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Check It Out…

“Teachers On Trial” is the title of an article I wrote for the Winter 2016 issue of New York Archives, the magazine of the New York State Archives,  published by the Archives Partnership Trust. It describes the background of the McCarthy-era teacher investigations in New York City. Drawing from archival materials, it goes into the impact the investigations had on the teachers they targeted and details the methods used by the investigators. Illustrations include photographs  and a sample of the cards and letters sent to the Board of Education and the Teachers Union. You’ll soon be able to see the full article over at the Dreamers & Fighters web site, where it will be joining the rest of the information on the site.

New York Archives is a pretty terrific magazine. You can get a look at its web site,


Two New Books On the Need for Unions

Not satisfied with beating up on Wisconsin public worker unions, organized labor nemesis Scott Walker is taking his anti-labor antics national. He made a big splash in Iowa this past week, at the Republican I- wanna-be-president confab.

Walker’s attacks on teachers and other state and city workers largely built his reputation and helped position him to make a play for national attention. So it’s especially encouraging, at a time when he and other conservatives are looking to weaken labor, to see the publication of two new pro-union books, both recently reviewed favorably in the New York Times.

Only One Thing Can Save Us; Why Our Country Need a New Kind of Labor Movement, by Chicago labor lawyer Thomas Geoghagen, defends his city’s teachers against the likes of Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the education DEformers and their efforts to essentially privatize public education via more charter schools. Equally important, says Nelson Lichtenstein, a UCLA Santa Barbara history professor who wrote the Times review, he goes on to note the need to strengthen legal protections for unions in the U.S., and perhaps use Germany’s unions and their relationships with employers as a model here.

James Green, a University of Massachusetts emeritus history professor, has written The Devil Is Here in These Hills; West Virginia’s Coal Miners and Their Battle for Freedom. The book recounts the control the mine owners had over the workers’ lives and the bloody early 20th-century battles in Mingo and Logan counties. Mother Jones and Eugene Debs, among other labor leaders figure in the decades-long battles, notes Times reviewer Dwight Garner. So did a song by Blind Alfred Reed, likely familiar to people who know old-timey and bluegrass music, which asks a question all too relevant today; “How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live?”

Ralph Fasanella Exhibits

From the time he first started painting in the mid-1940s, Ralph Fasanella got his message across — whether the subject was working people, unions, the Rosenbergs, or anything else political. His colorful canvases draw you into the stories they tell, and they make you think.

I had a wonderful time seeing 19 of Fasanella’s best-known paintings, and several of his drawings, at the Smithsonian Museum of American Art on a recent trip to Washington D.C., where they’ll be until August 3. The museum web site has a lot of information. (  After closing in D.C., the exhibit heads for New York City’s American Folk Art Museum from September 2 to November 30, where it will commemorate Fasanella’s Labor Day birthday.  The AFL-CIO, meanwhile, is showing still more Fasanella works at its D.C. headquarters through August 1.  ( I’m planning to get there on another D.C. trip at the end of July.



Let’s Digress…

…’cause I can’t resist mentioning that in reporting on a 3-year cheating scandal  on tests in the Philadelphia schools, the New York Times  noted that investigators uncovered “statistical evidence of improbable results.” Delicious, that phrase, isn’t it?

The article ran on January 24, so apologies for not posting sooner. But better late than never….


The Beginning, Continued

Teacher loyalty and patriotism remained fascinating subjects for the Board of Education well after the 1917 dismissals and transfers, going into the 1920s and the post WWI Lusk Laws time frame.

In 1919, the board dismissed history teacher Benjamin Glassberg, charging he had told students that Bolshevism wasn’t so bad and that school teachers were not permitted to tell the truth about the situation in Russia. (Glassberg taught at Brooklyn’s Commercial High School, although it appears that many, if not most, of the teachers caught in this early phase of the 20th century Red Scare were at DeWitt Clinton.)

The New York Times reported Glassberg’s dismissal on May 29, 1919. On June 20, the paper carried an article on a test given to students – but in this case to evaluate their knowledge of WWI and Bolshevism: and where and from whom they learned what they knew. Not much changes, does it – except the tests here examined patriotism rather than reading and arithmetic.  The board was after anyone and anyplace, teachers included, who might be responsible for failing to instill the proper patriotism and loyalty in impressionable minds.

