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How About Teaching Bridgeport History In City Schools? Connecting Kids And Community

November 20th, 2012 · 15 Comments · Analysis and Comment, Education, Library

Bridgeport Harbor

The first trains of the Housatonic Railroad Company steamed into Bridgeport Harbor in 1840. Trains handled freight arriving by ship from the West Indies. Oyster and whaling boats also utilized the harbor. Photo courtesy of the Bridgeport History Center.

The Bridgeport education system has been the center of activity the past 18 months. We saw the Board of Education dissolve itself in favor of state control of city schools in 2011 that led to state appointed members, followed by a court challenge that led the Connecticut Supreme Court to order a special election for four school board slots, then a November ballot question two weeks ago in which city voters decided to maintain election of school board members rather than grant the mayor the power to appoint.

Local elections are so pathetic, however, that just six percent or so of registered voters participated in the Board of Education special election in September. What does that say about voter interest concerning the largest piece of the city budget? What does that say about parental concern for the school system? What can be done to increase interest among students and teachers and the city at large? What will help give them buy in?

Why not require teaching Bridgeport history in city schools?

Superintendent of Schools Paul Vallas says it’s something he could support. He generally leaves these kinds of decisions up to his principals. But why couldn’t the Board of Education weigh in on this issue and institutionalize it as a district policy?

Bridgeport has a mayor in Bill Finch who appreciates city history. Teaching Bridgeport history will build community appreciation among students and parents fostering involvement in neighborhoods, make them connected to the city, provide insight to the city’s contributions to world progress during the Industrial Revolution, build community pride, place names to destination points such as Seaside Park, Beardsley Park, Washington park, focus on the city’s ethnic diversity, and struggles for a new way of life.

The kids could be inspired by Bridgeport entrepreneurs such as Elias Howe (sewing machine) Simon Lake (submarine) Igor Sikorsky (helicopter) Edward Bullard (machine tools), Harvey Hubbell (duplex receptacle plug) DeVer and Lucien Warner (first fitted undergarments) William Frisbie (whose pie company led to flying discs) and Gustave Whitehead (who some historians say flew before the Wright brothers).

Further inspiration could come from the political and governmental contributions of P.T. Barnum, the single greatest contributor to city history, Socialist Mayor Jasper McLevy, Geraldine Johnson, the first African American superintendent of schools, Margaret Morton, the first African American woman to serve in the Connecticut General Assembly and Cesar Batalla who engineered social, educational and work opportunities for Hispanics, and so many more.

Maybe, just maybe teaching Bridgeport history will involve the kids, engage the parents and actually increase voter participation.

The city has educational expertise from the Bridgeport Public Library, University of Bridgeport, Housatonic Community College and the public school system that can craft a curriculum for teachers and students.

Why not? It will build pride, create economic opportunities and connect kids to their city.


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15 Comments so far ↓

  • Ron Mackey

    “Only In Bridgeport” by Lennie Grimaldi An Illustrated History of the Park City, would be a great teaching guide, but …

  • LennieGrimaldi

    Thanks for the plug Ron; but my prose is more likely to put the kids to sleep.


    I agree 100%! Why do we sit down in class every day and not take notice of the history that grew around us? The lack of knowledge of my peers, though no fault of their own, on local history and current affairs is sickening. Why is it whenever someone talks about politics Obama comes up? For me however, most recently, has been charter referendums, Bridgeport factories, committees and our history. My fellow classmates even had to ask me what is a charter? To which I became the civics and U.S. History teacher for a portion of the class. Why don’t we teach local city government in civics? Since it directly effects us?

    It is sad we have so much history underappreciated by the youth today. I look at old buildings and landmarks and say “wow, it all started here.” I think we should work cohesively as students, teachers and local leaders to come up with a version of Bridgeport history that is more relevant and relatable. Let’s teach starting with what happened locally in the time period and move outward, to state, national then international.

    Even if we start teaching Bridgeport history we must present in such a way that local pride is given!

    Can it be done? Yes. Now can it be effective? Only if these bodies meet to make a newly evolved curriculum made by both the teacher and the learner.

    -Jose L.

  • indices

    Bridgeport history in Bridgeport schools is a great idea. The history of Bridgeport is fantastic and fascinating, and as stated is all around us. If kids find history dry and unappetizing, this would give it a little more local flavor. Throw in more history of the State of Connecticut itself, too. Someone over at Central High School has the idea:

  • Mojo

    *** Great idea on the Bpt and state history lessons for 7th and 8th graders, however it might be depressing when comparing how things were then and how they are today, no? ***

  • Bridgeporteur

    Good idea for a lot of reasons. It would be very inspirational and would promote civic pride, something sorely lacking. It would instill a quest for scholarship within some students. It would not be that hard of a thing to do. The classroom is right out the door and the people are available, but not forever …

  • Up On Bridgeport

    Maybe if we incorporated civics into this proposed Bridgeport historical narrative, maybe we wouldn’t repeat ourselves.

  • Jim Callahan

    I agree with the person who said, “Those who know history are doomed to watch others repeat it.”

  • Bridgeport Now

    Good idea! We have been working on just such projects with our internet start-up and we are now seeking high school graduates as staff. The projects involve the latest technology and students are expected to get paid for training. The final products are permanent digital history media exhibits.

  • Joel Gonzalez

    The Bridgeport political establishment will not benefit from an educated populace–It would be very difficult to fool them as is usually the case. Gullorance is the key to maintaining the status quo.

  • Joel Gonzalez

    Hey Lennie, it would be necessary for Bridgeport students to have a good reading comprehension level to learn history. Assuming they can read the names of their streets, perhaps they can go to the library and find out whom their street was named after and why. I had it easy–Maplewood is a tree.

  • Jim Callahan

    Joel: Tell me about Lesbia Street.

  • Bob

    How about teaching cursive? It seems it isn’t taught in schools anymore … no one writes. They text and type with thumbs.

  • yahooy

    We should teach current events and see if the students will put up with Calamarian rule once they are educated and can realize we could do better.

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