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Steam Engines and Other Facts

Back about 1957, when I was three years of age, I was visiting my grandfather and grandmother in Barnum, Iowa next to the tracks for the Rock Island Railroad line.  One day I heard an awful noise coming from down the tracks.  I was so scared I started to cry.  My father, on the other hand, was taking me by my hands and pulling me towards the railroad tracks.  He was not trying to kill me, he wanted to teach me a little history.

The noise was so great that I continued crying.  He told me to stand next to the tracks and watch what was coming down the tracks.  I looked to my left, because that was where the awful noise was emanating from, and I was frozen in sheer terror.  To my left coming down the tracks, was the largest black machine I had ever seen.  It was, as I said, amazingly loud.  It was a steam engine, progressing under its own power towards the spot that I stood next to, and it scared me to death.  It passed extremely slowly, and blew its whistle to  tell us to stay away.  I learned about the fact that train’s whistles meant something, stay away was the sound of this one.

I was frozen in my spot, having no desire to get hit by this massive machine.  It spewed black smoke.  It was, my father later told me when I had gotten a little older, a working locomotive going to Omaha, Nebraska to be melted down.  It was the last steam engine I ever saw on that line.  I was still scared but my father gave me some courage by speaking of it in logical terms and telling me it was going to Omaha.  It was the last steam engine, he said, that we would see and it indeed was the last one we did see.

I never got the chance to thank my father for letting me stand and watch that engine go on its way.  Later, he took me to a steam engine tractor pull, and the weighted steel wheels on those old steam tractors tore up the ground.  Those engines were much less loud and driven by their farmers who were vying for a monetary prize.  But nothing could match that steam  engine.  It was monstrous.

Years later I rode in a tractor picking corn.  We stood, a couple of my buddies, my brother, and I, in the wagon where the shelled corn was being thrown.  It was fun.  Much later than that, I climbed to the top of a five story corn container.  It was filled with soybeans and we ate soybeans and told stories about school, and hunting, and fishing.  That was enjoyable too.

Years later, I ended up in Lowell.  No corn cribs, no soybeans, no stories of charcoal burnt pigs.  We were in the settled part of Massachusetts.  Little did I know, but one of my best friends was a farmer.  We raised pigs, grew raspberries, and walked through his barn, which one day collapsed while no one was in it, including no animals either.  We butchered the pigs at Blood Farm in Groton one morning.  It was hard work, and kind of gruesome but it taught me how hard farmers worked to bring their wares  to market.  We stopped after a couple of years because you grew too close to the pigs.  They were very smart animals, as you learned in “Charlotte’s Web.”

Another steam engine story happened right in downtown Lowell, and I believe that no one remembers this one because I was alone with my small son.  Lowell was given the steam engine that occupies the railroad tracks at the National Park Service.  The newspaper kept  telling everyone how heavy that engine was, and I have a picture of the crane next to the steam engine, which hopefully I printed in this blog.

The engine arrived a little early and I had my  entire family lined up to see it.  The problem was that the crane had to drop it exactly in place on the rails and it kept missing the rail.  By a quarter of an inch, they said in one case.  It was heavy and the crane strained to control it.  It kept landing, all day until dark, on that rail and it was not going to drop easily into place.  The remarkable thing was the brainchild of an elderly worker who had been there all day until dark.  I stayed until dark.  I could not leave, it was so fascinating.  Engineers, the slide ruler kind, could not get  that crane to properly place that train.

Finally, the elderly worker was asked for his advice.  He told them that he could place the train but he needed some pieces of wood.  They looked at him like he was crazy, but they got him the wood.  He proceeded to build a tower from the rail to the top of the wheel, and it stood there, doing nothing.  Then the elderly worker asked for one last piece of wood, placed it on top of the wooden pile and jacked it into the space between the rail and the rim.  He asked for a sledge hammer, complaining that the railroad wheel was off by one quarter of an inch.  He proceeded to pound that last piece of wood into the space between the tower of wood and the engine wheel.  On his last swing, the piece of wood caused the engine to lift itself and push itself over by one quarter of an inch.  The train fell onto the tracks, placed there by  a force of wood strategically placed in the wood pile.  I cheered, but I was the only person still watching and the story seems incredible.  I know it happened.  The man responsible is probably with his Maker now.  But he leveled that train on the rail.

