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.

Is it All the Same, or is Schooling Different Through the Ages?

Recently, I found myself wondering if there was any noticeable difference between curriculum in the fourth grade in the 1800’s and 2017.  I had concluded that there was a very small difference and I asked the Lowell Curriculum Office for current curriculum to be compared to the 1800’s curriculum requirements.  Too often, I believe, there is a tendency by parents to think they are as educated as the average teacher or administrator because they went through school themselves.  I ran into a couple of ancillary articles that spoke to our situation in current times.  One was entitled “Educating Latino Students in an Age of Uncertainty.”  That one was covered in “The American Educator” magazine.  But even that one was tainted by the realization that Japanese students in the 1940’s (I should say Japanese-Americans, I think), and the Native American students throughout the history of European presence in North and South America.

There was a major push in Lowell, Massachusetts in the 1800’s to incorporate Irish Catholic children into the public school system.  It was called Article 7.  It was designed to mix the English-speaking Irish into the Melting Pot of Education.  The result was exactly the opposite of the intent.  Most Irish ended up paying extra for tuition in a Catholic school than send their children to a free public school classroom.  It was said that the mother in the Irish home kept hold of the money made during the week and sent their children to school with the money to pay tuition.  Such familial ties were hard to break.  But the nuns could do no wrong, and the priest was next to God Himself.  So the Irish went to Catholic School.

That is one difference.  Latinos often go to public school now, even if they are Catholic.  Let’s take time to see what they were learning back in the 1880’s.  In the grammar schools, they tackled the “4th. Reader,”  the “Intermediate Reader” for better students, and the “5th. Reader” for superior students as well as those going on to the 5th. grade.  In Grade Four today Reading Standards from the Common  Core Standards for that Grade level require the teacher to  “Refer to details and examples in a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.”  In other words, read the lesson carefully and be prepared to explain it.  “Key Ideas and Details: RL4.2” requires the teacher to “Determine a theme of a story (something that was required in the 1800’s) drama, or poem from details in the text; summarize (I believe this is an instruction for teaching) the text.”  As in the 1800’s, the heaviest weight fell on the individual teacher.

The next instruction is to is to “Describe in depth a character, setting, or event in a story or drama, drawing on specific details in the text (a character’s “thoughts, words, or actions).”  RL4.4 states that the teacher is to determine the words and phrases as used in a text, including those that allude to … “characters found in mythology,” giving as an example the word “Herculean.”

We are at a bit of a loss here because no copy of the 1800’s reading manual with its instructions, can be found.  It is not outside the realm of possibility, however, that instructions for those students included “drawing on specific details” and “Determining the meaning of words and phrases.”  The final instruction is to “Compare and Contrast” the point of view of a major figure  in the text.  I have a few old texts that lend themselves to being compared and contrasted.

The fact is that the teacher today is laden with instructions made by the Common Core State Standards that integrate meaning into a text.  The reality is that probably, those Standards were required in the 1800’s too.  It is known that the Superintendent required the teachers in that time to go to a class he personally held every week on Saturday, and study “White’s Pedagogy.”  Now pedagogy is a fancy word for Webster’s definition which is “the art, science, or profession of teaching.”  In other words, they tried to instill a practice that allowed students to be recognized for their inherent abilities within the parameters of what they knew about their own curriculum.  I am not saying that in the past century or two, teachers taught the way they do now, but I am saying that there was not a huge difference between their preparation in today’s Common Core 4th. grade and their preparation in earlier days.  And, certainly, making a visual is nothing new.  Students in the old days were required to make visuals of their studies.  Art was a firm requirement.

Now, we have made it harder, although I had the opportunity to see a standard 8th. grade Social Studies Test a few years ago, and it was brutal, even for me.  Of course, history changes but the requirements for these students was incredibly difficult.  MA. 8.A tells today’s students to “Locate and analyze examples of similes and metaphors in stories, poems, folktales, and plays, and explain how these literary devices enrich the text.”  In other words, apply what you have learned.  A metaphor is “a figure of speech,” in which a word or phrase “denoting one kind of object or idea is used in place of another to suggest a likeness.” (Webster’s)  A simile is figurative language.  It shows a comparison.

The goal of the Common Core is to “read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poetry, in the (requisite) grades for 4th. and 5th. grades.  Text complexity proficiently, saith the Common Core instructions.  Thus lies the 1800’s 4th. and 5th. grade reader.

I have to say, that reading on the text is difficult.  In the 1800’s three books taught you how to read.  Today, there are stories, not necessarily textbooks.  Computers are a major drain, but they heighten accessibility.  In the past, that task was dependent on books.  Whether or not the computers do it better is a question.  Chaucer can be equally difficult in a text as in a computer screen.

As we go through this lesson, we will see some similarities, and some differences.  What was required of Grammar Schools in the previous centuries is still required to some degree today.  We will glance at those instructions that seem to be similiar and those that seem to be different.  Hopefully, we will see a pattern emerging that will explain differences in philosophy if not in practices.  Surely, the argument will be made that “the more things change the more they stay the same.”  But that does not mean that today’s children are being short-changed.  In fact, Massachusetts is in first place in the United States in testing results.  Something must be working.

 

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.