– Lowell Politics and History

Jeb Bush – for now, more appealing than appalling by Marjorie Arons-Barron

The entry below is being cross posted from Marjorie Arons-Barron’s own blog.

Years ago, Barbara Bush is said to have commented that son Jeb was the best politician in the family. That’s the side of the former Florida governor that I saw in New Hampshire on Friday morning at the Institute of Politics at St. Anselm College.  The hall was filled to overflowing and the boyish looking, shirt-sleeved soon-to-be Presidential candidate delivered a well-received speech and fielded questions for more than half an hour. He was self-assured without being canned, he was approachable, with self-deprecating humor, easy to listen to.  That sense of being natural stands in contrast to other candidates on both sides of the aisle.

Jeb BushWhile I don’t agree with everything he said, Jeb Bush comes across as someone who is experienced and focused and comfortable acknowledging when he doesn’t have the answer to a specific question. He’s a father and grandfather but still youthful. Bush presents himself as a firm believer that core conservative principles are what lift people up. But his support of Common Core standards in education (as governor, he raised education standards in Florida) and his commitment to immigration reform (giving illegals a path to legal status) put him at odds with those who vote in Republican primaries and caucuses.

So, too, with his belief that the economy will benefit from investment in  roads, bridges and water infrastructure, and that government should support research on disease (through the NIH) and the space program. (Florida, of course, is home to Cape Canaveral.)  Bush is very un-Ted Cruz in declaring that “creating a climate of discovery and adventure provide people hope.”  He speaks intriguingly about the need to bring people together using patience and humility .

The national media were all over this event, as they have blanketed the GOP candidates in New Hampshire this weekend.  The most widely reported comments he made were in response to my question about whether, with the advantage of hindsight, he would handle the Terry Schiavo case any differently. (Schiavo had been in a persistent vegetative state for years.  Her husband wanted to withdraw life support, saying she would not have wanted to live that way.  Her parents fought his decision.  Then-Governor Bush intervened on behalf of the parents, shepherding through a new law to stop the husband. Court after court said the state’s action was unconstitutional, and the husband was allowed to act on what he said were Terry’s wishes.)

Bush averred he would do nothing differently, but he seemed to have given the matter a lot of consideration and talked about the need for end-of-life directives.  In fact, he said, filling out such a form should be a prerequisite for receiving Medicare. The point is that, while I may have been disappointed that he hadn’t changed his mind about the Schiavo case,  he gave a sense that he had been thoughtful about the issue and was seeking answers to a difficult situation.

While Jeb Bush is perfectly comfortable talking about his life story, he tries to position himself as  his own man, using self-deprecating humor to deflect charges of “W” redux and dynastic entitlement.

At our New England Council breakfast, foreign policy was not front and center. This is likely to be a more important area this year. Bush appears to be pulling his advisers together from a group of his father’s moderates and his brother’s neoconservative hawks, designed to give primary zealots enough red meat for the nomination. I assume his backward-looking approach toward Cuba is   part of that dance. How far right he will go to win the nomination is unclear. If he’s successful, he’ll pivot to the center. But as we’ve learned with Obama and other winning candidates,  what’s said to win is often at odds with how they’ll  govern. When unexpected crises arise, character and good judgment can matter more than ideology and promises.

Despite his assurances of his abiding deep conservatism, many  don’t believe him and dismiss him as a RINO. In a recent Bloomberg poll, 42 percent of Republicans and independents said they wouldn’t consider voting for Jeb Bush just because he is a Bush or because he’s not conservative enough.

Of more  consequence to his prospects may be the “independent” super PAC  that can raise unlimited  money from undisclosed donors,  according to the NY Times, operating as an independent “social welfare” organization but run by a Bush friend and former staff member.

This is still early. There were 18 other would-be Republican nominees who showed up yesterday for a panel in Nashua, New Hampshire eager to take him and each other on.   It will take months for the field to shake out. Yet,  in surveying the lot of them, Jeb Bush is much more appealing than I expected him to be.

I welcome your comments in the section below.