You can believe that if you want to, you don’t have to if you do not want to, the fact is that it happened and it was only witnessed by myself, my son, and a small cadre of workers.  The man did what the crane could not do.  He personally saved that project.  There is no one left to tell his story except me.  So that is the story.  I hope you believe it because is happened exactly that way.  But I know there are skeptics.  And, if I did not see it myself, I would have never believed it.  It did not make the newspaper, because it was just an old man with a better idea.

So that is the story of the steam engines.  What most people do not realize was that the steam engine put the water power wheels out of business.  Next to the Market Mills is what is left of the steam building.  You can still see where the poor overworked individuals shoveled coal all day under that vat of water which was steam controlled by a company.  The advent of steam was the end of the use of the waterwheel.  That happened in the 1880’s and steam was used for years thereafter.  I remember it hissing and appearing in the tubes going towards what used to be Sullivan Brothers Printing.  But that is another story.

I can sell you pictures of the steam engine and the heavy crane, but they are 8″ by 10″ and that is too big to put in this space.

The Real Start of Lowell High School

For my entire life, the starting year for Lowell High School has been 1831.  Even the cup I use for my coffee has the year showing the start of the high school as being 1831.  While doing research for a book I surmised that that date was incorrect.  In fact, the starting date, or starting year, is 1834.  Where do I come up with that date?  It was in the 1834 School Committee Minutes.  The starting date for the high school was 1834.  Specifically, the Minutes state that it is “expedient to establish a High School according to the laws of the Commonwealth; and that we (Lowell) will establish such a school as soon as practicable.”  (Spelling dictated by the Minutes).  After making that incredible observation, the School Committee “Adjourned to Friday April 11th. at 2 o:clock.”  Before they adjourned however, they passed a raise for the school teachers salary. (Minutes – Page 139)

The School Committee was determined to have influence over the Irish Catholic community at this time.  The Reverend Barnaby was commended for running the “Irish Primary School.”  “Miss Hanrah Dyar (will) be appointed teacher for the Irish School.”  It is fair to say that few of the Irish immigrants sent their children to the Irish School.  The problem would exist for the next twenty years as more and more Irish mothers saw their children attend Irish Catholic Schools run by nuns and priests.  Their lack of completion of the children in the public school system spoke volumes to the desire of the Irish to educate their own.

In other business, in 1834, the School Committee voted that “two Primary Schools  be established in Belvidere Village, with the right of such scholars to attend the Grammar and High School, once it was accredited by the State House.  In other business, Messr’s. Barnaby, Merrill, and Graves chose Mr. Barnaby Chairman Pro Tem.”  It was their duty to make certain that Belvidere Village got its two Primary Schools.

This was a controlled School Department.  It was controlled by the School Committee.  In one vote it saw a motion passed that “No book or apparatus but such as the Committee approve be used in any of the schools.”  That one passed on 3/18/1834.

The Committee did not have a place to carry on its business so it met in the Selectman’s Room, much as it does today.

Chairman Theodore Edson went out to observe the North Grammar School; the Pound District; and the Merrimack Primary School.  I have not found out what his reactions to his observations were as of now.  I intend to find out.

I encourage others interested in the school system at this point to check my understanding of the actions of the School Committee, especially as it pertains to the establishment of the high school.  It is possible that the year of 1834 was the first year for graduation, which puts the starting year in 1831.  But this is the oldest book I have seen on School Committee Minutes, and it is very exact on its observation of the start of the high school.  The high school, according to the minutes of the year 1834, states that the high school was not even recognized by the State government in the first part of 1834.  It was a very interesting observation and I hope to be doing more reading on it in the immediate future.

Interesting Facts About Lowell’s School System over the Past Century

I thought I would record some interesting facts about Lowell’s unique educational system.  I am privy to some interesting facts about the system due to my review of items of interest in the period from 1826 to 2017.   That seems like a better use of my time than what I have been doing.

The course of study for Primary Schools shows that the grammar schools were supposed to use Munroe’s Charts and Franklin First Reader.  “Begin with words written upon the blackboard, using the names of familiar objects, and words expressing familiar acts.”  Thus read the “Course of Study for  Primary Schools.”  “Spell the words in columns, by sounds.”  That seems pretty much the same thing as that which happens now.  In addition, it was said that the teacher should, “Develop the idea of number to ten, by the use of objects.  Count to one hundred on the numeral frame,” which was, I believe, a chart that showed all of the numbers from zero to 100.

