Monthly Archives: March 2020

A Few Notes on Education Including the High School History

Lowell High School has an interesting and erroneous history.  It was not formed in 1831 and it did not locate itself first on Middlesex Street.  Take out the School Committee Minutes from 1834 to 1838.  It is available in the Memorial Library Research Room.  It is my opinion, bound by fact, that the High School did not exist until 1834.   That is when the State Department of Education recognized it.  The school would come to be known as being something special.  Of the first eleven graduates, one would be a special surgeon, there would be one Governor of Massachusetts in it, and one Governor of New Hampshire.

There was a three year high school educational program in 1834 that might help to explain the mistaken date of inception as 1831.  In 1834 there was a graduation.  Where those students, which included Benjamin Butler, came from is a mystery.  It does help to explain the 1831 date though.  There was a three year program that existed and that Butler and his 10 fellow students might have been following.  However, the State Certficate for the high school did not exist until 1834.

At the time, a high school education  was “frosting on the cake.”  A college education was very attractive, but not really  heard of at the time.  Even lawyers, like Abraham Lincoln, were not required to go to college.  Lincoln had no degree.  Neither did many other lawyers.  They studied as apprentices to or under other lawyers.  It might be said that we have come a long way.

The high school would become a major educational magnet in certain circles.  It was noted by the Board that Lowell had seventeen schools requiring twenty-eight instructors.  In comparison Charlestown  had 9,400 inhabitants, whereas Lowell had 14,000 inhabitants.  Charlestown had 1,581 students to Lowell’s 2,300 students.

Lowell petitioned in early 1834 with the state to certify that their new high school would be located in the Concert Hall on Merrimack Street.  Massive work was done to the Concert Hall at the incredible price of ninety-five dollars, to make it a high school.  At one point, the School Committee was forced to admit that the “High School has been has been closed since January last for lack of funds.”  It was their goal “…to open the High School as soon as they should be able to save money enough to carry it through the year.”  The High School was closed intermittently during bad weather.  Often the closings were for a year or  so.  (John W. Graves – Secretary of the Lowell School Committee, July 23, 1834).

At the time, all you needed to become a teacher was a seventh grade education.  High school teachers had tougher requirements, but could become teachers with a less than stellar education.   They were not to require a college education.

A long, long time ago, as Don McClean says in his iconic “American Pie,” I was born to a teacher who made sure that his family was adhered to education.  My father, at the time,  was getting himself in educational trouble for writing against Joseph McCarthy’s views on Commies in the government.  It did not endear my father to his professors.  This was at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa.  It was a very brave stand to take at the time.

After obtaining his Master’s Degree in Administrative Education, he became the youngest Superintendent in Iowa.  He was twenty-six years of age.  He took over the rural school in Cosgrove, Iowa.   Cosgrove was mostly a town which catered to the surrounding farms.  There were twenty-six people populating the town.  Television was a brand new invention so it did not cover a small Iowan school district.  We had a television which was basically useless, and because we were so far away from the station, I grew up without television.  It has never been my favorite thing to watch.

I learned a lot from my father.  He made special wooden toys for us, and we greatly admired him.  He even taught me how to properly clap my hands to make the loudest  noise.  He used to cup his hands to make a louder clap.  His was louder than the other men’s claps in Cosgrove.  I was a young boy there in Cosgrove, and enjoyed the idea that among the population were eight nuns and one priest.  They were part of the twenty-eight.  I was very proud of my father when he brought home a rowboat that he had built himself.  I thought it was beautiful, and it was.

Growing up was kind of difficult with the Superintendent of Schools as my father.  Every new idea that he learned at the University of Iowa doctoral program was practiced on me.  When he got his Ph.D. we had the best party I have ever been to; it was monumental.  During the party one of my friends stole a cigarette from his father.  I learned how not to smoke that  night.  One neighbor, a psychiatrist, burst into laughter as we burned ourselves trying to light up.  Fortunately I never did learn how to inhale, or smoke cigarettes.  It was one of the lessons of my young life.   It happened on the day my father became Dr. Wayne R. Peters.  It was quite an accomplishment for a man whose father had always been a blacksmith.  And, one of his sons wrote, “a damned fine one.”

