The 1930s

We see today the same resistance to women teachers’ authority and autonomy. This is the history of education in America. One surprise in the 1930s  was Hitler’s view of homeschooling.

50s school

Like today, those who went into the “profession” rapidly discovered the contradiction between the label and the reality. Margaret Haley was now leading the Chicago Federation of Teachers (the forerunner of the American Federation of Teachers) in 1916 and fighting for teacher tenure. Their work was able to drag reluctant corporations to pay their fair share of taxes for education. Another woman teacher, Olive Wilson, helped form the first California AFT in 1926. Women veterans from WWI helped support teacher power. They would be stunned to learn that today corporations are raiding tax funds to profit from financial aid by establishing proprietary schools. AFTs appeal to the largely  middle class women teachers was the possibility of rescuing children from the working population and alliances with parents. At that time, the rhetoric of the teacher as the enemy of the parent was not being used to further erode the essential teacher-student relationship and the community support without which a school cannot function.

Sam Gompers, president of AFT, summarized this strategy: “We want more schoolhouses and less jails; more books and less arsenals; more learning and less vice; more constant work and less greed; more justice and less revenge.” Today he could not have imagined that the backlash against women professionals in the educational power vacuum would have resulted in advocating teachers be armed (more money for gun sales); curriculum dictated by business; policemen in the halls; and corporations operating jails.

A strong system of mandatory public education was seen as the only way people could gain social and economic opportunities in a democracy. But not all union members welcomed the teachers, especially being asked to shift from “brotherhood” to “sisters’. After WWII unions pledged to abandon strikes, and by the 1980s, the Republican president had begun the War on Education.

The National Education Association in contrast was dominated by school administrators and board members fighting against any teacher support in the legislatures. Like today, they continue to preach to underpaid teachers that theirs was a vocation of self sacrifice for the greater good. They also indicated that unionization was unfeminine. Relentless persecution reduced teacher unions and few survived into the 1930s. In one case just the threat of organizing a union resulted in a swift vote by the school board to issue a raise. The organizing group then disbanded.

John Dewey was the first card carrier of the AFT and argued that, because they were public servants, teachers must dedicate themselves to the mission to educate, not sacrifice. In 1925 teacher controlled councils were proposed. Dewey’s “Education for Democracy” believed teachers must be politically active. By this time, he had left the University of Chicago and joined Columbia University. However, although a staunch advocate of teacher activism, Dewey had established the precedent of the university as the curriculum masters, not the teacher.

Thus with men’s voices continuing to represent a predominantly women’s workforce, professional authority and power remained out of women’s hands. Although the unions provided legal representation, women teachers on their own held little power. Even so, the California governor vetoed a bill raising retirement pay from $500 a year. The 1930 list of duties for teachers was not an improvement over the earlier one.

Contract from a North Carolina town in 1930s

I promise to take a vital interest in all phases of Sunday-school work, donating of my time, service, and money without stint for the uplift of the community. I promise to abstain from all dancing, immodest dressing, and other conduct unbecoming a teacher and a lady. I promise not to go out with any young men except insofar as it may be necessary to stimulate Sunday-school work. I promise not to fall in love, to become engaged or secretly married. I promise not to encourage or tolerate the least familiarity on the part of my boy pupils. I promise to sleep at least eight hours a night, to eat carefully, and to take every precaution to keep in the best of health and spirits in order that I may better be able to render efficient service to my pupils. I promise to remember that I owe a duty to the townspeople who are paying my wages, that I owe respect to the school board and the superintendent that hired me, and that I shall consider myself at all times the willing servant to the school board and the townspeople and that I shall cooperate with them to the limit of my ability in any movement aimed at the betterment of the town, the pupils, or the schools.

1930 Schools blamed for juvenile crime: Westchester Grand jury says they fail to teach morals and character

1930 Eleanor Roosevelt publishes Good Citizenship: The Purpose of Education

1930 Dewey criticizes the practices of progressive educators

1932 Teacher contract: “I promise not to fall in love, to become engaged or secretly married”

1932 George Counts publishes Dare the School Build a New Social Order?

1932 W. Waller publishes The Sociology of Teaching, a pioneering analysis of the teaching culture

1932 Teacher contract: “I promise not to fall in love, to become engaged or secretly married”

1933 National Survey of the Education of Teachers

1936  Maria Montessori publishes The Secret of Childhood

1936 Nobel-Prize Robert Millikan advises against hiring of a woman in the physics department at Duke University

1937 At Wardha conference, Gandhi argues that Indian education system is wasteful and harmful, outlines his educational philosophy

1937 Conservatives challenge reconstructionists: “We want no teachers who say there are two sides to every question”

1938 Hitler makes homeschooling illegal in Germany

1938 B.F. Skinner publishes The Behavior of Organisms: An Experimental Analysis

1939 Goodbye Mr. Chips, a film about a teacher in a British boarding school




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