Lowell Week in Review: April 19, 2015

Lord Overpass Discussion

It was a quiet city council meeting this week.  During the “motion response” phase, Councilor Belanger pressed the administration for details on (1) the public input process for the redesign of the Lord Overpass; and (2) just what will be done to make that area more walkable.  Craig Thomas of the Division of Planning and Development explained that the plan that has been publicly displayed is one that originated in 2009 which was at a time when the Massachusetts Highway Department was far less concerned about walkers and bicyclists than it is now.  Thomas also said that he was “reaching out” to various groups in the city about scheduling public input sessions.  If you’ve heard anything from anyone in the city (other than city councilors) about this, please let me know.

Councilor Rita Mercier also spoke on this issue, emphasizing the importance of placing a sidewalk on the down ramp of the Overpass heading towards downtown.  She said she encounters many people walking up the existing ramp, some even pushing baby carriages, and that it is extremely dangerous without sidewalks.

Pedestrian Safety

Councilor Mercier also raised the issue of pedestrian safety in Kearney Square, particularly for people crossing Bridge Street while cars approaching from East Merrimack turn right onto Bridge.  While I’m not as familiar with current conditions at that intersection as I used to be, I see this as a chronic problem at intersections throughout the city.  Drivers, especially those taking right turns on red lights or otherwise, are just oblivious to the presence of pedestrians.  The driver in those circumstances has his eyes glued to his left, looking for cars coming from his left while he’s making his turn to the right.  If you are trying to cross in front of that driver, or to cross the street he’s turning onto, you better jump out of the way because he has no clue that you are standing in his way.  I’m at the point where I would support the wholesale abolition of the “right on red” law because few drivers obey its requirement that you come to a full stop before safely proceeding.  It’s at best treated as the equivalent of a “yield” sign.  I know the police are stretched pretty thin dealing with other criminal activity, but putting more emphasis on traffic enforcement might be the best way to raise the collective consciousness of drivers with the added benefit of raising the amount of revenue coming into the city from traffic citations.

Cambodian Monument

On April 9, 2015, the KhmerPost USA newspaper held its quarterly Press Club event at Lowell Telecommunications Corporations.  The main topic was the proposed Cambodian monument for the grounds of City Hall, but there is also a second Cambodian monument planned, this one across from Clemente Field, and the discussion of the two unveiled some of the division within Lowell’s Cambodian community.

State Representative Rady Mom, who was appointed to the monument design selection committee by the Mayor Rodney Elliott, said “Lowell is our home, we have businesses here; we go to school here; we live here” and that a monument like this will “help tie us in to the rest of the city.”  It will show that the city of Lowell welcomes the Cambodian community, past, present and future.  Representative Mom also explained that the mayor’s committee will select three monument designs from all submitted and then the entire community will vote to select the final design.

Dr. Sengly Kong, who is the president of the Cambodia Town organization, was then asked to speak about another monument that is being considered for that neighborhood.  He explained that a triangle of land at the intersection of Branch Street and Middlesex Street has been donated for a location of this monument.  The design has already been selected: it is a four-faced Bayon Monument that will be eight feet tall.  It is being carved in Cambodia right now and will be shipped to Lowell when it is complete.  The funding for the statue has been donated by the Cambodian Ministry of Culture.

Adam Pril, the leader of the Cupples Square Merchants Association, said he “agreed to disagree” about the Cambodia Town monument.  He supports Cambodian unity but asked whether all the Cambodian people in Lowell supported this monument.  He also question whether it was appropriate to use money supplied by the current Cambodian government to build a monument in Lowell.

Sidney Liang, who is also a member of the Mayor’s Cambodian Monument Committee, said there is a lot of friction in Lowell because of politics in Cambodia today.  He suggested it would have been better for the Cambodian government to use the money to help the poor people of Cambodia rather than to pay for a monument in Lowell.  He thinks a monument would be more valued by the people of Lowell if they paid for it themselves.  Whatever monument is installed in Lowell, he wants it to be a unifying symbol.  He is glad that there will be a Cambodian monument at City Hall.  The most recent ethnic monument, the one erected by the Armenian community, cost $65,000.  He predicts the Cambodian monument will cost at least that much.

