required courseload to the individual teachers.

“The Superintendent has taken great pains to bring to the attention of the teachers during the year by means of addresses from distinguished educators, some of the new methods of teaching.” (Lowell School Committee Minutes, 1857).

We currently have to lock down the schools because of terrorist and other threats.  But that many years ago, the many doors they built on the high school were there for a reason, “Visits by outsiders to the schools were encouraged,” cited one source. (ibid)

In short, the average visitor from outside the school was welcomed as a distinguished visitor.  He could be the local blacksmith, but he was welcomed to share his stories with the students.  There was even an evening school that met nightly and allowed the students up to the high school level to take courses towards their diploma.  The blacksmith might end up teaching steel manufacturing in Manuel Training classes if he was desired.

One of the largest school building programs in our city’s history occurred in the 1880’s.  The Butler, the Moody, the Bartlett, and the Pawtucket Memorial Junior High Schools were funded by the city in ten short years.  Most of those schools were still in use as late as the 1990’s.  I have pictures of many of those schools, both inside and outside the buildings.  They cost a mint.

The Moody Junior High School had “…electric call bells, (and) speaking tubes.”  Those tubes were just hoses, as the telephone had been invented but were not readily available for inner school usage.  They supplemented the many other improvements in each school.  It made the Moody School the “finest (grammar) school building in the city.”  The Moody School had a series of enhancements that make it useful right to the present day.  The building was placed on a strange angle because it was attempting to fully utilize the sun’s light during the day and early evening.  The massive windows were designed to milk the light from outside and place the sunlight directly over each student’s desk.  Teachers, as they are wont to do, wanted the worst children sitting near the teacher and damned the architect’s irresponsible placement of the desks.  So the teachers unscrewed each desk in some rooms from the floor, and placed them in different areas where they could better keep a view of the classroom’s behavior problems.  They just screwed the desks down in a more advantageous spot.  The students had to look more closely for their lessons, but the teachers were vindicated.  The principal, who was an Assistant Superintendent, had to report to the Superintendent what the teachers had done to make their control of the classroom tighter.

The first high school doubled as a junior high school in some instances.  It was opened in 1831 and had a stellar first graduation class.  Two state governors came from the class.  “Lowell’s first high school was opened in 1831, in a cottage house on Middlesex Street, and after several migrations, found permanent quarters in a new building erected for the purpose on Kirk Street in 1841.  This building…was finally outgrown and taken down in 1891.” (School Committee Minutes – Page 35)

The newer building was larger and on the same spot – it was occupied in 1893 and still stands on its spot at the current time.  The first floor was seven school rooms, while Stage II was upstairs and had eight rooms.  The third was named Coburn Hall and was in its original place with a sitting capacity of 1,200 students to one teacher.  It actually worked.  Students who caused problems in any of the rooms were likely to have their tenure at the high school cut and have their position in the school replaced.  High school was an honor, not a given.  They could easily be tossed out.  And they were.

I will write more on these interesting teaching practices in my next article.

 

What I am Learning About Elementary Schools

I am not an Elementary School teacher.  My wife is, however.  She has been teaching me for years with her stories of students and work-related lore.  However, I looked at things through high school aged glasses.  I believed, and still do to a certain degree, that not much had happened from early American education until today.  I think I have been wrong.

There are certain truths that have not changed much.  One of those is the introduction and permanence of early academic literature and teaching methods in the classrooms of yesterday and today.  I asked the Lowell, Massachusetts Public School system to provide me literature on what was being taught in the fourth grade today, and I compared it to yesterday.  It resulted in an interesting conundrom, that being that the titles of the courses taught remained the same from the 1830’s to the current day.  But, that did not mean that education had not changed somewhat.  In fact, it had.   I learned this by comparing books from earlier years to the current testing excessive academic curriculum.

I picked up a couple of modern books to compare today’s Fourth Grade to yesterday’s.  I have to be honest.  These books from today were being given away at a local neighborhood school.  Maybe they had no ability to sway the students, I do not know.  But the Core Curriculum was the bastion of defense.  If there was going to be some radical comparision, it would be in the books and augmented by the Core Curriculum.  It would not be conveniently displayed in a couple of no-cost books found in a file labeled “FREE,” in the hallway of a primary school in Lowell, Massachusetts.

So, here is what I found.  There is a continual effort to make lessons current and forward-thinking.  Many of the lessons were based on the embryonic curriculum of the past.  Many of the titles of the 1800’s, were used today in the effort to massage learning out of the students of today.  As I pointed out in another article, some repetitiveness was in the academic curriculum of the 1800’s.  Academics is, by definition “of a school” and “Conventional.”  (Webster’s Dictionary).  Conventional does not sound good when describing the STEM Curriculum, or any other curriculum partially based on the scientific and engineering requirements of the past fifty years.  When I was a third-grader, your mathematics curriculum required you to take a 100 question mathematics test in three minutes or less.  I took addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division by the time I had finished the Fourth Grade.

