Tag Archives: Georgetown University

This Day in History 1/23: The Founding of Georgetown University

English: The proposal to establish an academy ...

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Sure, this isn’t exactly Earth-shattering history for most of you, but it certainly is to me.

On January 23, 1789,  John Carroll, Robert Molyneux and John Ashton completed the purchase from Threlkeld and William Deakins, Jr. for “seventy five pounds current money” about an acre and a half of land at Georgetown Heights in Maryland for construction of an academy.  Carroll, a former Jesuit who was the first Roman Catholic bishop in the United States, wrote that  

“We shall begin the building of our Academy this summer. On this Academy are built all my hopes of permanency and success of our holy religion in the United States.”

Carroll had succeeded beyond his wildest expectations.

Founded simply as a school to foster Catholic education in an overwhelmingly Protestant nation, Georgetown University is the oldest Catholic university in the United States.  Its programs in government, international affairs and law are world-renowned.  Its alumni include numerous members of Congress, Senate, and Supreme Court Justices.  It includes heads of state from over a dozen countries and one US President (Bill Clinton).

It was the site of numerous movies and television shows, such as The Exorcist and St. Elmo’s Fire.

Oh yeah, it also has  a pretty good basketball team, too.

Yet most importantly, it is my alma mater, and I do mean it literally.  I learned an awful lot at the Hilltop, and not just about government and history.  My four years at Georgetown were an exercise in self-determination and discovery, and I will never forget my time here.

So if I’m being selfish with this Day in History, I really don’t care…especially if you’re an Orangeman.

…and if you are, I have a certain finger lifted for you 😉

Georgetown University today

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100 Years of Georgetown Basketball

100 Years of Georgetown Basketball

Even though the team took a drubbing this weekend against Notre Dame, and what looks like another tonight against West Virginia, I’m still proud of being a Georgetown Hoya.

I’m working on some curricular stuff this week, so I may be a little more sporadic than usual.  Today is a new video on Hulu, a documentary on Georgetown University’s basketball program on its 100th anniversary, in 2007.  Please enjoy the video, and definitely show it to classrooms where the kids aspire to great heights on the hardcourt. The link is above, as I can’t get the Hulu stuff embedded on this platform.

If you find an unpolished gem I can send to the recruiters, let me know.  Anything to help the program.


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Unknown African-American Heroes: The Healy Family of Georgia

February is Black History Month, and the Neighborhood will be highlighting some African-Americans that may not readily come to mind for students. 

First off is a family from Georgia that achieved many notable firsts as African-Americans, even though many Blacks still belittle their accomplishments, due to their mixed lineage and religion.  In 1818, Michael Morris Healy emigrated from Ireland and settled in the “bottom” country of Jones County, Georgia, near the town of Macon.  He would become a successful cotton planter, with 1,500 acres and 49 enslaved Africans.  Among them was a 16 year old girl named Mary Eliza, who Healy took as his common-law wife in 1829.  Even though their “marriage” was illegal, they lived as husband and wife, rearing 10 children.

It is these children, these “bastard” children of an illegal union that are the heart of this story.  Under Georgia law, children of slaves and masters were considered enslaved, and thus prohibited from receiving an education.  The Healys were thus educated in northern schools and abroad, always in strict adherence to their father’s Roman Catholic faith.  Among the nine children were:

James Augustine Healy (1830-1900)






1. James Augustine Healy (1830-1900) –Though not as documented as his brothers, James did found the Healy legacy of achievement.  He graduated from the College of the Holy Cross in 1849.  In 1875, Healy became the first African-American Roman Catholic bishop, as he was installed as Bishop of Portland, Maine.   James oversaw the establishment of 60 new churches, 68 missions, 18 convents and 18 schools.

Patrick Francis Healy (1834-1910)


2. Patrick Francis Healy (1834-1910) – Patrick Healy is a personal favorite of mine, as he is connected to my alma mater.  Patrick graduated Holy Cross in 1850, and then entered the Jesuit order.  The Jesuits, fearing that his race would be an issue in the states, sent Patrick to the University of Louvain, in Belgium.  He became the first African-American to earn a PhD–NOT W.E.B. Du Bois as commonly believed.  In 1866 Healy became dean of Georgetown University.  In 1874, Patrick became president of Georgetown, the first African-American of a major, white-majority university in the United States.  As president, Healy modernized the curriculum by requiring courses in the sciences, particularly chemistry and physics. He even expanded and upgraded the schools of law and medicine.  Patrick’s influence was so far-reaching that he is hailed as Georgetown’s “second founder”, after founder John Carroll.


