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.