Kevin Coughlin, the Deputy Director of the city’s Planning and Development Office, said the government of the city of Lowell sees the Cambodian monument as an important symbol and a unifying force.  There are many people on the selection committee including artists and representatives of organizations in the Lowell Cambodian community.  He also hopes that the creation of the Cambodian monument will be part of a bigger effort by city government to create a “monument garden” on the grounds of City Hall.  This will be a peaceful, natural place where people will be able to relax and contemplate all of the monuments in the middle of the busy city of Lowell.

Professor Bob Forrant Honored

Congratulations to UMass Lowell history Professor Bob Forrant who will be awarded the Massachusetts History Commendation for his work on the Bread and Roses Strike in Lawrence at this year’s Massachusetts History Conference on June 1, 2015 at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester.

Here’s some information about the award from Mass Humanities:

The History Commendation recognizes an organization or individual who has done outstanding work to make Massachusetts history more accessible and relevant to the people of the Commonwealth. Bob Forrant has been a principal scholar in numerous Mass Humanities-funded public humanities programs over the course of his career. He is being recognized in particular for his role in the Lawrence History Center’s commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Bread and Roses Strike of 1912.

Upcoming Events in Lowell

Lowell Cemetery Tours – This spring’s tours of historic Lowell Cemetery will be held at the following times:

  • Friday, May 15, 2015 at 1 pm
  • Saturday, May 16, 2015 at 10 am
  • Friday, May 22, 2015 at 1 pm
  • Saturday, May 23, 2015 at 10 am

All tours will begin at the Lawrence Street gate, will last 90 minutes, are free and require no advance registration, and are held rain or shine.  The Lowell Cemetery office is located at 77 Knapp Avenue in Lowell.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015 at 4pm at UMass Lowell’s O’Leary Learning Commons mezzanine, 61 Wilder Street, Lowell, there will be an event commemorating the 20th anniversary celebration of Days without Violence.  The event will a talk by Prof. Robert Gamache & Rev. Imogene Stulken who are the founders and directors of the UMass Lowell Peace and Conflicts Studies Institute.  That talk will be moderated by Prof. John Wooding.  The event will also feature special guest speaker Michael Patrick MacDonald, author of “All Souls: A Family Story from Southie.”  MacDonald spoke at last fall’s UMass Lowell Irish History Conference.  He is an insightful and moving speaker who should not be missed.

Friday, April 24 at 7pm and Saturday, April 25 at 1pm and 7pm, there will be performances of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma” at Lowell High’s Cyrus Irish Auditorium.  Tickets start at $30 and may be purchased at .  The performance is presented in conjunction with the Kiwanis Club of Greater Lowell which will derive some benefit from ticket sales if you mention the Kiwanis Club when you are making your purchase.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015 from 5:30 pm to 7:30pm, there will be a community meeting to discuss the possible future usage of the Smith Baker Center.  This meeting will be held at the Lowell Senior Center, 276 Broadway in Lowell and will be sponsored by the Coalition for a Better Acre which is seeking public input on possible future uses of the site.

Thursday, April 30, 2015 at 4 pm at UMass Lowell O’Leary Library, Room 222, in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, two Civil Rights Activists will speak about their experiences in the struggle for civil and political rights in the 1960s.  Charles Cobb and Judy Richardson were members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee which played an active role in many of the major events in the civil rights movement in the 1960s.  This event, sponsored and hosted by UMass Lowell, is free and open to the public.

Friday, May 8, 2015 at 6:30pm at Pailin City, 6 Branch Street, Lowell, the KhmerPost USA will hold its 5th annual Media & Community Gala.  Tickets are $35 and are available in advance from the KhmerPost USA.  I was one of more than 350 people who attended this event last year.  It will once again celebrate Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month.