Michael Augustine Healy (1839-1904)

3. Michael Augustine Healy (1839-1904) –Michael, who ditched Holy Cross for a life at sea, did not follow his older brothers’ path to the priesthood.  Michael joined a British ship as a cabin boy in 1854.  In 1864, Abraham Lincoln signed Michael’s commission as a Third Lieutenant in the Revenue Cutter Service, which would later become the United States Coast Guard.  Healy patrolled the 20,000 miles of Alaskan coastline for more than 20 years, earning great respect of the natives and seafarers alike. After commercial fishing had depleted the whale and seal populations, his assistance with introduction of Siberian reindeer helped prevent starvation among the native Alaskans.  He became the first African-American to attain the rank of captain of the Coast Guard in 1880.  In 1882, he became the first African-American to captain a US government ship.  His life inspired Jack London’s novel the Sea-Wolf, as well as James Michener’s Alaska.

All of these men achieved “firsts” for African-Americans, yet few scholars and even fewer African-Americans acknowledge their accomplishments.  The reasons are simple: they often did not openly recognize their African roots, and they were Catholic. 

The Healys were light-skinned: they “passed” for white as long as their lineage was not questioned.  Yet none of them openly denied their mother’s heritage.  Patrick Healy, in fact, was unashamed to acknowledge his African blood if questioned, even though he was president of a college with a large Southern white population. 

The Catholic aspect was part of a general bias against Catholics in America through most of the 19th Century.  In fact, it could be said that the Healys were equally, if not more, held back by their religion as they were by their race. 

Yet regardless of their race or their religion, it was a shame that their achievements have lacked recognition.  This February, let’s hope the Healys attain their deserved place among the pantheon of African-American heroes.


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The Gutting of a Georgetown Tradition: Meddling with “Map of the Modern World”

I had another post in mind today at the Neighborhood, but this news was sent to me by my fellow alumni and its getting my blood up.

In an earlier post on geography, I mentioned a course I took at Georgetown called “Map of the Modern World”, a 1-credit boot camp of world geography and geopolitics.   As a student at Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service (SFS) I had to take this course as a graduation requirement–since the qualification exam rendered me, in Professor Pirtle’s thundrous voice, “geographically ignorant.”  Even though it was a killer for a one-credit course, it was one of the most rewarding courses I took.  I know of no other university that has a geography course that even comes close.

Yet, just as it does in the world of education, the “boutique” theories seem to be adopted by administrators as if they were flavors of the month.  Such is the case at SFS, where the new dean, James Reardon-Anderson, wants to take over the course personally.  Instead of the classic geopolitical survey that each student in the SFS has received (gratefully) for decades, Reardon-Anderson plans to restructure the course as a study of geographic forces and human interactions.  The grit-and-grind of the Mercator map is replaced by the soft Venn diagrams of interactions, encounters and relationships.

The scholarship behind this change shouldn’t be new to many people–the work of Jared Diamond, professor at UCLA and author of the popular book Guns, Germs, and Steel.  Diamond’s work postulates that the driving forces behind human interaction, as well as human inequality, are the geographic forces that have shaped the development of Earth’s multitude of societies.

Diamond’s work is not at issue.  What is at issue is using his theories in a course that was never designed as an anthropological or sociological survey.  To really see the difference, here’s the old course description:

Map of the Modern World – 1 Credit

This one-credit-hour course is designed to provide you with regional overviews of the evolution of the world political map since 1800. The objective of this course is to enhance your basic working knowledge of the political map of the modern world as a first step in understanding world events and international relations. The method of instruction
will be lectures supported by a heavy dose of maps and short outside readings. The lectures will focus on the evolution of the modern political map of each region and on major nationalist, ethnic, boundary, and territorial conflicts and tension areas.

