Hub unspoke: At one Boston school, teacher educates students on city nickname

Peter Sipe, a sixth-grade teacher at Boston Collegiate Charter School in Dorchester, recounts how he uses copies of the Metro in the classroom, because it "teaches kids stuff they need to know." For example:

Several weeks ago a student raised her hand to ask what "the Hub" was. "Good question!" I replied, and put it to the class. No one knew. As it turned out, in all four of my classes, totaling about a hundred children, there were only a handful who could connect Boston to its nickname. Now, I - like many teachers, I suspect - have long grown used to my students’ lack of knowledge about the world. Still, this took me well aback. Our school is in Boston. All of our students live in Boston. Our school even has “Boston" in its name. As adjective or noun, "Hub" appears in pretty much each issue of the newspaper I bring in, and I've been bringing them in for years. So we did a quick primer on city nicknames: the Big Apple, Tinseltown, the Windy City, etc. Now we all know that Beantown is the Hub.



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    I'm all for some variety in school, but this seems like wasted classroom time. The hub one is just embarrassing unless you mean hub of New England and Beantown is just stupid. I'm glad no-one in this guy's classes knew because who cares?


    Local history?

    Beantown and 'the Hub'? There's lots of interesting local history but neither one of these seems to qualify. It's not a big deal of course, but it seems a weird that this teacher thought this merited a blog post.

    'Kids, it's important for you to know that 200 years ago Boston was a very important city, an international center of trade and innovation. And now, less so.'

    'Kids, it's important for you to know that no-one from Boston calls our city Beantown. Ever.'


    I only excerpted one part of his post

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    The whole thing is about using newspapers (specifically, the Metro) in the classroom, which is probably a more pedagogically sound topic.

    As for local history, well, Holmes was an interesting character in his own right, and a discussion of him could probably lead into an educationally sound lesson on mid-19th-century Boston, class and ethnic stratification, etc.


    Hub class city

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    The point of the nickname is that Bostonians are convinced (rightly or not) in the central importance of their city:

    "A jaunty-looking person, who had come in with the young fellow they call John,--evidently a stranger,--said there was one more wise man's saying that he had heard; it was about our place, but he didn't know who said it.--A civil curiosity was manifested by the company to hear the fourth wise saying. I heard him distinctly whispering to the young fellow who brought him to dinner, Shall I tell it? To which the answer was, Go ahead!-- Well, he said,--this was what I heard:--

    "Boston State-House is the hub of the solar system. You couldn't pry that out of a Boston man, if you had the tire of all creation straightened out for a crowbar."

    Sir,--said I,--I am gratified with your remark. It expresses with pleasing vivacity that which I have sometimes heard uttered with malignant dulness. The satire of the remark is essentially true of Boston,--and of all other considerable--and inconsiderable--places with which I have had the privilege of being acquainted. Cockneys think London is the only place in the world. Frenchmen--you remember the line about Paris, the Court, the World, etc.--I recollect well, by the way, a sign in that city which ran thus: "Hôtel de l'Univers et des États Unis"; and as Paris is the universe to a Frenchman, of course the United States are outside of it.--"See Naples and then die."--It is quite as bad with smaller places."

    (Oliver Wendell Holmes, writing in 1858 - I think - )


    I know the origin

    I know where the nickname comes from, but you'll never convince me that this is or should be something of interest to your average BPS kid.


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    At breakfast, I mentioned this Hub unawareness to the kidlet, who basically asked "Why should they know that?" And, yeah, she's a BPS student.

    She, of course, is familiar with the nickname and its origins, but as my wife noted, she kind of has an unfair advantage in that regard, given the name of this site and all.


    There's lots BPS students couldn't care less about

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    Which makes them little different than most students around the world.

    As others noted in the comment section, civic pride and local history should be bigger things than they are. Should they be bigger than science, technology, engineering, and mathematics? No, but then again those are pretty low on the totem pole as it. Some kids might be interested and engaged by the topic, and others might not be. Those are the breaks.

