The Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education, declaring the “separate but equal” segregationist policy in American schools to be unconstitutional and ordering their desegregation, was handed down on this date in 1954. It resulted from a suit brought by Esther Brown, a 30-year-old Jewish housewife in Merriam, Kansas, a suburb of Kansas City, who learned from her African-American maid about the abysmal conditions at the all-black two-room Walker School, which lacked indoor plumbing, a cafeteria, and even a principal. Brown complained to her all-white school board, then stepped up her efforts, recruited the local chapter of the NAACP, and hired a black attorney. She raised money for the legal battle, making pitches at a Billie Holiday concert and other venues, then organized a boycott of the Walker School and helped set up private educational networks instead. During the course of her efforts, she was threatened with harm, a cross was burned in her yard, and her husband was fired from his job — but she won her suit in the Kansas Supreme Court in 1949. She then helped the NAACP bring the issue of school segregation to the U.S. Supreme Court, using thirteen black parents, and their twenty elementary school-age children as plaintiffs — with the list headed by Oliver Brown (no relation), for whom the case was named, and his daughter Linda, a third-grader. Esther Brown died in 1970. Five years later, a public park across from the former site of the Walker School was dedicated in her honor.
“I don’t know if we could have done it without her.” —Linda Todd, Topeka branch of the NAACP
Harry Slochower, a Guggenheim scholar who in 1952 was fired from his teaching position at Brooklyn College for pleading the Fifth Amendment before a Senate subcommittee investigatng Communist activity in education, died at 90 on this date in 1991. A professor of German and comparative literature, Slochower sued about his firing and, four years later, was reinstated with more than $40,000 in back pay by order of the U.S Supreme Court. He was immediately suspended again, however, for allegedly making false statements under oath at the same Senate hearing. Slochower moved on to become a psychoanalyst and taught at the New School from 1964 until 1989. He was the editor of American Imago, a psychoanalytic journal, from 1964 until his death, and served as president for many years of the Association for Applied Psychoanalysis. Slochower was an expert on Thomas Mann and wrote five books of literary criticism as well as Mythopoesis: Mythic Patterns in the Literary Classics. For a timeline and history of government investigations into Communist teachers from the 1930s to the 1980s, click here.
“The hunger for bread is gradually being met by the development of technology which is liberating the energies of our natural resources. But there is a deeper hunger which is not being satisfied by these achievements. It is the hunger to be oneself, to be creative.” —Harry Slochower, Mythopoesis
After attending my fiftieth reunion of the High School of Music and Art (now LaGuardia High) last autumn, I wrote an article for the Huffington Post about the joys I had experienced there, learning through the arts. “Each of us at M & A had a share of a ‘personalized’ curriculum,” I noted, “which took our passion for the arts and focused us toward a lifelong romance with what is beautiful and meaningful for us. This is the direction that the future of our educational system must go . . . ”
This was more than nostalgic sentiment. The fact is that high schools in the top third of graduation rates, nationally, have almost 40 percent more certified arts teachers per student than schools in the bottom third — and almost 40 percent more physical spaces dedicated to arts education. High schools in the top third also have 35 percent more graduates completing three or more arts courses than schools in the bottom third.
Harvard College was named for clergyman John Harvard, its first benefactor, on this date in 1639, three years after its launch by the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The oldest corporation and first institution of higher learning established in what is today the United States, Harvard took eighty-three years to appoint its first Jewish faculty member, Judah Monis, on condition that he convert to Christianity. Harvard’s first Jewish full professor was Harry Levin, an English scholar, who graduated from Harvard in 1933 and began teaching there in 1939. (He was preceded by Harry Wolfson, who joined the faculty in 1915 but was required to raise his own salary from outside sources, and by Horace Kallen, who was a lecturer at Harvard for three years.) In 1922, Harvard’s president, A. Lawrence Lowell, proposed a 15 percent quota on Jews in the student body, arguing that anti-Semitism “grows in proportion to the increase in the number of Jews.” The quota’s opponents were led by Harry Starr, an undergraduate (who later became director of the Lucius N. Littauer Foundation, a generous funder of Harvard). Starr recalled in 1985 that “bad or good, too many Jews were not liked. Rich or poor, brilliant or dull, polished or crude — too many Jews.” The quota was rejected but “geographic diversity” was embraced as desirable for Harvard, and by 1931, Jewish students at Harvard were cut back to 15 percent of the student body. Today, they number about 25 percent.
“Tolerance is not to be administered like castor oil, with eyes closed and jaws clenched.”—Harry Starr
JEWDAYO ROCKS! Mike Stoller of the immortal songwriting team of Leiber and Stoller was born on this date in 1933. To see them on “What’s My Line?” see below.
Charles Silberman, who wrote best-sellers on criminal justice, education, race relations, and the status of the American Jewish community, died in Sarasota, Florida at 86 on this date in 2011. In Crisis in Black and White (1964), he reviewed America’s history of slavery and racial oppression and traced its effects on the lives and psychology [...]
by Lillian Kass In 1987, during the last teacher strike in Chicago, I was 5 years old and just starting kindergarten in a Chicago Public School. I don’t remember a whole lot about the strike – other than having to go to school in July – but I do know that it was just one [...]
Morris Raphael Cohen, an encyclopedic savant, philosopher, lawyer, and legal scholar who was chiefly responsible for the City College of New York’s reputation as “the proletarian Harvard,” was born on in Minsk this date in 1880. Educated at CCNY and Harvard, Cohen was the first Jew to teach philosophy at CCNY (from 1912 to 1938), [...]
Developmental psychologist Howard Gardner, whose theory of multiple intelligences has awakened educators to the inadequacy of teaching that fails to engage the broadly varied learning styles and capacities of students, was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania on this date in 1943. Gardner’s parents fled from Nuremberg, Germany, on Kristallnakht (November 9, 1938). Gardner’s 1983 book, Frames [...]
This past week, New York Times columnist Michael Powell elegantly illustrated the inequities of the charter school movement with a look at East Harlem’s Public School 30 and Harlem Success Academy 2, which share the same building on East 128th Street in NYC. (Full disclosure: Powell is a friend and mentor.) The latter school is [...]
My wife Susan is an educator who trains teachers in the use of creative movement in the classroom to teach curriculum. That’s right: Susan teaches grammar, arithmetic, history, literature, science, and more through kinesthetic lessons that get the kids up out of their seats, turn the hyperactive ones into classroom leaders, and restore the light [...]