Here is the new course description:

Map of the Modern World – 1 Credit

This one-credit course is designed to provide basic knowledge of the physical and political geography of the world. Weekly lectures cover the fundamental forces that shape the physical geography and the effects of physical geography on human behavior in ten regions of the world. The final exam covers information presented in the lectures, the location and capitals of contemporary states, and the identification of major geographical features. The final examination is multiple choice and graded pass-fail. The course is required for graduation from the School of Foreign Service.

As a point of clarification, ths course was always a requirement to graduate and was always graded pass-fail.  Yet the differences are obvious.  Map of the Modern World was a course designed for future diplomats and international leaders in order to establish a baseline knowledge of the world and its machinations.  Period.  Since the SFS was designed as a school for training future diplomats, this makes perfect sense.

Reardon-Anderson’s version is cute.  It’s too cute.  In fact, it’s more like an elective course than a requirement for a school of international relations.  Because of the new dean’s penchant for the theory du jour, students at Georgetown will be less than adequately prepared for the roles they aspire to after graduation.  No 1-credit course can do justice to Diamond’s theories while preserving the original goal of establishing background knowledge of the political world to students of international affairs. 

It’s embarrassing that such a change is even considered, let alone approved.  Climate change, human interactions, geographic forces–these are all worthy of study.  But not in Map.

This leads to my last point.   Map of the Modern World was a rite of passage for students in the SFS program at Georgetown, the oldest school for international studies dating back to 1919.  Every year, each spring, freshman entered the large lecture hall in the Reiss Science Building for 45 minutes of backbreaking maps, charts, definitions, treaties, Latin terms such as “uti possidetes” (one of my old classmates please correct my spelling), and the logjam of minutia that make the modern international system. 

Damnit, that boot camp did a body good, and no boutique theories or Johnny-come-lately techniques should mess up a good thing.

I’m calling on all my former SFS alumni, alumni from other Georgetown schools, even non-alumni that visit the Neighborhood to take action and stop Reardon-Anderson’s quest to sink the SFS into “geographic ignorance.”

A Facebook group has been made for those who want to join, linked here.  Those wishing to express their opinions directly to the school can e-mail Dean Reardon-Anderson at  reardonj@georgetown.edu.  Be sure to CC Dean Lancaster at lancastc@georgetown.edu

Lets save at least one piece of our education that actually worked.  Show the administration at SFS that some cows are too damned sacred to make into hamburger.


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It’s right there on the map! The importance of Geography in education

Like so many of my students, I too was “geographically ignorant.”

At least that was the epithet hurled at us by our professor in a freshman course titled “Map of the Modern World.”  Everyone who didn’t score above a certain cutoff on a placement test was forced to take this class.  The doors were locked promptly.  The teaching assistants stood like bouncers.  We had to learn the placement of ALL 200+ states in the international system, plus all colonies, territories, associated territories, crown dependencies, etc.   At the beginning I didn’t even know where Curacao was.  Now I know the position of every Antille, from Bonaire to Aruba and everything in between.

If only our students in public schools had such an intensive class–or a psychotic professor to teach it. 

Our pitiful knowledge of geography has been well documented for the last decade.  Among the most notable studies was the 2006 Roper study sponsored by the National Geographic Society, a copy of which is linked here.  I will spare a detailed analysis, but some of the highlights include that “most young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 demonstrate a limited understanding of the world beyond their country’s borders, and they place insufficient importance on the basic geographic skills that might enhance their knowledge.”  

  • Only 37% of young Americans can find Iraq on a map—though U.S. troops have been there since 2003.
  • 6 in 10 young Americans don’t speak a foreign language fluently.
  • 20% of young Americans think Sudan is in Asia. (It’s the largest country in Africa.)
  • 48% of young Americans believe the majority population in India is Muslim. (It’s Hindu—by a landslide.)
  • Half of young Americans can’t find New York on a map.                                                                                                                       – from 2006 National Geographic/Roper Survey 

What is even more disturbing–even as a three-year old study–is the declining attitude towards geography.  21% of respondents said that knowing where countries were in the world is “not too important.”  38% of respondents said the same about learning another language.  As our ability to understand the world grows more and more, we want to know less about it.  The results are scary.

