On the Waterfront.
ATE Philadelphia 7-28-06
By Freddie A. Bowles
Posted from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
I've crossed into the mysterious midnight hour here in our room beside the Delaware River, so another day by tick and tock has begun in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
With Flashes and Thunder,
An Image of Philadelphia Emerges.
The quiet of the Hyatt Regency — a far cry, I'm sure, from lodgings at Valley Forge so long ago — is punctuated by the low rumble of thunder, accented by quick flashes of pale, pervasive white. Our room is perched directly above the river. (I wonder how close we are to Washington's famed revolutionary crossing.)
It's refreshing and gratifying to have nature's sound and light show welcome me to the city of our founding fathers. The thrill of visiting a new city continues to inspire curiosity and excitement. I rarely travel to the eastern realm of our grand nation, and though the airborne trek is tedious and time-consuming, the preservation of commitment is worth the journey. In one way or another, we persevere.
What brings me to Philadelphia? During this present tenure of "studenthood" at the University of Arkansas, my sole excuse for travel rests on the concept of professional development and collegiality. As a lifelong learner I'm drawn to knowledge of almost any genre. Connections appear naturally in the most unexpected places.
This morning I strolled the waterfront. I go there now, shifting voice, remembering.
Artifacts of an Aggressive Past.
Juxtaposed against the serenity of calm Delaware waters are the reminders of man's quest for "superiority." The Philadelphia harbor is peppered with artifacts of America's aggressive past. To my left sit two decommissioned ships of war.
One, the USS Olympia, is the oldest steel-hulled American warship afloat. A cruiser built in 1892, it served as Admiral Dewey's flagship at the Battle of Manila Bay in the Spanish-American War. The Olympia was taken out of commission in 1922. The other retired man-o-war is the USS Becuna, a submarine commissioned in 1944 for the Southwest Pacific Fleet under General MacArthur, and then decommissioned in 1969.
Gazing east into New Jersey I spy another menacing seabeast, a fabled battleship with an array of great guns pointing toward the north. It is the USS New Jersey, which was launched at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard on December 7, 1942. After service in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and the Middle East, the New Jersey was decommissioned and now hosts guided tours at the Camden Waterfront on the New Jersey side of the waterway. I recall my husband mentioning this formidable vessel in his reminiscences of the Vietnam War. Its sixteen-inch guns boomed incessantly from the coastal waters near his post at DaNang, especially at night, delivering a percussive dirge for citizens and soldiers close enough to hear.
'This Passion for Superiority.'
"I believe there is no one Principle, which predominates in human nature so much in every Stage of Life, from the cradle to the Grave, in Males and females, old and young, black and white, rich and poor, high and low, as this Passion for Superiority. . . .," John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail in 1777. "Every human Being compares itself in its own Imagination, with every other round about it, and will find some Superiority over every other . . . or it will die of Grief and Vexation." [NOTE: Mr. Adams' capitalization reflected the gender dynamics of his age, I suppose. The quote is from "Family Correspondence II, 1777" as cited in The Passionate Sage by Joseph J. Ellis.]
Back on land, immediately to my left, is a plaque honoring the "Associators," a group of citizen-soldiers organized by Ben Franklin. The Associators were an early version of the modern Pennsylvania National Guard. They established the first Pennsylvania military installation to defend the colony in the Revolutionary War.
Much evidence of aggression greets me in my first hours in the place known as the City of Brotherly Love.
To Soothe the Disquietude.
Conversations and human interaction arrive to soothe the disquietude created by the remnants of bygone wars and the presence of symbols of mankind's present ferocity. As I sit on the park bench meditating on our nation's hegemony, two fellow conferees, Linda and Louise, appear on the walkway. We chat briefly and commiserate on the difficulties of air travel, then discuss our assignment for the Association of Teacher Educators (ATE) Leadership Academy. With smiles we part to continue our separate explorations of the harbor.
I am cheered by the reunion with fellow Association members. With raised spirits, I continue my ramble northwards and away from the maritime display of mankind's war machines. Interspersed between the structures of commerce on the west side of the promenade are terraced spaces of greenery and flowing fountains. I don't linger here, but continue on a northerly line past the Hyatt Regency, around the Seaport Museum, and up to the edge of an amphitheater, where playbills announce that a free concert of music in the style of Rhythm and Blues shall commence come evening time.
Becoming Expansive, Fanciful.
A light breeze and soft sounds of water buoy my spirits. Up runs a flock of young athletes, whose energy and innocence lift my heart. One of the runners, a sweaty young lady, pacing herself, pauses to introduce her group of ambitious runners, members of a middle-school track team. Just like that, she's off and running with the others. Watching them dash into the distance, my mood expansive and fanciful, I fetch the cell phone and call my family. I am especially enthusiastic about the vista from the terraced seats of the outdoor amphitheater.
More plaques line the walkway to inform the curious about types of sailboats and their jib, rigs, and masts. One engraving peaks my curiosity. It traces the history of a family ancestor, William Penn, member of a distant line of forefathers on my mother's side.
I read Mr. Penn's biography: born 1644 in London, an Oxford graduate. In 1675 he was entrusted with the Quaker Colony in New Jersey, but didn't visit the colony until 1682, when he laid out the plans for several counties in Pennsylvania and Delaware, as well as a plan for the city of Philadelphia. He returned to England in 1684 to settle a dispute with Lord Baltimore, but returned to the colonies in 1701.
According to the plaque, Mr. Penn negotiated a treaty with the Indians in 1771. Although my math skills are merely proficient, it's a fact (I think) that William Penn died in 1718. Perhaps his ghost negotiated the treaty.
Renewing Heart, Hope, and Vision.
Ghosts. Ancestors. Founding fathers. Another flash of lightening in the post-midnight sky brings me back to the moment in this quiet hotel room along the Delaware River.
I've come here to participate in another convocation of the Association of Teacher Educators, which hosts two national meetings per year: one in midsummer and another in late winter. Conferees, sometimes with family members in tow, enjoy the summer convention because of the possibility of combining professional and personal opportunities.
From my perspective this morning, on a ramble along the waterfront, the afternoon's events promised to illuminate the theme of the conference, "Reinventing the Educational Landscape: Renewing Hope, Heart, and Vision for Teachers, Learners, and Communities."
They did, too. It was a fine afternoon (and evening). But that's another story. I'm off to bed.