Mathematics is much more thought provoking now.  You have to determine why something happened, not just what two numbers equaled.  STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, I believe) was the result of a diminished capability of students to solve important questions that test their ability to answer questions on the process, not just on the accuracy of rote memorization.  Kindergarten students now know how to read, I was simply being taught to color and spell my full name when I was that age.  Reading, and I am not saying this because my wife is a Reading teacher, is necessary much earlier than it used to be.   I was taught to read in the First Grade.  I would be eclipsed by today’s schoolchildren.

Due to my substituting and following the teacher’s instructions, I have learned a great many things.  One thing is that Americans do not quit.  We continually try to give our children something that they did not have control over in earlier centuries.  There is nothing wrong with this approach, it is called progress.

What is the point?  It is simply that few students do not want to learn.  Some students, such as those in ELL programs, have to build up their knowledge of English before they wrestle with all we are aiming at them, but they are like any child.  They want to progress.  It does not do any good to tell people that the language of the United States is English.  There is no official language of the United States.  ELL students deserve the same consideration as any English-speaking child in this country.

One way we can help a child who is having difficulty is to lean on those people who are Specialists in their fields.  We learn History from a person like myself, a History Teacher.  We learn Mathematics from a trained professional mathematician.  We learn Language from a career professional who teaches English, Khmer, Spanish,

Substituting Enlightens My Perspective

Today I did something I have not done in eleven years.  I went to school and taught.  Contrary to many of my pre-conceptions education is exciting now.  Students are still required to be academic, so I am partially right, and Math is still taught with books, but strangely, the computer is available for every child.  Laptops have replaced those old CPU’s and Monitors, and there is a freedom in teaching using the computer as a tool in the classroom.  Somewhere out there is a Steven Jobs currently working computers as a sixth grader.  Or the guy who started Facebook is looking down the barrel of competition.   We are all just on this planet to learn.  It is a kind of freedom we have not seen since the “Age of Reason.”  And that was roughly two to three hundred years ago.

I have cancer, which I found out last week was in remission.  The drugs they used on me were not the same treatment they gave to my brother-in-law just twenty short years ago.  It was the same diagnosis, but a vastly different treatment.   I went to my Oncologist last week and she told me I was in remission, which I have told anyone who will listen.  Paul Tsongas died twenty years ago, unbelievably, and I firmly believe that if the drugs I was given were given to him, he would be here today.

So, I have two revelations.  School is different than it was eleven years ago when I retired for medical reasons.  Medicine is progressing and cancer is less a killer than it has been.  Two good things I was wrong about, and I do not mind admitting my intransigeance.  I still lean towards real books over the Kindle or the phone, or the computer, but I have to admit one thing, I am of retirement age, and things are vastly different than they were in 1954, or 1964, or 1974, etc.  I am learning.  I still prefer photographs to computer photos.  I still would rather work in the darkroom than many other places, and I love the feel of negatives on my fingers.

So, I am learning.  And today, I learned that computers can help the child in the classroom.  I kind of thought they still did Fortran, Basic, and Cobol.  They do much more, while using those languages as a base from which to grow.  I cannot look modernity in the eye quite as casually as I did before.  Children are learning and they know a great deal more than I do or did.  That is the good thing.

Here I sit listening to my 33 1/3 records, specifically the best of the Supremes, I have a date with my darkroom,  and I intend to cook dinner over a wood fire in the barbeque.  But, I have to admit to the supremacy of the CD, the difficulty of working in a darkroom, and the widespread use of a George Forman grill.  Life will never be quite as difficult as I made it out to  be.  There is a certain finality to the passing of institutional hegemony.  For those who do not know that word, it means preponderant influence or authority.  I had to take that out of Webster’s, the big book,  not the handy text.  Even the computer did not have that one.  But, it is the right word for my treatise.

Thus, here I am admitting that my love of historical solutions to small problems is probably a waste of time.  It is not going to change me.  I will still think a book made out of paper is better than a Kindle version.  I will still prefer photographs over prints.  I will still cook on a wood fire over even charcoal, let alone electricity.  But I have to admit that you guys may have a point.  Modernity is here to stay.  I am embarassed it took me so long to figure it out.

Tomorrow, I go to a school and learn from totally different student body.  I will still believe that most of their academics are rooted in historical references.   But, they  believe in their computers.  And that is not such a bad thing.  They have an outlook that may just conquer cancer and heart disease.  Two of my many diseases.  I do not believe that they are going to cure my Parkinson’s though.  Give it time, they will.  Those kids are smart enough to do a bit of everything.