Copyright © 2012 Lisa Harbatkin
The 1940-1942 Rapp-Coudert hearings in New York’s state legislature ended as the United States entered World War II with the Soviet Union as an ally. But they provided the model for the anti-communist investigations of the post-war period, and in the long term for investigations being carried out today by different government agencies.
Picking up again later in the 1940s, the investigations went local, carried out by city agencies and educational institutions around New York state – and for that matter in cities across the country. The Board of Education and the Board of Higher Education dismissed some teachers and professors in the late 1940s, while congressional hearings helped drum up public concerns over communism, setting the stage for the Cold War fears that dominated the next decade. Some teachers and college professors were caught up in both the Rapp-Coudert hearings and in those from the late 1940s-early 1960s that are the main focus here at Snoops & Secrets.
Superintendent William Jansen testified in some of these late 1940s congressional hearings. So did Board of Ed member George Timone, who was a key figure in driving the New York investigations. Jansen, some of his aides, and Board investigators handled things at first, with Saul Moskoff taking over as the legal issues became more complex. (For additional background on this time frame, see https://snoopsandsecrets.com/2012/08/26/teachers-under-investigation/ ).
The investigations followed a perhaps more legally rigorous, and more carefully planned, pattern once Moskoff took over in mid-1951. His files now held by New York’s Municipal Archives provide a clear record of his organizational prowess and his determination to root communists out of the school system. (It would be interesting – and useful – to know if any such detailed records exist in the other cities where these investigations took place.)
These sessions took place in an office suite Moskoff designed (specs are in the Municipal Archives), and according to procedures he laid out. In some cases, different assistant superintendents conducted follow-up questioning of uncooperative teachers in their offices in further efforts to get them to provide information.
Future posts will continue to draw on the teachers’ words and archive records in describing the investigations in more detail.
You have to wonder. Cities have been playing “gotcha!” with teachers for more than a century. The latest rounds use flawed tests and inaccurate evaluation scores to drive education DEform, privatization, and union-busting.
In the early 20th century, in the years surrounding the 1916 founding of the Teachers Union (TU), charges of insufficient Americanism and too much internationalism led to teacher loyalty oaths, dismissals….and union-busting.
Held behind closed doors, the 1940-1942 Rapp-Coudert hearings called in and questioned some 500 college faculty and staff members and students. The goals were to route out communists and others perceived as dangerous subversives from public schools, colleges, and universities….and union-busting.
With time out for WW II, the investigations ramped up again in the late 1940s, and continued into the early 1960s. Cold War chill set in on teachers and other civil servants who were communists, socialists, or otherwise on the left. Or none of those. In New York, and cities around the country, local officials and often police departments got help from the FBI in deeply intrusive searches for names and more names. Once again the goals centered on getting rid of people with annoying political views. …and union-busting.
The parallels to current events – in education and in the broader political world – are all too clear Teachers, and other public workers, are in the political cross-hairs again, for still having reasonably strong unions and because of the persistence of school problems. Rather than attacking the root cause of those problems – poverty and its related social conditions — public officials in both major parties these days are teaming up with for-profit private interests against the public schools. From Scott Walker in Wisconsin, Rick Scott in Florida, Chris Christie in New Jersey, and other (mostly) Republican governors to the likes of Arne Duncan at the Department of Education and New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, the anti-education, anti-teacher private interests continue their crusades. Once again the goals are diverting attention from the impact of poverty. …and union-busting.
The more things (don’t) change…..