“Teach the construction of letters and figures…using slate and blacboard.”  It was pretty clear that the teacher was supposed to teach the students according to the patterns used in the ‘Course of Study.’  There was not much room for interposition.  In the Second Half of the year you again were supposed to use “Munroe’s Charts,” again and “spell by sounds.”  You were supposed to write words or groups of words and sentences upon the blackboard, and “require the pupils to copy upon the slate.”  The slate was a small, handheld blackboard which each student had.  Students were supposed to have familiarity with numbers up to “L.” (fifty)

By the time they were in the Second Grade, they were supposed to be able to do Roman Numerals up to “M.”  And you were to “Practice Object Teaching,” using objects that are familiar to the child.  Again, there is very little room for spontaneity.  You were doing “Enunciation Exercises daily.”  You were learning the simplest form of script letters.  You were learning Arithmetic orally.  You continued the enunciation exercises in the last half of the second year.  You were still doing Roman Numerals up to M.

In Arithmetic, in the Second Grade, you were to teach the multiplication tables to 8 x 8.  Your progress was only measured by your determination and desire.  Obviously, parents had to be part of the learning process.  By the time you got to high school you were immersed in American History, although not that dealing with the Native Americans.  Your grammar schools included:

Ames Street

Central Street

Chapel Street

Charles Street

Training School


Cottage Street

and that also included the

Edson School on the corner of Favor and Summer Street.

This was standard for the school system in 1881.  The School Committee included Chairman Frederic T. Greenhalge; Charles H. Allen as Vice-Chairman; and Charles Morrill as Secretary.  The current Greenhalge School was named after Frederic T. Greenhalge.  He was also the Mayor, who, by his assumption of the title was bound to be the Head of the School Committee, a practice used until the present day.

Spelling was taught using Worcester’s New Pronouncing Speller.  During the first half of the year, they went to page 29, or so it was dictated; while by the second half of the year they went to Page 47.   Arithmetic in the Fourth Grade included multiplication tables up to, but not to exceed one million.  They were supposed to do their mathematics from dictation, including the practices associated with numeration and notation.  In Division they could not exceed the Divisor of 25.

By the Seventh Grade they were supposed to  be reading the Franklin Intermediate Reader, “with drill on exercises to secure distinct articulation and correct pronunciation and expression.”  They were also supposed to know their Geography, History, and Mental Arithmetic.

They started high school in Grade 10.  As it is now.  They were to do “Algebra, Outlines of History, English Lessons, English History, and English Lessons.”  The inclusion of English Lessons may have made it clear that the United States, from the 19th. Century on, was English Speaking.  By the end of the Second Year, they were supposed to know Geometry, Natural Philosophy, Physical Georgraphy, and French.  Inclusion in the second semester saw Chemistry, and English Grammar.  French was continued as a pre-requisite.

It is interesting to look at salaries, which were determined by the school district and the School Committee.  The High School Principal (not a Headmaster yet), made a sweet 2,200 dollars.  Male Assistance made 1,800.00.  Female Assistants made $600.00 to $800.00.  Primary School Principals made 1,800.00 dollars.

The Principal of the Powell Street School made a meager $600.00.  The Middlesex Village Principal made an even less fair $500.00.  William S. Greene, the master of the Moody School made $1,800.00 in 1883.  No woman could touch that amount.  Mr. Greene was expected to be in charge of the primary schools in his area, as an assistant Superintendent per se.  He fulfilled the role given to him and took care of the Primary and Grammar Schools in his pervue.

There is a lot of information about the Middlesex Village School, the Moody Grammar School, the Pond Street School (which remained a school until the 1970’s), the High Street School, the Fayette Street School, and the Pawtucket Grammar School – as well as others too numerous to mention.  The Varnum Grammar School had its $1,800 Master and ten teachers.  The days of the one room schoolhouse were numbered.

On Kirk Street, the new high school was destined to be built.  It was a commanding building, three stories tall and the third floor was one large room, that was there when I moved here from Illinois.  It was literally one large room with seating for up to 1,000 students who were expected to study for courses under the eye of one lone teacher who occupied the raised dais.  The Worthen Street School used to stand on Worthen Street, down the street from the famous pub, between Market and Broadway Streets.  That would place it close to the Whistler House.  It is no longer there.

The Franklin School, between Middlesex and Branch Streets is still a well-used building.  Most people do not know it as the Franklin School however.  It is the building between Pailin Plaza and the grocery store.

