School & District Management


December 15, 1999 6 min read
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Graham A. Barden | Walter Barnette | Arthur Bestor | Benjamin S. Bloom | Henry Chauncey | George S. Counts | Frank W. Cyr | Dick and Jane | Robert M. Hutchins | The Little Rock Nine | Thurgood Marshall | Felicitas and Gonzalo Mendez | Jonas Salk | Dr. Seuss | John Stelle | Harry S. Truman | Ralph W. Tyler | Paul W. Updegraff | Earl Warren

‘Regardless of Lineage':
Felicitas and Gonzalo Mendez

When their children were turned away from an all-Anglo school in Orange County, Calif., and told to go to a school for Mexican- Americans, Felicitas and Gonzalo Mendez fought back.

In 1945, the farming couple filed a lawsuit on behalf of 5,000 Latinos against the county’s four school districts, seeking the right for their children to be educated in the same school as Anglo children.

Felicitas Mendez, a native of Puerto Rico, managed the family’s rented, 40-acre asparagus farm so that her husband, a Mexican immigrant, could work on the cause full time. Thurgood Marshall, then the top lawyer for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case.

A federal judge in 1946 ruled in favor of the Latinos, rejecting the argument that the schools for them and for Anglos were “separate but equal.” Judge Paul J. McCormick wrote that “the paramount requisite in the American system of public education is social equality. It must be open to all children by unified school association regardless of lineage.”

Though the school districts had argued that they segregated Latino children because of language differences, the judge pointed out that the districts didn’t even test all children on their language ability.

Judge McCormick’s decision was upheld on appeal a year later, launching integration of schools in Orange County. And while the case showed that segregation was not just an issue for African-Americans, it helped point the way to the U.S. Supreme Court’s historic 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka.

Gonzalo Mendez died in 1964, and Felicitas Mendez in 1998.

—Mary Ann Zehr

George S. Counts
American education reinforces class differences, this Teachers College academic argued in the 1930s, and he called for educators to use the schools to reshape society along socialist lines. He later broke with the far left; elected president of the American Federation of Teachers in 1939, he led a successful campaign to expel Communist-dominated locals from the union.

Arthur Bestor
University of Illinois historian whose 1953 book, Educational Wastelands, skewered “professional educationists” for abandoning traditional disciplines and intellectual rigor. It’s still a favorite among advocates of high academic standards.

The Little Rock Nine
Melba Pattillo Beals, Elizabeth Eckford, Ernest Green, Gloria Ray Kalmark, Carlotta Walls Lanier, Terrence Roberts, Jefferson Thomas, Minnijean Brown Trickey, Thelma Mothershed-Wair. Arrayed against these teenagers chosen to integrate the Little Rock schools under federal court order in 1957 were Gov. Orval Faubus, the Arkansas National Guard, and jeering mobs of local whites. But on Sept. 25, they walked through the doors of Central High School, escorted by federal troops mobilized by President Eisenhower in what was considered the gravest constitutional crisis since the Civil War.

Harry S. Truman

The National School Lunch Act, which the 33rd president signed in 1946, sought to overcome serious nutritional deficiencies in many children by providing at least one healthy meal each school day. Today, the program serves some 26.1 million youngsters in public and private schools, including more than 15 million poor children who receive their meals for free or at a reduced price.

Thurgood Marshall
A titan of the civil rights movement who, as the chief legal strategist for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, launched the all-out attack on school segregation that resulted in the Supreme Court’s 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. Named to the high court himself in 1967, Marshall continued to argue passionately for the maintenance and expansion of efforts to integrate the nation’s public schools.

Graham A. Barden
Despite desperate conditions in many of the nation’s schools—and strong support in Congress—attempts after World War II to create federal aid programs stumbled over two issues: whether to include Catholic schools, and whether Southern states would be allowed to spend the money on their segregated systems. Barden, a North Carolina Democrat, used his leadership of the House education committee to stifle aid bills throughout much of the 1950s.

Frank W. Cyr
The father of the yellow school bus. In 1939, Cyr, a Teachers College professor, gathered state officials, school leaders, and engineers to set first-ever safety standards for school buses, including the now-famous hue.

Walter Barnette
Jehovah’s Witness from West Virginia whose challenge to a state rule that required students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance led to a ringing 1943 Supreme Court decision striking down such measures.

Earl Warren
Thurgood Marshall brought the issue of school segregation before the Supreme Court. But it was the skill of Chief Justice Earl Warren that united the fractious court behind a single, unanimous opinion, contributing enormously to the moral force of the Brown decision, which he wrote himself.

Ralph W. Tyler
The Eight-Year Study, launched in 1932, retooled the curriculum along progressive lines in some 30 high schools and waived regular college-admissions requirements. Tapped to gauge the impact, the University of Chicago’s Tyler found an edge for progressive- school graduates.

Robert M. Hutchins
Named president of the University of Chicago in 1929 at the age of 30, he soon emerged as an eloquent champion of a common liberal arts education, battling what he saw as the utilitarian focus of progressive educators.

Jonas Salk
His 1955 vaccine was the breakthrough in the war against polio and brought a sigh of relief to parents worldwide. Salk’s injected vaccine and Albert Sabin’s oral vaccine, approved in 1960, virtually eradicated the crippling childhood plague.

John Stelle
The former Illinois governor led the American Legion when it proposed and drafted the GI Bill. The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 opened the doors of higher education to some 7.8 million veterans and changed the perception that college was beyond the reach of most Americans.

Paul W. Updegraff
This Oklahoma taxpayer set out to prevent the state from issuing paychecks to public employees, including teachers, who had not taken an anti-subversive loyalty oath. But his lawsuit had the opposite effect: The Supreme Court declared the oath unconstitutional in 1952, the first in a line of decisions overturning laws that, in the cause of fighting Communism, imperiled the rights of educators.

Dr. Seuss
Theodor Seuss Geisel’s whimsical drawings and playful rhymes have inspired a love of books in young readers for decades. His long list of titles includes And To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, published in 1937, The Cat in the Hat, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Horton Hears a Who, and Oh, The Places You’ll Go, a best seller at the time of his death in 1991.

Dick and Jane
From the ‘30s to the ‘70s, millions of children formed letters into words and words into sentences (“See Spot run”) with the reading primers featuring this cheerful brother-sister duo, along with baby sister Sally, dog Spot, and Puff the cat.

Henry Chauncey
Multiple-choice tests have become the primary means by which students are sorted, classified, and categorized, and the Educational Testing Service is the most famous player in the business. Chauncey, a former assistant dean at Harvard University, founded the Princeton, N.J.-based nonprofit organization in 1948. Today, its sat is an object of awe and foreboding for millions of American teenagers.

Benjamin S. Bloom
University of Chicago researcher who in 1956 headed a group of psychologists that devised a system to classify levels of intellectual behavior. “Bloom’s Taxonomy” ranked skills from the simple recognition of facts on up to “higher order” activities such as analysis and criticism. His finding that the first few years of human life were critical helped spur the creation of Head Start.

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A version of this article appeared in the December 15, 1999 edition of Education Week as 1920s-1940s


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