    Besides, it was the jumping off point for learning research skills.



    When I first met my husband, all that he seemed to know of Commonwealth of Massachusetts History and US History was Eastern Massachusetts local history.

    Lewis and Clark - who were they? Westward Migration, Oregon Trail, Gold Rush - that's West of Worcester! Let's talk about the Battle of Lexington again instead. What was that war with Mexico and all those states that were added and the implications? Eh, just read Thoreau again, that's enough. Hey, we'll go visit the Abagail Adams house again, too!

    What are you arguing here,

    What are you arguing here, that the local history of one of the most important locations in the US is unimportant? Lewis and Clark were interesting, but consider how many different historical events happened within 20 feet of each other in any given place in Greater Boston, let alone all of New England.

    I argue that it's incredibly important to know as much as you can about your area down to the borderline insignificant aspects of your neighbourhood and that includes local, neigh dead customs and colloquialisms because they add context to a world before you and can lead to a broader understanding and education of other related things.

    Those who forget the pasta are condemned to reheat it.


    I post this as I lecture

    I post this as I lecture someone who supposedly lived in the West End for 5 years and doesn't know a damn thing about what the neighbourhood used to be like and thinks the Liberty Hotel was built only recently and modeled after some other hotel in London. Shameful.



    I think history is important, but let's not get crazy.

    Why is it important that someone learn that Boston used to be a more major city ('the Hub')? What's the practical purpose of that knowledge? It doesn't make them a better citizen, it doesn't help them in the job market, it doesn't help them understand other cultures - it's of value if you think history is interesting. Sure, there are core aspects of Boston history which are important (Revere, Tea Party, various presidents) but that doesn't make everything important. People fetishize the past here at the expense of the future I think.

    By all means, argue that borderline aspects of your neighborhood are incredibly important, but so far you've just stated it to be true without any backing.

    It's 5 minutes of

    It's 5 minutes of conversation/research that adds context to something mentioned in several newspapers daily (including the namesake of this site), is rooted in historical facets of the times and, with hope, inspires greater appreciation of your roots by finding something out.

    Just saying "who cares" leads to things like the only mention of the molasses flood being a minuscule plaque in a place no one would even see unless they were looking for it.


    It's not that students learn

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    It's not that students learn that Boston used to be a more major city, but that they have familiarity with a common nickname for the city so that if it comes up in a job interview, customer service interaction, or some other context, they won't look like an idiot.


    Understanding culture

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    Setting aside the fact that this teacher undoubtedly spent less time on this issue than has been spent debating its merit, your comment that knowing why our city is referred to as The Hub does not teach kids anything about other people's culture is demontrably wrong. It teaches them about the culture of their own city and, thus, allows comparison to the culture of other cities. It also helps them to be a better citizen by helping them understand the history and culture of their city better, thus informing their view on citizenship. Holmes did not coin Boston as The Hub because it used to be more economically significant to the country, but rather as a commentary on the tendency of Bostonians to view our city as the hub of the universe, which it is evident they do. Thinking about whether or not that is true, or thinking about how that perception impacts world view, local politics, policy, etc. is of educational importance.


    Follow the thread

    An earlier poster made a comment that local history is ignored.

    I merely pointed out that, before comprehensive curricula, it seems like local history was all that was ever taught - to the exclusion of critically important events in the formation and growth of the nation as a whole.

    That isn't to say that local history isn't important, but it is but a fraction of what should be taught when teaching US History.

    I am a rambler by nature, however, and agree that learning your local zone by wandering through it is important.


    I have some gaps in my US history knowledge, particularly the Westward Expansion and Reconstruction eras. I mean, we definitely were tested on those things but we didn't spend nearly as much time on them as local history and I suspect they just didn't stick in my mind as well as things that happened a mile from my childhood home.