The Lowell Training School had a woman who was Principal and she was well-paid at $1,500.00 per year.  Her name was Julia M. Dewey and she lived at 12 Middlesex Street in Lowell.  The school was located on Charles Street, close to Lawrence Street in South Lowell.  She had a staff of fifteen teachers.

The Greene Grammar School had been next to a tannery for years and it was finally moved due to parental complaints.  It smelled disgusting.  It was moved across from what would be the City Hall and the Memorial Library.  Not the Pollard Memorial Library because that did not exist.  It was named the Memorial Library after those men from Lowell who had lost their lives in the Great War.

The High School had Frank F. Coburn as Principal, not Headmaster.  The term Headmaster is relatively a recent phenomenon.  Getting rid of it should be easy.  Mr. Coburn made $2,200.00 per year, and was the highest paid Principal.  He had a Language, Science, Mathematics, Literature, and other curriculums to tend to, with a total of fifteen paid teachers.  Many doubled as Mathematics and Language teachers.  Their pay was high, by the standards of the day.  Most were paid $700.00 per year.  A few made $600.00.  The high school was definitely the jewel in the crown of the School Department.

What do these facts tell us.  Well, first is that the curriculum was close to what it is today.  The most popular foreign language was French, and the most popular English language was Literature-based.  Grammar was insisted upon, as it is now, and the most used language  was English.  No matter where the immigrants working the mills came from, their children in school learned in and of English.

I will have more facts and figures for you in later blogs.  Have a good week.

A Few Thoughts on Historical Items (Including the Constitution)

I had the opportunity to mull over some books of a historical nature.  I found them to be very interesting and possibly of some importance.  I like to learn strange historical facts, and I found a good source in a book “Topics in American History” which was published when I was five years old.  I used other books too, but this one just kind of stood out.  Let us look at the formation of the Constitution first.  Everyone says that the Constitution would be better understood if everyone could meet the framers of it and ask them questions on thorny issues.  Well, that has already been done.  James Madison was a young delegate to the formation of the Constitution, and he delivered  his notes to the people at the Constitutional Convention.

What does that have to do with what the Constitutional fathers  put into the mix?  He wrote all of the arguments in his journal, so we know what everyone said.  Suffice it to say that he kept arduous notes, with quotes from everyone, except the leader of the Convention, George Washington.  Washington was reticient.  He had little to say, probably because he did not want to be the person who framed the actual document.  Other than that, delegates were free to espouse their ideas.  And Madison wrote down exactly what they said.  So we have the written arguments that the Forefathers made on behalf of themselves and their states.

In the beginning, there was no call for a Constitution.  People were sent to Philadelphia to fix the Articles of Confederation.  No one wanted, although many saw the need for a document, to frame a Constitution.  They just wanted to fix the existing plan.  But, it became evident that this was going to be larger than that, it was going to unite the states, who saw themselves as individual nations.  Massachusetts had slavery for instance until 1802.  Each state had their own money, and there was no plan to rescind that.  They just printed their own money and gave it value.  If another state did not agree with their sense of its value they just ignored the difference or fought it out.  New Hampshire money probably was not as valuable as Massachusetts money.  Just my educated guess, but that is probably the fact.  The more established states had bigger purses.

Thus, there was a need to work over some differences, although some delegates left when they came to the conclusion that this was a convention that would make the Articles of Confederation obsolete.  Not everyone agreed, and no one had cast a vote to make a Constitution.  It is that which defined the entire meeting.  The delegates agreed with their need for a Constitution.  The people did not.

So what is our Constitution?  Well, to me, it is a series of votes on the efforts of man (and women) to solidify their place in the history of their own kind.  I often carry a copy of the Constitution because we are at a crisis point in our democracy.  If I hear an argument or point made that seems especially foreign to me, I look for the answer in the Constitution and its Amendments.  The answer is often difficult to find, but the document is cloudy enough to allow you to find a passage that seems to be geared towards an answer.  Now, back to the original book mentioned earlier.  The author describes the make up of the Electoral College.  The Electoral College is there for a purpose: the original founders thought that the great majority of the voters would be uneducated and probably unable to read or write.  They did not want these types to have something to do with electing a poorly educated man who could share his thoughts, and possibly be able to read himself, but who  can ignite a fire under the average person, who may or may not be educated.