“We are desirous of finding out to what extent Bolshevist ideas have been impressed on the students of  our high schools,” a letter to high school principals, sent out by William L. Ettinger, the city superintendent of schools, said. No pupils would be penalized, assistant superintendent John L. Tildsley wrote in a letter to the principals. Rather than being punished, they would get “such instruction as may be necessary.” As for the teachers, Tildsley said, “the data will  be used only to indicate the measure of the teachers’ opportunity and obligation to assist pupils with reference to facts and problems of vital importance.” (As noted in the previous post, Tildsley later changed his views and came to support the Teachers Union.)

The extent of the board’s concern is also reflected in the tests given in the elementary schools. They were keyed to the board’s assessments of how radical or Bolshevik-y different districts were. “It was believed that the answers to the queries in some of these alleged radical districts would prove interesting,” the Times article reported.

The TU passed resolutions and held protest meetings against the examinations.

A Henry Foner Celebration

People more than filled Tamiment Library and Wagner Labor Archives on February 27  to celebrate Henry Foner and his new book,  Songs and Poems (For Better or Verse). Henry spoke and sang, people cheered and laughed at his humor.

Before and after the (somewhat!!!) more formal part of the get-together, everyone crowded around to talk with him as he autographed their copies.

It was a special time.

The book was published by LaborArts. You can get it through their website,

“Why They Called Us Communists”

“They threw everything they had at us,” dismissed English teacher Arthur Newman told researcher Linda Cirino* in recalling his experiences as one of  those subjected to the investigations. Along with several other teachers subjected to the Board’s highly public and widely reported departmental trials in  late 1952, Newman was dismissed in January 1953. He was among 10 teachers reinstated in December 1976.

Newman had worked closely with parents on trying to improve school conditions and make things better for the children. Describing the forces opposing the TU and driving the Board of Education’s investigations, he acknowledged that “Many of these people felt, truly felt, that communists were destroying our civilization…” But, he added,  “it was also a pretext that helped them avoid reform of the schools and solidify their own positions…That’s why they were so rabid against us…because we were showing them up…The communist issue was a means of getting rid of us.”

The TU fought for decent schools in ethnic minority areas – black, Irish, Italian, Poles – another teacher said, as he described the poverty-stricken children he taught. “We were defending the school system. This is why they called us communists…” Dismissed after refusing to name names before a congressional committee, he recalled rumors flying all over the place. People were wondering “When would our turn come,” he told Cirino as he recalled the fears so many teachers felt.

“I’m quite sure there were communists in the union – so what?” this teacher said. “If they were willing to join our union and help with programs they’d be welcome.”

*Linda Cirino’s interviews with teachers and others involved in the investigations took place in the late 1970s/early 1980s.

In Their Words

Earlier posts (see  and outlined the basics of the investigations, and how they were conducted. In future posts, as noted then, I’ll draw on archival and other materials and on interviews with some of the teachers and others who lived through and had to deal with the anti-communist-era New York Board of Education investigation and its impact on their lives.  In their own words, you’ll learn their views on the politics of the investigations, and their feelings about the children they taught.

Sandy Hook

A long time ago, maybe the late 1960s or so, some kid in New York crossed what was then thought to be an inviolable, uncrossable line. I don’t remember the exact details, but he attacked a nun. The shock felt around the city was the shock of disbelief that this kind of violation could happen.

Assorted news sources, numerous academics, and all kinds of other experts have done some counting. It seems that 5 of the deadliest U.S. shooting massacres have taken place since the 2007 slaughter at Virginia Tech.

Including Sandy Hook: 20 first-graders, their school principal, and 5 of the teachers. Plus the shooter and his mother.

It seems, now, there is no line that violence doesn’t cross, no end to the disbelief and pain.

Oooppps…Arne Duncan Notices….

…that it’s just a month to the election, and that teachers and their unions are seriously important to the Democrats. Especially in a presidential election year.  

So Duncan told an audience at the National Press Club, the Washington Post reported on October 2, that he wants to be nice to teachers and their unions, and that he’s getting at least some of the message on the problems with programs like Obama’s Race to the Top and No Child Left Behind, passed under Bush in 2001. He knows, he said, that “some educators feel overwhelmed” by the changes being implemented.

Duncan said that he knows teachers support accountability, but that he also understands that the demands made of them are not always “in a way that is respectful and fair,”  reporter Lyndsey Layton wrote. It’s time, Duncan said, “to set aside the tired debates pitting reformers against unions — we have to discard the ugly and divisive rhetoric of blame.” He agrees, Duncan said, that evaluations based on a single test score are not the way to go.

Uh-huh. Wow. Guess we’ll see….

The Washington Post article is at