    It's not just us, though. Go to the Midwest and "US History" basically begins with the Oregon Trail. There's something about a war and some red coats, but few people with an average education can tell you where the shot heard round the world was fired, or who exactly was coming either by land or by sea.

    I kind of agree....

    I had he Oregon trail kind if shoved down my throat, but it is and interesting story (and video game). And westward expansion always had a good chunk of your history exam section. I probably knew more about the Columbia and Missouri rivers than I ever did about the Charles river history by 11th grade.

    (We were force fed a lot of pilgrim/Plymouth stuff though, but that seems to be a big part of ap history as well)


    It's not because these topics weren't covered....

    ... in history courses. Rather, most Americans are simply not interested in the history of our own country (or any other). Of course, most Americans also no longer have even rudimentary knowledge of world (or even US) geography. Also, as far as I know, these don't play much role in standardized achievement testing (like MCAS).

    Boston is still The Hub.

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    Boston was designed to be The Hub. Boston is at the center of the wheel while our highways are the spokes. Its on any highway map of the city. I think the historical significance is misinterpreted here. Sure, some old Bostonian may have rambled on about Boston being the Hub of the universe, and yeah, who really cares. But it is the history of the design of the city that should be explored, especially when we have projects such as The Emerald Necklace that spawned some of the most beautiful parks in the state.

    My 2 cents.

    Boston was designed to be The

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    Boston was designed to be The Hub. Boston is at the center of the wheel while our highways are the spokes.

    That's more historic accident than anything else. Originally there was only one major road out of town, running down the isthmus. As the river and harbor were filled in and bridges were built, more roads were added, some being roads into and out of the city, others connecting outlying communities. But there was no deliberate design to create a wheel like street grid. It just happened. And it's not unique to Boston; lots of cities have similar road networks for the same reasons.


    Reading is a good thing....

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    Do you ever overhear out-of-town 20-somethings talking about Boston? They are often confused about whether Brighton, Dorchester and Charlestown are separate cities outside Boston; or, conversely, whether Cambridge and Somerville are neighborhoods of Boston. They aren't sure whether the South End and South Boston are the same place. If anyone in their city-or-town-of-origin had taught them to be curious and read, they would have the habit of reading and learning about the city where they live.

    This teacher sounds great -- he gets the students to ask questions and read the local newspaper -- good lifelong habits. The more time students do things like this, the more they build the habit of reading: reading for fun, for inspiration, for useful information, and even for semi-useless but interesting information.


    Reasons for teacing local, state, national and world history.

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    1. Perspective. Having some understanding of controversies of the past might help put into perspective problems of the present. For the longest time many people decried the wrongful behavior of activist judges concerning same sex marriage. How many of the opponents who complained about activist judges - including African-American opponents of same sex marriage - realize that it was activist judges who ended slavery in Massachusetts?

    2. Humility. Being caught up in the problems of the present it is easy to forget that problems have existed in the past and were solved.

    3. Better understanding of the present. Why do we have the laws that exist? Why are state and the Federal Constitutions written as they are? Not because of things that happen today but because of what happened at the time.

    4. To grow as human beings. I believe that maturity is partly a matter of developing free will. I mean the ability to make rational choices based on reason, understanding and comprehension of who and what we are. Comprehending who and what we are requires knowing where we came from.

    5. So I would place history at an equal level with language, arts, math and science.


    I hate to be That Guy, but

    I hate to be That Guy, but the total ignorance of Boston-area adults about the history of Dorchester, Roxbury, and Mattapan strikes me as much more pressing than the ignorance of Boston-area kids about a stupid nickname that lots of townies don't like.

    It's all the same

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    The Mather School. Baker Chocolate. Puddingstone. Annexation, ebbs and floes of ethnic and racial groups. It's what makes us what we are, as opposed to some bland suburban metroplex. The Hub, the Coconut Grove Fire, Boston Massacre. Texans know what happened in Texas. We should know what happened here.