The other reason was that the largest states could control the Presidency.  They would have the population to dictate the type of government that would take over.  The smaller states would be able, through the Electoral College, to have a say in the election that would not have been possible under a vote based on population.  Actually, the forefathers had a point.  In Jefferson’s first election to the Presidency, the average voter voted for Aaron Burr.  The vote was tied in the Electoral College and decided by the House of Representatives.  Of course, Jefferson won with enemy votes stirred up by Alexander Hamilton.  Hamilton could not run for the presidency himself because the Constitution clearly stated that the President had to be a person born in the United States.  Hamilton had not been born here but he garnered the votes to swing the election to Jefferson.  Aaron Burr would become one of two Vice Presidents to openly kill a man, Hamilton became Burr’s victim.

Aaron Burr lost, but he became the Vice President because that was how the Constitution was written.  An Amendment was needed, passed during Jefferson’s term, that stated that the second-place finisher would not become the Vice President.  Aaron Burr and John Adams had  both been second-place finishers.  John Adams became President, but Aaron Burr did not and even tried to take part of the Louisiana Purchase and form a nation out of it with himself as leader.  That one did not work for Burr either.

So the Electoral College, passed because the majority of Americans could not read or write, works like this:  It is the indirect election of Presidents.  Few, but two in most of our lifetimes, have become President by winning the Electoral College.  They are George W. Bush and Donald Trump.  The author of the book states that this is one of the undemocratic features of the original Constitution.  It allows for the indirect election of a President.  There was also the indirect election of United States Senators, using the same logic about the uneducated not being important enough to vote for the Senator.  For the first one hundred years or more, the Senator was chosen by a vote of the State Legislature.

Other areas of concern included slavery.  But that is another story.  The Electoral College is equal to its number of votes in the Congress.  If New York, as an example, has 47 Congressmen and 2 Senators, then they have 49 votes in the Electoral College.  It is not a law that a member of the Electoral College must vote for the person who won their state but it is expected that the Electoral College will do just that.  They will vote for the person who won in their state’s presidential balloting.  Sometimes one or two people may choose not to vote for a winner, or a loser, but usually it comes out that way.

So, that is the story of the Electoral College, a Constitutional effort perhaps, but one that can fly in the face of the winner of the popular vote.

Keynesian Economic

This is one of my favorite subjects because very few politicians follow the requirements of it.  The idea behind Keynesian Economics is that of one buying on credit.  In the past, you were expected to balance your budget at the end of every fiscal year, whether that year ended on June 30th. or December 31st.  You were not supposed to carry the balance onto the next year.  You were supposed to balance your budget.  Keynes changed all of that.

The British were borrowing heavily in World War II in order to pay for the damaging war.  They tried every year to balance their budget until Economist John Maynard Keynes came up with a brilliant “out.”  What he proposed was a credit line which could last the entire war.  He said that Britain should borrow the money it needed to continue the war until it was won.  He said, “We have shown that, quite apart from war increases in rates of wages, the earnings of the country as a whole should increase by as much as 825 million pounds merely as a result in output and employment.” (Page 20; “How to Pay for the War.”)

“By the end of January 1940, wholesale prices had risen by 27%, the cost of living (seasonally corrected) by 10%, and wages by perhaps 5%; which means that the aggregates I am using should be increased by nearly 10% to conform to the wge and price levels current at that date.)”  The question became how to align those different areas and pay for the war while not upsetting the economy.  His solution was to float the deficit.  He questioned whether the “working class need to be asked to make any sacrifice.  Admittedly,” he said, “they will work harder.”  The trick was to keep the working class working, which meant that they had to get paid, and there was not a tax to ensure their payment.  So, Keynes said, you would pay the average worker with money you had not gathered yet.  You would have to pay them on credit.

Interestingly enough, he said that “If we drift without a comprehensive plan, not this but shop-shortages will result.  And inflation, as we shall see, will be to the clear advantage of the richer class and result in this class bearing not more, but less than their fair share.” (ibid.)  This would result in a class war.  So Keynes was basically saying that, in order to not have a class war, the working class would have to somehow be paid.  And the way to do this was to pay some war expenses on credit.

He said that the national income would be distributed between different income groups which he admitted, was a matter of “first importance.” (ibid.)  So we had countries buying on credit for the first time.

Why was that important?  Because this was a new idea, flying in the face of current reason, it did not take hold immediately.  It took awhile.  It also took the approval of the United States of America, which was floating most of the loans incurred by England and had the most to lose.  Fortunately, President Franklin Roosevelt saw the beauty of the plan.  He even used it to float loans to diminish the effect of the Great Depression.  So it was instituted to the point that, today, we cannot balance the budget if we try to do it.  That is why we are trillions of dollars in debt.  And that is also one of the possible reasons that no administration has been willing to try to balance the budget.

