New London’s 1937 school disaster, remembered on Twitter today

March 18, 2016

Bridge City resident Richard Schur's mother, Luna Louise Hudson, was a student at the New London School when it exploded on March 18, 1937. Hudson had missed school that day because she couldn't find one of her shoes, but her brother, Elisha, died in the explosion. Photo taken Wednesday 3/9/16 Ryan Pelham/The Enterprise

Bridge City resident Richard Schur’s mother, Luna Louise Hudson, was a student at the New London School when it exploded on March 18, 1937. Hudson had missed school that day because she couldn’t find one of her shoes, but her brother, Elisha, died in the explosion. Photo taken Wednesday 3/9/16 Ryan Pelham/The Enterprise, Beaumont, Texas

Some do work to keep the history alive. Good on them.

Have we learned? How do we explain the explosion in West, Texas? How do we explain the general lack of attention to school facilities nationally?

Did we forget?


Forgotten disasters in U.S. schools: March 18, 1937, New London, Texas, gas explosion

March 18, 2016

Most high school history students don’t know about it.  Most high school history students in Texas don’t know about it.

New London School, New London, Texas, before the 1937 disaster. Photo from the New London Museum

New London School, New London, Texas, before the 1937 disaster. Photo from the New London Museum

I wonder, sometimes, how many Texans remember at all.

I wonder, too, if there are lessons to be learned from the New London tragedy, while the nation debates what to do to prevent recurrences of school shootings.

No one in New London, Texas, bore ill-will towards children, or schools, or other New Londoners. Some good came of the disaster, but as we’ve seen, with animosity towards schools and school safety in Texas today, and a lackadaisical approach to dangerous substance control and accident prevention in West, Texas, and other places, lessons learned were not learned well.

The deadliest disaster ever to hit a public school in the U.S. struck on March 18, 1937, when a natural gas explosion destroyed the new school building at New London, Texas, killing about 300 people — 79 years ago today.

The remains of the London School after the exp...

The remains of the London School after the explosion of March 18, 1937. Mother Frances Hospital archives

Noise from the blast alerted the town, and many people in the oilfields for many miles.  Telephone and telegraph communication got word out.  Oil companies dismissed their employees, with their tools, to assist rescue and recovery efforts.  Notably, 20-year-old Walter Cronkite came to town to report the news for a wire service.

Investigation determined that a leak in a newly-installed tap into the waste gas pipe coming from nearby oil fields probably allowed natural gas to accumulate under the building.  A spark from a sander started a fire in gas-filled air, and that in turn exploded the cavern under the school.  School officials approved the tap to the waste gas line to save money.  (Hello, Flint, Michigan!) Natural gas is odorless.  One result of the disaster was a Texas law requiring all utility natural gas to be odorized with ethyl mercaptan.

Though the Great Depression still gripped the nation, wealth flowed in New London from oil extraction from nearby oil fields.  The  school district completed construction on a new building in 1939, just two years later — with a pink granite memorial cenotaph in front.

Today, disasters produce a wealth of litigation, tort suits trying to get money to make the injured whole, and to sting those at fault to change to prevent later disasters.  In 1937 official work cut off such lawsuits.

Three days after the explosion, inquiries were held to determine the cause of the disaster. The state of Texas and the Bureau of Mines sent experts to the scene. Hearings were conducted. From these investigations, researchers learned that until January 18, 1937, the school had received its gas from the United Gas Company. To save gas expenses of $300 a month, plumbers, with the knowledge and approval of the school board and superintendent, had tapped a residue gas line of Parade Gasoline Company. School officials saw nothing wrong because the use of “green” or “wet” gas was a frequent money-saving practice for homes, schools, and churches in the oilfield. The researchers concluded that gas had escaped from a faulty connection and accumulated beneath the building. Green gas has no smell; no one knew it was accumulating beneath the building, although on other days there had been evidence of leaking gas. No school officials were found liable.

