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.