We keep having to raise our “debt ceiling,”  and seldomly does either side of the aisle make much of a ruckus about the debt.  We just continue to raise the “debt ceiling.”  I believe that it is time to pay off some of that debt.  Keynes never said that this was supposed to supplant the idea of a balanced budget.  That could be culled from the  lack of effort to pass laws that could balance the budget.

Keynes said of the burgeoning debt, that “taxation on this scale would involve such wide-spread breaches of existing contracts and commitments that the taxable income themselves would be largely reduced.” (ibid.)  In other words, it would be necessary to offset the debt by paying against it.  That is something that we in the current United States do not seem to be willing to do.  It does not matter which income-level we reported in or at, payment is a problem.   When Bill Clinton was President, I heard his Vice President say that we did not have to worry about Social Security because it would not become collectible until 2037.  I raised my hand, and explained that my young daughter, who was sitting with me would be one of those most affected by the carelessness of the current administration.  I joined the budget cutting group called the “Concord Coalition.”   I have been a member ever-since.

Trump seems as unwilling to balance the budget as Obama was, and that is a problem.  As Keynes said, the deficit has to be trimmed by payment in good times.  We cannot just continue to let it grow as a deficit.  There has to be an effort to tame it.  No more “Debt Ceilings.”  We are opening ourselves to a lack of respect for the United States of America and that is not a good thing.  We cannot allow the Chinese to be the lienholder on our debt.  We should, I believe, pay against the Chinese liens.  We are no longer in the days of Keynes.  We have to pay our debts.  And we have to discontinue trying to augment our economy by floating loans.  As Keynes said, the rich are the only ones who benefit by being in debt.  The rest of us have to eat it.  So let us discontinue that practice and pay on our debt.  It is the only logical thing to do.  Whether it is because of Trump or Obama, does not matter.  It has to be paid.


An Opinion on the State of Lowell’s Schools

I have been substituting for a few weeks now and have visited and worked on classes in a number of schools.  This week I got the chance to see the insides of a new school and the oldest currently in use.  This week  I had the chance to visit the Moody Elementary and Bailey Elementary.  Both schools have an incredibly dedicated staff and administration.  I worry about the Moody Elementary because it is older and I do not want anything dire to happen to the last of the “jewels” constructed in the 1880’s.  I also want to protect the Washington Elementary in the Highlands.

The Moody staff is dedicated to their school.  They hold teacher’s meetings when a crisis needs to be averted.  They use the most professional and timely curriculum everyday.  The kids are loved, as they are at the Bailey.  The spotlight in the school system is shining on the students, the children.  The Moody knows the architectural history of their school, and they are very proud of it.  The old third floor is used for gym and events.  They have a real realization of the history of their school.  The Moody has a solid history.  When it was in its prime, it housed the best window lighting system in the city.  That is why  the school has such large windows.  They were built around the idea that the sun would hit certain rooms at different intervals.  The large windows predate electricity.  They were placed to maximize exposure to the sun in the winter months.  You could not use the school during winter after about 3:30PM.  There wasn’t enough light.  So the architect built a massive window system to allow light into the school.  It works.  I noted it when I was with the Kindergarten at the school.

The Moody School was one of a batch of “jewels” in the early years of the school system.  Other schools in that category included the Pawtucketville Memorial, which was dedicated to those who died in the Civil War, the Bartlett School, the Butler School, the Lincoln School, the Green School in downtown, and others built in this time period.  Principals in these new schools were expected to take over the Superintendent’s duties and become superintendents of their own.  The pay for a principal of a new school was $1,800.00 per year.  The Pond Street School had a female principal, her salary was a small $600.00 per year.  One room schools paid even less.  There were over seventy one room schoolhouses at one point.  Many were turned into homes.  Existing structures include two in the Acre.  Those two still exist and I will be taking pictures of them for a later article.

The other school I was in this week was the incredible Bailey School in the Highlands.  I went up two one way streets in the wrong direction looking for the teacher’s parking, but other than that there were no problems.  They chose not to give me tickets, which I deserved.  I had a Fourth Grade class, and the students were great, with maybe one exception.  We did Math, English, Cursive Writing, and Social Studies.  We also watched a great school play but I never got the name of the play from the other teachers so you will have to go see it this week.  You can get the name.