“The Case for One High School” by Jim Peters

Regular contributor Jim Peters, a graduate of Lowell High, a former teacher at Lowell High, and the son of a former Lowell Superintendent of Schools, shares his thoughts on the need for one high school in light of the possibility that the state school building assistance program might ultimately recommend that Lowell should have two separate public high schools.  Here’s what Jim has to say:

I am a firm believer in Lowell High School.  It is where I studied and graduated.  It prepared me for extremely good grades in my Bachelor’s Degree and my Master’s Degree at UMass-Lowell.  Because I went to Lowell High School I met a number of interesting people, including the late Senator Paul Tsongas, U.N. Undersecretary General F. Bradford Morse, and Dr. Patrick Mogan, who served as our past School Superintendent.  I acted in plays in that school.  We did plays that other high schools would not touch, such as “Tom Jones,” and “Rebel Without a Cause,” as well as “Jesus Christ, Superstar.”  I met many interesting people in that school, many of whom became good friends.  Senior Class President Michael Viggiano stood out as did Bill Lekites, who ended up running the air force of the United Parcel Service (UPS).  Jim Neary was a good friend.  Most of the preparation for my life was done in my three years at LHS.  I have more than a passing interest in what is being promoted as a move towards educational excellence through the expansion of the current high school.

    My interest in LHS did not end with my graduation from the high school.  My interest in the school continues on to this day.  I taught there for fifteen years until medical problems caused me to retire.  In that time, I learned about a variety of things.  I learned that so called “Business” students were interested in being prepared for college.  I learned that a large influx of foreigners could not grind the school to a halt, but rather raise the school to new heights by preparing people with a very limited English background to acheive great success.  I learned that there was tolerance in this city for people who were not even “blow-ins” (which I certainly was) but immigrants.  I learned to love to teach American History to people who had just arrived in America.  I learned how to help deal with a student who lost a parent in an horrific accident and had to deal with a new life without that parent.
    My Freshman year, I was in Harvey, Illinois, attending a large high school in an integrated city.  The high school had over five thousand students, making it much larger than Lowell High School.  We had problems, and things got really difficult when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed.  We moved from a high school that was over forty percent minority to one, LHS, that was largely Irish and Greek in inclination.  My brother was so bored, that he studied like crazy and soared to the top of his class at LHS.  I was not bored, I was challenged by my relationship with my father, School Superintendent Dr. Wayne R. Peters, to make the high school large enough to house the many people, over two thousand at that time, who studied there.  At the high school, I was not a good student, but I was good enough to get into Lowell State College, and I was well-prepared by the high school to excel at LSC.
    After spending my time at Lowell State College, I got the nod to write the headline story for the college newspaper, “The Advocate,” to write the main story about the formation of the university.  At the time, we did not know whether it was going to be Lowell State University or the University of Lowell.  My degree, as I was in the first graduating class of the university, was from the University of Lowell.  That was awarded in 1976.  John Duff was the President of the University.  We had presidents then.
    As a teacher at Lowell High School, I had the most difficult classes.  They were largely Business students, students whose study habits would see them having a difficult time outside of the menial section of the business world.  Vocational students attended the Lowell Trade School.  Business students graduated and were expected to take the most menial of jobs.  We educated them, but we did not prepare them.  At least, that was my thought.  I sat on a committee dealing with “tracking,” as it was called, which voted to remove the “Business” label and teach College and Honors students.  That happened early in my tenure at the high school.
    So, I taught College bound students.  With the assistance of the Memorial Library staff, we put somewhere around four hundred books on History, Politics, and Social Studies on stacks in my room.  Any student who found an interesting book there could take the book and read it and not bring it back.  It was their book to keep.  This was designed to start the students forming their own bookshelves at home.
    In my first years at the high school, I was teaching what we called “Communications,” which was really an English class.  My Master’s Degree was in English, so that was fine.  Then I got moved into History, which was my hobby and avocation.  I got classes that had more and more Southeast Asian students.  I had to make the school day interesting to those students, so I tried my best.  Souvanna Pouv of the Cambodian Mutual Assistance Association, still calls me “Mr. Peters,” so I guess I had some respect somewhere there.  Recently, on one of the television shows I produce “This Town’s Character,” Bopha Malone asked Souvanna why he did not call me “Jim.”
