Curriculum in the 1800’s and Today Inbox x

Jim Peters continues his series of posts on the history of education in Lowell:

I have often written that little changes in the targets of proficiency and curricular adaptation.  The courses taught in the 1860’s, if you have been reading my blog, were virtually the same as those offered today.  If you have been reading it, then it is virtually the same then as it is now.  The major differences are in our titles.  We offer computer training now, which, of course, they did not have over one hundred years ago, let alone one hundred fifty years ago.  But let’s take a little time to list those courses.

1865:     Arithmetic
              Manners and Morals
              Voice Culture and Position
              English (Tarbell’s)
              History of the United States
2015:     Primary and Kindergarten
              Physical Training
In short, courses were similiar.
     In 1826, to Kirk Boott’s dismay, the School Committee was chosen.  It consisted of the Reverend Theodore Edson, Warren Colburn, Henry Coburn,Jr. , Nathaniel Wright, and John Fisher.    Kirk Boott felt that he was covering every aspect of the individual’s needs, and he felt that they would be more inclined to work without the pull of school courses.  But, they circumvented his fears, and founded a very ambitious working environment.  He probably did not believe that the workers, the ladies, would be able to be curious about education in part because they worked on their feet for twelve to fourteen hours, took breakfast, lunch, and supper together.  Who had time to learn?
     History has determined that Kirk Boott was wrong in a number of areas, but this one was to take precedence due to his enmity with Dr. Theodore Edson, the School Committee Director and out-spoken critic of the mill labor system.  One of his last acts, it is said, was to stand up in his chaisse and raise his fist to St. Ann’s in defiance of Dr. Edson.  Kirk Boott then fell over dead on Merrimack Street.
     One of the first things the new School Committee initiated was the opening of new schools and the teacher’s pay.  Miss Field taught the school from April 17 to September 27, at 3.25 per week, board included.” (Illustrated History of Lowell, Mass.)  “In 1828 the town appropriated $1200 for schools, of this District No 5 received $150.00.” (ibid.)  The Appleton Mills opened in 1828 and the population of the local school burgeoned, numbering, in 1828, 169 scholars.  (ibid.)
     One of the primary tasks facing the new School Committee was the acquisition of a high school.  The first graduates included a world-reknowned surgeon, the Governor of New Hampshire, and our own Governor and General Benjamin Butler, who made the statement that future seniors in high school would do well to be as driven in their studies as that first class.
     On the opposite side of the spectrum was the new Kindergarten emphasis.  Five year olds were admitted to Kindergarten 150 years before local towns would even entertain the idea of a Kindergarten.
     “The committee are happy to state that the grammar schools are in a prosperous condition, the exercises being regulated with strict adherence to time.” (ibid.)  I will try to attach a photograph of the Edson Grammer School in this blog.
     The Washington School, which still exists in title, although in a much newer building, was founded in 1834.  The high school took over a former grammar school on Middlesex Street for its first location.  It was not uncommon for the high school to be pursued by persons from surrounding towns who were willing to pay extra to come to Lowell High School.  Would that that was still so.
     The Irish were giving the committee headaches.  They insisted on abandoning District 7 and starting their own schools with a heavy emphasis on Religion, specifically the Catholic one.  “The Irish population living on the Acre, so called, be formed into a district to be called District 7.”  The Irish caused that not to happen.
     It was noted that the “books, exercises, and studies should be all prescribed and regulated by the committee, and that no other whatever should be taught or allowed.” (ibid.)  It is interesting to note that the current State Department of Education has something very close to that type of order in its handing out goals and objectives to today’s educators.
     Which brings us to today.  As I tried to point out, few courses change.  Hopefully, we are teaching computers to our students on a timely and important basis.  Hopefully, not every school system clings to the morass or potential morass, of accepting every piece of information that is generated by the state.  I hope that it is still possible to work into your History lecture the best sleight ever to pass through a man’s lips, when John Randolph said of Henry Clay, “Like a mackeral by moonlight he shines, yet stinks.”  Hopefully, the teacher has some leeway in utilizing their basic knowledge into their lessons to augment those lessons, not just  say them verbatim.
     Lowell’s educational future is looking pretty bright.  Two people I have been pleased to meet and cover for the television show are Assistant Superintendent Anne Sheehy, a former classroom teacher; and the talented and alway amusing Mr. James Neary, who coordinates curriculum.  They are undertaking a massive effort to get parents back into active roles in the school system.  They are assisted by a variety of parents and former parents, who are often now grandparents.  I sit on the Transportation Subcommittee and it is astounding how much our schools cost in bus time.  We do not even bus the high school students and we have a budget of somewhere in the vicinity of 57 million dollars.  That is alot of money.
     My wife is a Reading Teacher and she tries to explain the new “Core Curriculum” to me.  It is a gargantuan effort to coordinate what the students learn so they can continue to be the best-educated in the nation.  She often starts off with, “Now you won’t understand this but…”  I usually do understand it but it is kind of funny.
     Here, then is my understanding of the Core Curriculum.  It is a Master Test designed to fit into the parameters of the MCAS Tests.  It will primarily, at first, test Mathematics and English (like those in the 1800’s but far more sophisticated, one can hope).  It will consist of an opportunity for the teachers to choose from a wealth of information, making it like John Randolph’s quote.  It will map out certain strategies, “designed to be taught in sequence…” but,
“Teachers could certainly modify the units if they need to be taught in a different order.” (How to Use Common Core Curriculum Maps; the State Department of Education).  The maps are designed to be road maps for the school year.  There are, however, important goals in each Map.
     The Map contains “the following elements.”  An Overview which provides a brief description of what the student is studying.  An Essential Question which should have more than one perfect answer.  I sincerely doubt that students in Benjamin Butler’s time had the freedom to veer off on a related theme.  Focus Standards which are “taken directly from the CCSS.”  There are also Suggested student objectives which the students shoud control when they complete a unit.
     There are a number of other parameters to reach.  Specifically 18 other areas that the individual teacher needs to know and specify.  PPARC was dropped by the government in teaching the Common Core.  That is not insurmountable as an obstacle.  But it is the subject of another blog.  I became very sure that this was the best way to keep a student on task without smothering him or her.
     I will write more on my interpretations of the Core Curriculum in other articles.  I believe it to be a good project, well-thought out, and well managed by the City Superintendent.  I hope that you who are interested in the City Wide Parent Council or some other aspect will allow this prodigious work to take place without the difficulties we experienced in testing the first MCAS tests.  Personally, I believe this is well presented.  And, I believe that those in charge know what they are doing.  They are not just following orders, they are determined to be advocates for education again.  So, must we be.

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