One need not look further than my own students to see the results of such thinking.  Many of my fifth graders, even as late as December, still thought the Bronx was a country.  Many didn’t even know how many states comprised the United States, where our capital is located, or even its name.  One kid even alleged that Puerto Rico was a borough of New York City–though considering the demographic, he may be on to something.   

Yet they all knew where the Chuck-E-Cheese is located.  Most have an encyclopedic knowledge of the shops in Co-Op City, or the amusement possibilities of New Rochelle (dubbed “New Roc City”).  They also have exact bearings on where to find the nearest McDonald’s, Burger King and KFC, which would also become their future employers, if they’re not careful.

Our culture has not helped, on both sides of the political spectrum.  The extreme right-wing ding-dongs who belittle “book learning”, as education is so often called, as un-American do our children a grave disservice.  It is not patriotic to be dumb, no matter what Sarah Palin tells you.  Yes, she can see Russia, but Lord knows if she can pick it off a map.  Even those conservatives who preach American exceptionalism–and I do, to a certain degree–have to have a working understanding of world geography to form a basis for arguments.  You can’t tell a liberal to “go the hell to Russia!” and then point to the Ukraine.  I’ve seen this happen with Young Republicans, and it isn’t pretty. 

The left is no saint, either.  For all their hemming and hawing about the “guilt” of European populations and their parasitic attack on American peoples and environments, they seem to overlook the need to use geography to see why we came here in the first place.  Geography played a huge role in the creation of the American landscape.  There’s a reason why Arizona and New Mexico weren’t settled by large numbers of European settlers until later in the 19th Century (Here’s a hint: you drink it).  If Ms. Cannabis wants to preach about the rape of the continent, she better  make sure the class can find it on a map.  Otherwise you get renderings of the Atlantic slave trade with ships coming from Detroit into Jamaica, which plays havoc on your civil rights lessons. 

Geography is essential to our education.  Not just knowing how to read a map, but at least a basic understanding of where countries, states and continents are located on a map.  The maps do look nice on the wall, at least before Jose decides to tag them with a Sharpie.  Yet the study of our world has many other implications as well:

  • It’s multidisciplinary – You have to read maps, and understand what symbols mean.  Distances, angles, and rates of speed for travel all need to be calculated.  Borders between states or countries can change or shift over time for different reasons.  The natural boundaries–mountains, rivers, oceans, etc.–serve ecological, social and economic purposes.  Geography extends to every discipline.
  • It informs our history — New York City isn’t where it is because of dumb luck.  Verrazzano and Hudson both stumbled into the greatest natural harbor on the Atlantic coast.  Boston started as a peninsula sheltered by the inland water of Cape Cod.  New Orleans sprang up at the terminus of our continent’s most important river system.  These were no accidents–geography played a huge role in the development of civilization.
  • It informs our perceptions, both true and false — one need look no further than the greatest tool of white supremacy in world history, the 1569 Mercator world map.   Yes, a map.  Gerardus Mercator’s wildly popular map was created with a huge distortion: the areas farthest away from the Equator were abnormally larger.  Europe, North America and Russia are all greatly oversized.  Europe is also placed squarely in the middle, as if the world revolved around it.  Now, this was probably unintentional–Mercator was European, after all, and used a familiar vantage point–but this map has helped to color our perceptions of people and countries for many years.  It’s important for kids to understand this.
  • It’s tactile — Geography is one of the few parts of social studies that’s hands-on.  The best way to get a kid excited about the world is to put a map or globe in their grubby little mitts.  To actually see where the United States is compared to the rest of the world can often be a shocking experience.  It also helps the student understand the world doesn’t always revolve around us–even though that’s how it seems.

Students should have access to as much geography as humanly possible.  The more kids understand the world, the more curious they get about how the world works–especially its problems.  The geography problem, in many ways, is the most urgent problem, as it colors almost every other aspect of social studies.  Extending knowledge of world geography will help our students make a positive mark on that same world later in life.

At the very least, students can argue that Puerto Rico is not a borough of New York–but it ought to be.  Along with Santo Domingo, Mexico, parts of Ecuador, Israel, Russia, Sicily and southwest Ireland.