I was very proud of my father.  He was neat.  He gained a reputation as a reformer.   He instituted many changes in his school district(s).  They were exciting.  Years after Cosgrove, he made a big difference near Chicago, in Harvey, Illinois.  That was a diverse community and I learned there that there were people I had nothing in common with but I had to adapt.  I still do adapt.  When Lowell got its Cambodian influx, a local hardware owner posted in his door “No Cambodians here.”  I was excited to see the Cambodians and even today they are many of my best friends.

The high school became a major winner of the downtown area.  It carried heavily in the vote on its location.  The fact is, that Lowell High School will always be at the core of education in the city.  And, its location is at the core.  That should come as no surprise to anyone.  It is the same mindset that first located the high school on Merrimack Street in the downtown.

This is an invigorating school and it will always direct the city.  It is possible for a pre-K student to start school and go on to his or her doctorate while just being in Lowell for life.  There are, of course, other reasons for living your life in Lowell.  Some people do it.  Some of us will always be blow-ins.

Lowell’s population is always fluid.  We are basically conservative, but Democratic.  There are some Republicans, but we try not to let them bother us too much.  Our major political fights are for  City Council or the School Committee.  Both are difficult to ascend to.  State Representative, State Senate, and Congressional seats are won by those who Paul Tsongas categorized as “the luckiest.”  I used to ask him how he did so well and his response was always, “I was lucky.”  That assessment is what I take from Lowell.  I will be buried here.

Update on the Magna Carta

I am a student of history, and I love English history.  I recently spent time reading about Thomas a Beckett and Henry II.  It was fascinating and possibly a new blog at some point.  But today’s blog is about the Magna Carta (Latin for Magnificient Charter).  It was called that because it  was such a long document.   What you may not know is that there existed major parts of the document which we will discuss as four parts.  Historians broke it down into the four sections.  I am going to list those four sections here.  They were very succinct.

As some of you may remember from your History books, the meeting at Runnymede Field was not just attended by the nobles, but also by the wealthy merchants who were paying for King John’s incompetence through high taxes.   They were as taxed as the nobles.  Runnymede was fifteen miles from the main castle of the King.  Just as a way of showing how incompetent he was, I have to mention that he was running from his brother, and he took the original Crown Jewels. This included the crown itself, which had been in the family since William the Conquerer, and the jewels fell  into the Thames River at its deepest part.  They were never recovered and have been covered by silt for centuries.  The current crown of Queen Elizabeth is not the original.

Runnymede is preserved as it was at the time, to allow the field to be as it is currently and show how desperate the King had become.  It is important to history and to the average person for four major reasons.

  1.     The way in which the document was gathered and signed was significant.  The major points were not given willingly or freely.  They were coerced from the incompetent king, King John.  He was probably the least effective king in English history.  King Richard the Third was, albeit not for Shakespeare,  incredibly good comparitively.   These proposals were forced by the most active people, acting in a united fashion.  They were not going to dismiss their weighted concerns.  The document was signed and it showed, incredibly, that if the King did not rule as the people wished, he could be made to do so.  That term in the contract made John decide to ignore this part of the Magna Carta  in the future.   He was not allowed to ignore it by the people who forced him to accept the giveaway.
  2.      It kept feudal “principles of government” from being superseded by the principles of an absolute monarch.  John had been an absolute monarch in his early reign.  He could give them good government if he in turn gave them good service.  It was believed, rightly, that the King had no right to break this contract.  It showed that the tenants had the right and power to limit the King and his account.
  3. The Magna Carta was bound to be a disappointment.  It did not form a new government, but, instead, was nothing as much as it was a return to old customs.  Many of the provisions were insignificant and temporary.  It protected the right of the prisoner, in much the same way as the least important of us are now protected from tyranny.  It literally said, “To no one will we sell, and to no one will we deny or delay right of justice.” (Magna Carta)  In the future, in our time, these obstructions would form the rights in our own Constitution.  Prisoners of the time, and currently, are still protected by the law.
  4. It was a definitive statement of the “rights to refer.”  (Edward Cheyney; the History of England).  King John scoffed at the rules and declared that he did not intend to keep these rights.  However, the people and the Pope convinced him that the days of Henry I, II, and  King Richard had passed.  It sufficed as a clear promise of good government.  King John would have to live with it, as would each successive monarch, including those sitting on the throne of Britain today.  Students of English history, and those of us who are relatively uneducated  in the ways of the Magna Carta live with it tenets everyday.  Pope Innocent III had excommunicated the King and left England outside of the protections of the Catholic Church.  That was a major reason why the King had burned through his power.  An interesting and logical surmise.  And it is today’s blog.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Beauty of Human Effort