There was alot of education going on in the school last week.  Students were busy learning cursive, which is a major hurdle for me, I wanted them to learn cursive.  Otherwise, how would they know how to write their own signature.  The Math was concentrated on Multiplication, the English on free writing practice, the Science seemed to be on sediments.  The Social Studies was on learning the location of the states of the Union.  That is something we all need to reteach ourselves, especially when the Electoral College defines an election like it did this year.  I mean, I have a good idea of where every state is located, but it is interesting to learn it again.  I want to thank the students for helping me get the work out to them so they could work on it.  They did a marvelous job.

On Friday, we had Field Day.  That was a lot of fun.  They played all sorts of enjoyable games and had a popsicle afterwards.  Then it was back to Math and Social Studies.  I told them a story that was a legend in the 1800’s.  Two Native Americans from opposite sides of the Merrimack River met and developed a deep love.  They planned to escape the restrictions placed on them by their Pentucket and Pawtucket nations and form a new place to live further down the river.  They learned that the Pawtucket’s had told John Smith, the Puritan minister, that they named the river  the Merrimack, or “Strong Place.”  Some of the students made an arm and said that the reason it was called “The Strong Place,”  was because it looked like an extended arm and that signaled strength.  Two students tried  to wrestle with their arms and see who was most like the Merrimack.  I do not know who won, but only one opportunity existed for that demonstration of muscular finesse.

So, I had a very good week with some outstanding students.  One boy noticed that not every button on my sport coat was buttoned.  He asked me if I would button all three buttons.  I agreed that it was a good idea so I buttoned all of them.  Later, I let them back out, but he was satisfied.

Some great learning is happening in Lowell.  The Department of Education at the state level is proctoring new ideas into every school often.  I think the state could take it easy, because the schools seem to be policing themselves, and that is a good thing.  But the state seems to be determined to being in the middle of the curricular nuances of each school system.  Maybe they are just protecting their financial input into the school systems.  Or perhaps they just like to have something to do.  Time will tell.

So that was my week this past five days.  I hope your work was as rewarding.

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.


Acrimony and Absolution – The Lowell Search for a New High School

I am not on the administration side of the placement of the changes to the high school.  I am against the Belvidere site because I believe that people are playing off the most powerful neighborhood, with less than 300 students attending the city high school from that neighborhood, with one of the proudest neighborhoods.  That neighborhood sends slighty less than 1,100 students.  Now, the City Council is not supposed to take a stand until the state comes back with their recommendation but it is widely anticipated that seven of the nine City Councilors are going to vote for the powerful neighborhood’s pick.  I believe they are vacating their promise to be nonpartial.

Most of my feeling on this is the result of statements made by these seven City Councilors expressing favor for the Belvidere choice.  I firmly believe that they have already painted themselves into the corner of political expediency.  The most logical choice is to maintain the present high school and adding onto it.  That includes the need to vote for eminent domain of a local business that was founded on an eminent domain taking decades ago.  I resigned from the Zoning Board because I could not keep myself from forming opinions on certain matters that necessitated a “judgement,” not a formed opinion.  The least these seven can do is stay neutral until the state makes its best recommendation.  But, it is pretty clear that that has not happened, or at least will not happen.  The votes are in and the lead horse is the one from the most voter rich Ward and Precincts.

The losses to the city are incredible.  Sidewalks will have to be completed in certain areas, roads and infrastructure will have to be initiated and followed through by the city.  The bus company that currently takes the students home after school has stated that they cannot continue that practice, driving their ridership down and increasing the numbers of school buses, with or without seat belts.  Even the seat belt issue is being put in abeyance.  Nothing is going on in the city that is concerned, I believe, with the individual tax bill.  Taxes are very high for seniors now, and they will definitely continue to climb with the most expensive high school in Massachusetts.  They have to climb, per one of the City Councilors who is backing the expensive option, there is also a Police Station and Fire Department building that need to be erected shortly after the high school.

When I broached the issue of expensive and expansive sidewalks, a backer of the expensive side said that we did not have to worry about that, because sidewalks would not be put into place until the next decade.  We still have to pay for sidewalks.  Just not in this decade.  We have to pay for streets, and we have to pay for the high school.  That is enough.

So, if some Councilors see themselves in this picture, then I suggest that they cool off, and wait for the state’s recommendation.  There are too many people being ignored in this process.  I called the process acrimonious and I stand by that.