    “Oh, I couldn’t do that,” he said.
    I learned more from the students than they ever learned from me.  I learned about respecting the individual, promoting a work ethic, and loving a course of study.  I learned that Lowell absorbed thousands of Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Thailand immigrants who looked at you with expectation and the hope of a promise.  I learned that my own children would embrace the differences between their friends and give back more than they ever took.  I learned all that from the students, both Asian and Caucasian.  It was a lesson that I learned well.
    Now, we have a responsibility to all of the students at and coming to the high school.  That responsibility is to build them a school that promises what this city always promised, to give our students the right to graduate with high expectations in the Math and Sciences; the Languages; History and the Social Sciences, and other areas of interest to them.  If we build two schools, will there have to be busing to handle the fact that a great many students will be minorities from the various sections of city?  Will we be in compliance with state regulations at a separate but equal level?  Is there such a thing as “Separate but Equal, in our planning for the new school?
      Lowell High has always worked because it integrated the Irish with the English, the French Canadians with the Irish, the Greeks with everyone else, and the Southeast Asians with the populace.  Its saving grace is in its diversity.  We have to be careful to maintain that diversity as we go forward.  The building of a high school needs to be done at one level, that level being the one that  educates the greatest number of students with an eye towards integration.  We cannot build two high schools.  That would pull apart what Lowell has been so successful at acheiving, a greatness because of our diversity.  Integration of separate cultures as part of our code of honor.
    Lowell needs one high school.  LHS should be left standing.  All of my children are graduates of Lowell High School, so I practice what I preach.  It needs to be built as an adjacent building to the existing high school.  The only way I see that happening is building it on the site of the past Merrimack Mills, which is the headquarters for the Lowell Five Cent Savings Bank.  That would put it next to the Riverview Towers but also next to the Merrimack River.  That would be the least expensive, even if we have to buy out the bank, option.  Somewhere, especially at Cawley Stadium, we would have to buy out all of those lienholders who have businesses near the baseball and soccer fields.  That would be extremely expensive.
    The trick to understanding education is that there is little that really significantly changes over the years.  True, some people do invent wonderful inventions and open up new areas of opportunity.  However, the words used to describe an educational innovation seldomly are altered.  In 1836, Lowell’s School Superintendent required teachers to give up their Saturdays to study “White’s Pedagogy.”  According to Webster’s Dictionary, pedagogy is just a fancy word for teaching.  Why do we demand that new words describe old actions?  Education is nothing if not a study of the obvious.  We think we know more than the teachers because we went to school.  The teachers make up new words and rules, more phrases and degrees, to separate themselves from the basics of teaching.  Those Saturday classes could probably have been shortened by allowing the teachers to interact together and determine what drives Johnny to learn.
    Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson wrote the “Declaration of Independence” together.  But, they disagreed on just what education was about.  Jefferson saw it as an academic exercise, while Benjamin Franklin saw it as a vocational exercise.  We still argue about those goals two hundred plus years later.  Some parents and teachers define education in terms of vocational goals, while some see it as something to make you “think.”  It is academic.  I have a large library.  It contains approximately three thousand books.  I picked a few to make a point.  In “The Qualitative School” Duane Manning says “In what other way can mathematics become a part of people’s lives to the degree that a modern technical society demands?” (1963)  Sound familiar?  Content validity was just as important in 1963 as it is in 2015.  What we need to know, I believe, is to what extent we are reteaching, and to what extent people learn.  Louis Armstrong sings that we will never know what young children will know.  He may be right.  The question we have to ask is what degree is comfortable.  Education is a well-taught and well-thought-out topic that we will study the way Jefferson and Franklin did hundreds of years ago.  The technology changes, but the basics of learning, and the need for greater learning stay basically the same.  Let’s support the professionals who donate so much of their time to learning how to teach.  And, let’s not repeat ourselves ad nauseum.  Parents need to be active in their children’s learning, how we do it will help decide how we rebuild Lowell High School.
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