I am a student of history.  In order to tell the stories that result in the telling of this history, sometimes I have to tell you something that is historically accurate but not always well-known.  This story is about someone (me) who saw history being made by some of the most unhistorical men or women in our lives.  This story is true.  I have pictures of the original moment in history and the use of the heavy-duty crane.

This is the story.  In the 1980’s or so, the City Fathers, of which my father was one, planted the coal train that is across from the diner near the Old Worthen.  Now we have plenty of information on the Old Worthen.  It was a favorite stop for the famous Edgar Allen Poe of Baltimore.  What you may not know is that the coal train was given to us by a quarry in Westford.  Lowell was glad to get it.  It did not fit, but it was appreciated.

What do  I mean by “it did not fit?” Well, the wheels could not be lowered onto the railroad track that the coal train was supposed to rest on, accurately, according to the historians in the crowd.  The wheels were approximately one quarter of an inch to wide for the track.  The track had not been accurately measured.  For the entire morning, afternoon, and evening, the engine was lifted, relifted, and refit onto the recalcitrant track.   The track could not be moved.  The engine simply had to fit.  It didn’t.

The college-trained engineers could not make that locomotive fit onto that track.  It was the summer, so it was getting dark later, and the group next to the train under the canopy tried every angle they could think of and some solutions that they probably had never thought of before.  I watched with great interest, stopped for supper, and returned to my spot near the locomotive.   Almost everyone except the workers had left.  The few workers left continued everything and anything that might work.  I had, and have, to give them credit.  They did not seem to miss a trick.  The crane had even gone home.  I have a picture of the crane and it was a tough little tool.

I was about to leave myself, but I went to the men under the canopy.  Curses, mostly, sounded in the dark night.  Finally, an old man went up to the men and said he could get that locomotive into its bed.  They all laughed at him.  They asked him how he woud do it.  “Get me some wood,” he said.  “Small pieces, rectangular or square.”  Some disbelievers did exactly as he said.  They brought over some rectangular pieces of 2 by 4’s and 4 by 8’s.  At his own speed, he gently put each new board leaning against the locomotive.  Slowly, the pile of wood reached up onto the space between the track and the culp.  Culpability was the question.   The old man continued in his task, there was no culpability.  He continued in his effort and built a sandbox tower, the type of thing you might see in the making of a child’s toy.  It was almost up to the rim of the locomotive wheel.

No one was really paying attention to him, I noticed.  He asked for a final board, and placed it at an angle under the rim.  Then he asked for  a sledge hammer.   He used the sledgehammer to pound the last piece of wood under the wheel rim.  I was the last person on his side of the locomotive.  With a jolt I heard the locomotive settle onto the track.  He had completed successfully placing the train on the track.  He had done it with the simplest of tools, a hammer and a wedge.  Under pressure,  the wood pile fell onto itself.  He had won.  Age had defied his intelligence.  The men left in the canopy came over to look at the wheel.  It had moved fractions of an inch onto the track and he had done it.  I left there thinking that I would never question an old man’s intelligence.  My grandfather had been a blacksmith and lifted heavy horse feet up to put horseshoes on horses.  I looked up and said to the dark, “Nice work, Grandpa.”  I think he heard me.

That is my true history story for today.  And it happened in Lowell, and it is true.