The following are some helpful geography websites:

National Geographic for Kids – this is a great site to start.  Maps, activities, videos, you name it.

National Geographic Xpeditions  this site is a big help to teachers, as it has lesson plans, interactive media and a fully interactive atlas for students to explore.

KidsGeo-Geography for Kids – this is more of geography skills site than a true study in an atlas nature.  It does have a massive amount of information.

Sheppard Software’s Geography Games – truly for the geography fanatic, these games really test your country and state identification skills.  Warning: for advance students only.


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Wendy Kopp, why is TFA abducting so many Hoyas?

This weekend is Mr. D’s 10-year college reunion.  It’s been a while since I visited old Georgetown University, and it’ll be good to catch up with my old gang.  We’re all older, fatter, balder, on more medication–but probably not wiser.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Reading a recent article in Education Week, it appears that the old alma mater is getting recognized in another category: recruiting for Teach for America. 

For my casual readers in the Neighborhood, let me just say that TFA and I have an understanding.  Ever since my last rant at the institution, it may be best that we stay out of each others way.  You wouldn’t want to see me at Wendy Kopp’s cocktail party, that’s for sure.  The johnny-come-latelys of the TFA crowd, who cry that I’m a tool of the unions and unsympathetic to the plight of children, can cram it, for all I care.

I don’t like holding a grudge, though.  First of all, TFA is too easy a punching bag.  Many of the blogs linked on my page and on others do a far better job of deflating the Kopp Reich than I.  Second, it does my readers little good to hear me complain about an institution with which I have little, if any, connection.  So I’m offering an olive branch to Wendy Kopp.  Let’s play nice, shall we?  We can have a drink, a few laughs…we can both torture kids with standardized tests.

I just have one condition.  Please stop taking so many students from Georgetown.

The sidebar of the Education Week article, which covers the record number of applications from college seniors for TFA, also gave some stats on the class of 2009.  4,100 young people will be invading classrooms next year–which is little assurance to me, as my school may lose a couple of positions.  Georgetown University’s class of 2009 had 11 percent of the seniors apply for TFA.  It is considered the largest employers of graduates on campus, joining the likes of Brown, Emory, the University of Chicago and the University of Connecticut.

Now I’m not against my fellow Hoyas pursuing a career in education.  I worry because I know my own classmates.  Whereas most are pretty decent people, I don’t see a lot of them with the stamina for a classroom in a high-needs area.  Sorry, Chip, but teaching Algebra I at DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx is not like tutoring your 4th Form chums at Groton.  Also, a lot of my class was downright insufferable–the teachers’ pet type.  My kids would have a field day with these prizes.  It would be great to see that smarmy prick from my US Political Systems class get the heave-ho out a classroom window.

It must be a dismal economy that so many of my fellow Hoyas are opting for the TFA experience.  This, also, is a problem.  The economy is driving lots of people to service, but for the wrong reasons.  The teacher you want to keep is not the accounting major who’s waiting to ride out the unemployment numbers before landing the next seat at Goldman Sachs.  It’s the student who has the choice of any corporate cush-job in America, yet CHOOSES to join the noble profession of teaching. 

So Wendy, I have to ask: What’s with so many Hoyas?  Is the economy really that bad?  Or did Duke and Harvard send you to steal away talent so that their schools can get the plush jobs?  Is this payback for us taking John Thompson III away from Princeton?  Were you a Villanova fan in a past life?

I don’t know if we can ever have the answer.  Maybe it’s too complex for my union-addled mind.  What I do know is that the high rate of Hoya participation makes us look bad.  It makes us look like do-gooders and missionary-pariahs.  Its bad enough Georgetown alums are in positions at every level of government and business–positions that allow us to fuck things up in spectacular ways.  Now they’re marshalled into classrooms to teach children badly until the economy improves.  If societal destruction is your aim, we can do more damage in other sectors of society, like the White House.   

If you let in any more Hoyas, Wendy, make sure they really want to make a difference.  Otherwise, these kids will be wasting my kids’ valuable time–time they should be spending on their projects on the civil rights movement.

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