What Is No More In Easton — Or America
And It Isn't Good
Antonio Povoas, an immigrant from Portugal, was smart, full of wisdom, and hardworking. His wife, Mary, also from Portugal, was smart, full of wisdom, and hard working as well.
The couple made their home in Easton.
“Our father and our mother were great parents; they worked hard — and they valued education,” said Joe Povoas (Oliver Ames High School, ‘73). “My father had only a fourth grade education; my mother graduated from Oliver Ames.”
Antonio, a U.S. Army combat medic, and his wife, wanted more for their five children than they had for themselves.
“There was never a push for us to go to college — but it was understood that we would get a good education, and we would work hard and pursue careers with opportunity,” said Joe.
Joe said, “My father would take the palm of his hand and place it next to his neck, and he would take his palm and make a gesture downward and say, ‘From here down it is $3.00 an hour.’ And then he would take his palm and put it next to his neck and gesture upward and say, ‘From here up, the sky is the limit.’”
All the Povoas children graduated from OA, and all did well.
Joe, the youngest, earned his bachelor’s degree from Stonehill College and built a winning career in compliance for major financial institutions. Mary graduated from secretarial school. Anne graduated from Bridgewater State College and was a school librarian.
Sylvia graduated from Southeastern Massachusetts University (SMU) — now UMass Dartmouth. Tony attended SMU for three-plus years and left to work for UPS — the company from which he retired after 25 years of exemplary service.
(Click here to learn more about the Povoas family and about Povoas Park, the public space in Easton named for Antonio and Mary Povoas.)
Work hard, get an education, go to college, or learn a trade with a big future (and get in with a union).
Such was the ethos and culture that predominated in America even one generation ago.
And back then, when you compared the relationship that college educated parents had with their children in terms of monitoring their studies, urging academic achievement, and reading with their kids, it was fairly on the same level that parents without college educations had with their children.
This widespread interest and concern of parents in — across educational attainment and culture and financial status — their children's education and involvement in extracurricular activities is no more in our nation.
And this is not good — not good at all.
Earlier this summer, on July 12, New York Times op-ed columnist, David Brooks, had a column that ran in the NYT. The piece was titled, “The Opportunity Gap.”
In the column, Mr. Brooks addressed the “growing bifurcation of American society” — a change he called “alarming” and “horrifying.”
Referencing leading and recent scholarly research, Mr. Brooks noted the following:
…. Decades ago, college-graduate parents and high-school-graduate parents invested similarly in their children. Recently, more affluent parents have invested much more in their children’s futures while less affluent parents have not.
They’ve invested more time. Over the past decades, college-educated parents have quadrupled the amount of time they spend reading “Goodnight Moon,” talking to their kids about their day and cheering them on from the sidelines. High-school-educated parents have increased child-care time, but only slightly.
Actually, as Mr. Brooks reported, “A generation ago, working-class parents spent slightly more time with their kids than college-educated parents.”
Now, I do understand, and have friends who are in this demographic. There are parents who did not graduate from college and who spend loads of time with their children — and are doing all they can to make sure they provide the foundation for their kids to achieve optimally.
And I write this even as I think that in America we need to rethink the value and importance of a college education.
We need to look at how much a college education costs nowadays, and whether the investment — and debt incurred by parents and students — is worth the tuition, room and board, and all other expenses associated with the education.
We are seeing rising percentages of young people getting out of college — especially those with degrees in liberal arts majors — and not being able to find good paying jobs in positions related to what they studied in college.
I also think that more emphasis needs to be placed on vocational/technical education, including two-year associates degree programs that prepare people for jobs in health care and high tech.
Associates degree and certification programs educate and train people for jobs that pay well, which are important to society, and are in high growth fields and industries.
I know, I know ... a college education is about far more than just getting a good job with a nice salary and benefits. It is about becoming cultured and aware — and having a greater understanding about life.
Okay, I agree. So, in these cases, you can get the associates degree or the certification, and then read books and travel. Done. You got yourself the good job, and you are worldly.
But to get back to the “growing bifurcation of American society” — for sure the same paradigm of reaching for and taking advantage of opportunity is not in place as a generation ago.
My father came to Easton in late summer of 1953 and started working as teacher and athletic coach at Oliver Ames.
When he got here, the primary, if you will, ethnic tribes of Easton were the English, Irish, Portuguese, and Swedish — and many kids whose lineages were, in varying degrees, mixtures of two of these ethnicities.