These findings brought a hostile reaction from many parents. More than seventy lawsuits were filed for damages. Few cases came to trial, however, and those that did were dismissed by district judge Robert T. Brown for lack of evidence. Public pressure forced the resignation of the superintendent, who had lost a son in the explosion. The most important result of the disaster was the passage of a state odorization law, which required that distinctive malodorants be mixed in all gas for commercial and industrial use so that people could be warned by the smell. The thirty surviving seniors at New London finished their year in temporary buildings while a new school was built on nearly the same site. The builders focused primarily on safety and secondarily on their desire to inspire students to a higher education. A cenotaph of Texas pink granite, designed by Donald S. Nelson, architect, and Herring Coe, sculptor, was erected in front of the new school in 1939.  (Texas Handbook of History, Online, from the Texas State Historical Association)

Of about 500 students, more than 50% of them died.  Once the new school and memorial were built, and the law passed requiring utilities to odorize natural gas so leaks could be detected earlier, survivors and rescuers rather shut down telling the history.  A 1977 reunion of survivors was the first in 40 years.

New London School shortly after the March 18, 1937, explosion. Photo from the New London Museum.

New London School shortly after the March 18, 1937, explosion. Photo from the New London Museum.

Because of that scarring silence, the story slipped from the pages of most history books.

Trinity Mother Frances Hospital treated the victims; a 2012 film from the hospital offers one of the best short histories of the events available today.

New London, and the New London Museum, work to remember the dead and honor them.  Work continues on a film about the disaster, perhaps for release in 2013:

Now, more than 75 years later, the London Museum, across the highway from where the original school was destroyed, keeps alive the memory of much of a generation who died on that terrible day.

This video was produced by Michael Brown Productions of Arlington, TX as a prelude to a feature documentary on the explosion and its aftermath which is planned for
the spring of 2013.  . . .

www.newlondonschool.org/museum

What are the lessons of the New London Disaster?  We learned to remember safety, when dealing with natural gas.  A solution was found to alert people to the presence of otherwise-odorless, explosive gases, a solution now required by law throughout the U.S.  Natural gas explosions decreased in number, and in damages and deaths.  Wealthy schools districts, cutting corners, can create unintended, even disastrous and deadly consequences.  Quick rebuilding covers the wounds, but does not heal them.

Remembering history takes work; history not remembered through the work of witnesses, victims and survivors, is quickly forgotten — to the detriment of history, and to the pain of the witnesses, victims and survivors.

New, New London School and granite cenotaph memorial to the victims of the 1937 explosion

New, New London School and granite cenotaph memorial to the victims of the 1937 explosion. Photo from Texas Bob Travels.

More:

Houston’s KHOU-TV produced a short feature on the explosion in 2007:

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.


How kids get to school: Special refugee edition, Balkans

March 11, 2016

A modest departure from the occasional series on how kids get to school, and the classrooms they get to. Perhaps more accurately, it’s a series on the struggles children face to get to school.

Photo from Dimitar Dilkoff, Agence France Presse:

Tweet from Valerio de Cesaris (@ValerioDeC):

Tweet from Valerio de Cesaris (@ValerioDeC): “#refugees. A child caught in razor wire at the Greek-Macedonia border. #StayHuman” Photo by Dimitar Dilkoff, AFP

This young boy is not on his way to school, technically; he’s trying to get to a place where there is a school to which he can safely get.

What will be the results of the education this child gets?

Does anyone know more about this boy? Where is he today?


Should teachers make videos for classroom use? Economics edition

January 15, 2016

Mary McGlasson teaches economics at Chandler-Gilbert Community College in Arizona.

She makes videos for use in class, and out of class, and by others, on key economic concepts. I’ve used her videos in economics with great results.

Recently she was recognized with a teaching excellence award; she wrote: “The kind folks at the League for Innovations at the Community College asked each Roueche Award recipient to create a 1-minute video, so here it is. Mine’s a bit of a fail, because it’s 1:25… hope they like it anyway!”

Good on Mary McGlasson.

You want to see the real stuff? It’s all there on McGlasson’s YouTube channel. Here are a couple of examples.

Scarcity and Choice

Resources

Congratulations to Mary McGlasson — and thanks! Economics teachers, go see what she’s got.

Can you do better? Can you adopt these methods for different subjects? Please try.


December 30 is Hubble Day; are you ready to celebrate?

December 29, 2015

Get ready to look up!

Edwin Hubble.

Edwin Hubble. (Photo credit: snaphappygeek)

At Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub, for several years we’ve celebrated Hubble Day on December 30.

On December 30, 1924, Edwin Hubble announced he’d discovered other galaxies in distant space. Though it may not have been so clear at the time, it meant that, as a galaxy, we are not alone in the universe (whether we are alone as intelligent life is a separate question). It also meant that the universe is much, much bigger than most people had dared to imagine.

December 30, 2015 is the 91st anniversary of the announcement.  When dealing with general science illiteracy, it’s difficult to believe we’ve been so well informed for more than nine decades.  In some quarters, news travels more slowly than sound in the vacuum of space.

I find hope in many places.  Just three years ago the Perot Museum of Nature and Science opened in downtown Dallas.  It’s the old Dallas Museum of Science and Natural History, once cramped into a bursting building in historic Fair Park, now expanded into a beautiful new building downtown, and keeping the Fair Park building, too.  Considering the strength of creationism in Texas, it’s great news that private parties would put up $185 million for a museum dedicated to hard science.

Displays in the Perot border on brilliance at almost every stop.  Stuffy museum this is not — it’s designed to spark interest in science and engineering in kids, and I judge that it succeeds, though we need to wait 20 years or so to see just exactly what and who it inspires.

We visited the Perot regularly through 2014.  On one visit in 2012, as I was admiring a large map of the Moon, a family strolled by, and a little girl I estimated to be 8 or 9 pointed to the Moon and asked her maybe-30-something father where humans landed.  I had been working to see whether the very large photo showed any signs of activity — but the father didn’t hesitate, and pointed to the Sea of Tranquility.  “There,” he said.  The man was not old enough to have been alive at the time; I’d wager most of my contemporaries would hesitate, and maybe have to look it up.  Not that guy.

Visitors to the Perot Museum of Nature and Science, Dallas

On 32 flat-panel video displays hooked together to make one massive display, visitors to the Perot Museum of Nature and Science view Mars as our new Mars Rover’s friend might see it, in a section of the museum devoted to astronomy, physics, astronomy and planetary exploration. Photo by Ed Darrell; use encouraged with attribution.

Still, kids today need this museum and the knowledge and excitement it imparts.  One recent July I accompanied a group of Scouts from Troop 355 to summer camp in Colorado, to Camp Chris Dobbins in the foothills just east of Colorado Springs.  Near lights out one night I hiked the half-mile to our campsite admiring the Milky Way and other bright displays of stars that we simply do not get in light-polluted Dallas County.  I expected that our older Scouts would have already started on the Astronomy merit badge, but the younger ones may not have been introduced.  So I asked how many of them could find the Milky Way.  Not a hand went up.

“Dowse the lights, let’s have a five minute star lesson,” I said.  we trekked out to a slight opening in the trees, and started looking up.  I had just enough time to point out the milky fog of stars we see of our own galaxy, when one of the Scouts asked how to tell the difference between an airplane and a satellite.  Sure enough, he’d spotted a satellite quietly passing overhead — and just to put emphasis on the difference, a transcontinental jet passed over flying west towards Los Angeles or San Francisco.

Then, when we were all looking up, a meteoroid streaked from the south across almost the whole length of the visible Milky Way.  Teenage kids don’t often go quiet all at once, but after the oohs and aahs we had a few moments of silence.  They were hooked already.  Less than five minutes in, they’d seen the Milky Way, found the Big Dipper, seen a satellite, a jet, and a shooting star.

Perfection!

Edwin Hubble’s discovery can now be the stuff of elementary school science, that the blobs in the sky astronomers had pondered for a century were really galaxies like our own, which we see only through a faint fuzz we call the Milky Way.

Do kids get that kind of stuff in elementary school?  Not enough, I fear.

We named a great telescope after the guy; shouldn’t we do a bit more to celebrate his discovery?

More:

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.


Learning economics on Christmas vacation: What’s a bank run?

December 25, 2015

In education we miss out on most information technological innovation. Textbooks were notoriously dull when books were the chief medium found in schools. Schools took 60 years to make progress in showing film. Television, which started out commercially as a great education tool — what was arguably the best orchestra in the U.S. used to play every Sunday on NBC way back when. Then video, then computers, then the internet and personal data devices penetrated modern life, but not yet schools.

So I am always pleased to hear after Christmas break the questions high school economics and history students came back to class with, especially after “having to watch” that hoary and venerable old movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Frank Capra’s film cuts through the fog on some important history and economics issues.

Not that you find it used much in U.S. schools. What follows is a blog post I did for my U.S. history blog some years back, to answer some of those student questions.

New York -- a classic

George Bailey (played by actor Jimmy Stewart) works to deal with a run on the Bailey Savings & Loan Association in Bedford Falls, New York — a classic “run on the bank” — in the 1946 movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” by Frank Capra. Image from Warner Bros., via Our Values blog.

“What’s a bank run?”