Save for those with English backgrounds, most of the parents of the kids my dad taught and coached in the '50s and '60s had not gone to college. Yet the incidence was high of their kids going to college.
I think of my family's good friends, the Holmes family.
Harold "Haddy" and Louise "Lee" Holmes, husband and wife, Easton natives, were among the good people in this town who took my mom and dad under their wing soon after my parents arrived here.
Haddy and Lee, who became my brother’s godmother, were lifelong friends of my parents.
Haddy and Lee had two children, boys — Harold, called "Butch," and Tommy.
Both Haddy, one of 11 children, and Lee, one of seven children, grew up in meager financial circumstances. Neither went to college.
Haddy (OA '39), a member of the OAHS Athletic Hall of Fame, was recruited and offered college athletic scholarships — but that wasn't an option because he had to go to work to help support his family.
Haddy did leave home, to go to war; he served in the U.S. Army, in combat in Europe — he was wounded in the Battle of the Bulge.
Haddy and Lee were married when Haddy left for the service. Lee was pregnant with Butch while her husband was fighting overseas.
Haddy and Lee were deeply involved in their children's education.
"If we didn't study and we didn't keep our grades up, then we weren't allowed to play sports," says Tommy, still an Easton resident. "And it was as simple as that. They always knew what was going on our classes and in our studies."
Butch Holmes (OA ‘62) — a member of the OAHS Athletic Hall of Fame — would go on to graduate from Harvard University. Butch also lettered in basketball at Harvard.
Butch enlisted in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War, and served in intelligence in Vietnam. He went to a standout career with the Secret Service.
Tommy attended Curry College for a little more than two years — and then he applied and was accepted into a competitive computer training program with Raytheon Corporation.
Tommy would complete the program and use it as a springboard to highly successful career in the computer industry.
Did anyone say, “Computer or technology certification programs?”
(Click here to read more about Haddy and Lee.)
Paul and Audrey Smith, husband and wife — good friends of my mom and dad — lived in a modest home a stone's throw from OA (when OA was in the building where the Easton Middle School is now).
Paul Smith — an all-star salesman and one of the most gifted orators and eloquent men I ever met — was not a college graduate. Audrey Smith was not a college graduate.
Their two children, a son Barry (OA ‘68), and a daughter, Joanne (OA ‘69), graduated from college.
Barry, president of his class at OA, and a multiple sport athlete for the Tigers, graduated from Georgetown University. He earned his juris doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania.
Barry Smith lives in Duxbury, and has done very, very well in his career as an attorney.
Joanne started out at one school, and then transferred to and graduated from another.
“Out of OA, I enrolled at Immaculata University, which at the time was all girls; it is located about 20 miles outside of Philadelphia, in a fairly remote place,” said Joanne (Smith) Nolan. “And I decided after a year to transfer — to Stonehill College, where I earned my degree.”
Joanne Nolan is a teacher in the Easton school system.
Joanne’s husband is Dennis Nolan, a well known and established attorney in Easton. Indeed, the entire Nolan family is well known in these parts.
Dennis was one of seven children born to Stephen and Mary (Freitas) Nolan. Neither parent graduated from college.
All the Nolan kids did well in life.
Stephen “Jiggs” Nolan — the former veterans agent for Easton — was the first born of the Nolans. He went to Bishop Feehan High School, then to Stonehill College, left the college and served in the Marine Corps —including a combat stint in Vietnam — and went back to Stonehill and finished his degree.
Dennis, also a Feehan grad, earned his bachelor’s degree from UMass Amherst and his law degree from Suffolk University. Next came Timmy who, after Feehan, served in the Marine Corps, then on to Boston State College (now UMass Boston), from which he graduated.
(Jiggs and Timmy were motivated to serve in the Marines by the example of their father who was a World War II combat Marine.)
The next four Nolan children earned diplomas from OA. Marybeth went on to graduate from Georgetown University and then earned a master’s at Smith College. Bobby learned a trade and became a plumber. Nancy was a homemaker, as was Kathy — both hard workers.
You know, I got to thinking that something shared across the families discussed above, is that mom and dad, those without the college educations, got married and stayed married.
I think that fact is important.
The families and people I have cited here are exemplars of what used to be fairly normal in America.
And this isn’t good — not good at all.