Whenever we get to the Great Depression, somebody asks about bank runs. What is a “run on the bank?” Why would people suddenly rush to get their cash out of the bank? And why can’t the bank just pay it out?

Frank Capra showed and explained it best, probably, in his 1946 film, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” But first, my weak attempt:

Banks don’t keep all the money deposited there in the vault. Banks make money by loaning out to others the money put on deposit. The people who get the loans must pay interest on the loan, and that allows the bank to pay interest on the deposits people put there (precious little today — my first account paid 5.25% on my first $5.00 deposit; today you’re lucky to get 1%, and you have to have a sizable minimum, generally. But I digress . . .).

So, if you and a hundred other people each deposit $100 in the bank, the bank turns around and loans out as much as they can. Of the $10,000 deposited, say, they loan out $9,000 to the guy who lives next door to you, so he can put an addition on his house. He’ll pay it back, with interest.

But, that loan means that there is only $1,000 left in the vault. Generally a 10% “reserve” will cover all the cash transactions a bank makes in a day. That is, if they have 10% of their total assets sitting in the vault, making no new money for them, it is highly unlikely that in a normal day there will be a demand for more than about $1,000 of that $10,000 on deposit. (The actual reserve amounts vary; last time I looked, several months ago, the Federal Reserve Board required member banks to hold about 7% of their total assets in cash on hand.)

You can begin to see why a bank run is a problem. If, in one day, every depositor showed up and demanded their deposit, the bank couldn’t pay them all. This is a death sentence in the banking world, for a bank to be unable to meet obligations, and generally that would mean that the bank would be out of business. But of course, that’s rather unfair to the bank — they have their money (your money, really) loaned out to dozens of other people. When those loans come in, the bank will have the cash to pay.

A run on the bank puts a kink in those careful, conservative calculations of how much cash a bank needs to have on hand to cover all the transactions of a day.

Banks fear a run. That’s what killed banks in 1932 and 1933, in the last year of the Hoover administration. Even a good bank could be doomed by an unjustified run — no bank could repay all of its depositors, in cash, on any one day.

Roosevelt’s bank holiday, just a week after his inauguration, stopped the runs for that week. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) insured deposits, so that even were there a run on a bank, a depositor could get his or her money back. Those measures essentially stopped runs on banks for decades.

Frank Capra’s 1946 movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” tells the story of a man who manages a small town savings and loan association, which is similar to a bank in that it accepts deposits and loans money, but different from a bank in that it is chartered for the benefit of its depositors, or members, and not for a bank corporation. In fact, the antagonist in the film is the town banker, Potter, who does what he can to bring the savings and loan to ruin.

In one memorable scene, a rumor that the savings and loan is about to fail prompts dozens of the members to make a run — indeed, there is also a run on the bank at the same time. Jimmy Stewart explains to the members why he can’t pay everybody . . . but he also has an infusion of $2,000 cash he plans to cash for his honeymoon. This is what a bank run looks like, with a smart banker (savings and loan manager in this case) who can keep his organization going:

This film clip is undoubtedly copyrighted by the current owners of the film’s intellectual property. I wish they would make it available for classroom use without heavy copyright fees, in the interest of the public.

It’s another case of a fictional film portraying history better than any history book, and economics, too. Licensing the film for classroom use costs more than teachers can pay — plus, in the dog-eat-teachers world of the War on Education, few administrators stand the use of fiction in history and economics classes. That’s before a teacher even gets to the issue of whether there is technical support to show the film.


School in distant, difficult classrooms: Kenya

December 4, 2015

Photo from Heidi Totten, who is spearheading a campaign to get desks for schools like this one in Kenya:

Tenkees School, in the Mau region of Kenya. Photo by Heidi Totten

Tenkees School, in the Mau region of Kenya. Photo by Heidi Totten

Ms. Totten, working with a group called 100 Humanitarians (Entrepreneurs Changing the World), posted this in November, for a November 27 fundraising project.

Our next $5 Friday Fundraiser will be for additional desks for this school in the Mau region of Kenya. This is a very remote area that we visited. The school serves over 300 students with very few desks that they cram into.

They also have two latrines for each gender. With 300 kids you can imagine the sanitary conditions.

*   *   *   *   *

Our hope is to start with adding more desks, then rebuilding the kitchen and adding latrines. Just $5 can go far!

Please feel free to click over to this group and contribute.

How well would you or your kids learn in this school?

More:


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