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NEA Project News

Schools have always been a crucial building block of what makes America. It is a place where our young people can learn our common history, our civic laws, and the common ideals that continue to shape our nation. It's also a place to recognize that those 'commonalities' may simply be taken from the majority. Learning about this country should mean learning about the mosaic that makes it up so we can better understand those ideals we share.

As an advocate for teachers and for social justice, the National Education Association (NEA) proactively sought to address it more than 40 years ago. It published Roots of America: a multiethnic curriculum resource guide for 7th, 8th, and 9th grade social studies teachers. This report sought specifically to address the myth of the melting pot-that America is one monoculture to which everyone contributes equally. As one Black educator noted, while some groups may melt into the pot, it ' has never been hot enough to melt the Black man.' The report acknowledges that the experiences of an Italian-American, a Black-American, and a Native American are not the same. Devoting a chapter to eight ethnic groups, the book provides a summary of how members of that group may have experienced American history, ideas for lessons, and a bibliography.

If you would like to take a look at Roots of America or learn more about how the NEA worked towards inclusion, contact Vakil Smallen, the NEA Archivist at Gelman Library at smallen@gwu.edu.

May 8-May 12 is National Teacher Appreciation Week, where Americans are given the opportunity to thank the teachers who work so hard to educate us all. Thankfulness is important, but we should also remember that teachers need our support. Support can mean many things, from the individual to the institutional. One way in which teachers can be supported is by giving them what so many of us seek; job security and an assurance that they would only be let go for cause. This is one of the key elements of tenure, which you can see listed in the image to the right. This is from the 1936 edition of the Research Bulletin of the National Education Association, found in Gelman Library's Special Collection Research Center.

Reason for Tenure 1936 Research Bulletin Thumbnail

At a time when only 31% of Americans support giving tenure to teachers, it is important to remember why our nation's educators received tenure in the first place. Without tenure, teachers could be fired for any reason. Often it was the case that a teacher was fired simply so they could be replaced with someone younger and willing to take less pay, regardless of how well they were at their job. Additionally, teachers faced political pressure in what they taught. It's notable that when the National Education Association studied the issue of teacher tenure in the early 20th century, the body tasked with the study was named the Committee on Tenure and Academic Freedom. While college campuses are where issues of academic freedom most often play out, schoolteachers have faced their share of suppressed speech, as well. The most famous case in American history is undoubtedly that of John Scopes, the Tennessee high school teacher who was fined $100 for teaching Darwin's theory of evolution in violation of Tennessee's Butler Act.

The Kate Frank Case ThumbnailKate Frank and two other Muskogee, OK teachers were let go in 1943 with neither warning nor a reason. It was alleged, and never denied, that she was fired for not supporting the winning candidate for a school board position during the campaign. When she took the school district to court, with help from the National Education Association, she was taking on a fight many before and after could or would not. She won her lawsuit, which is why we remember her name today. Had she had the protection of tenure, that lawsuit would have been unnecessary, and the forgotten names of teachers who never got justice.

To learn more about the National Education Association and its history of advocating for the rights of educators, visit Special Collections on the 7th floor of Gelman Library or contact the NEA Archivist at smallen@gwu.edu or 202-334-1371.

Picture of Buena StolbergThis past fall, the papers of Buena Stolberg, President of the Department of Classroom Teachers between 1960 and 1961, were added to the NEA collection. At the time of her presidency, teaching was still one of the few professions open to women. Perhaps indicative of a woman who rose to leadership in an Association dominated by men, Buena was ambitious. In addition to her presidency, she was a schoolteacher, world-traveler, friend to influential people at home and abroad, mayor, and small business owner.

After earning her Bachelor of Arts degree from Missouri Valley College and her Master of Arts degree in Educational Guidance from the University of Wyoming, she taught junior high school in Webster Groves, Missouri. After joining the NEA, she rose through the ranks quickly, initially served as Vice President of the Department. As president, Stolberg traveled throughout the United States and around the world, including conventions in Stockholm and New Delhi. Back home, she would open a country store in her hometown of Arrow Rock, Missouri and serve as the town's mayor. 

Her files include handwritten notes, itineraries, letters to fellow educators, drafts and transcripts of speeches, conference programs, and clippings, all from her time with the NEA. Information about the Department of Classroom Teachers records can be found here. Anyone interested in viewing the records of the Department, learning more about Buena, or discovering anything related to the history of the NEA can contact the NEA Archivist at smallen@gwu.edu


The National Education Association, as advocates for educators and public education, took on a unique role in the wake of the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling. In 1962, two former NEA departments were combined into the Commission on Professional Rights and Responsibilities. The Commission was tasked with investigating the state of education in the U.S.A., focusing especially on individual districts, allowing them to identify local factors that may be hindering the work of students and/or teachers. The Commission's reports provide a fascinating historical snapshot of education at the local level. The investigations covered the mundane, such as overcrowded classrooms and poor quality facilities, to the controversial, like teachers dismissals following accusations of communist sympathy. Following Brown, school districts in the 17 states where segregation had been required desegregated with varying degrees of acceptance, resistance, and difficulties. Throughout the 1960s and into the 1970s, the Commission investigated school districts that were experiencing difficulties integrating.

Thumbnail of the cover of Beyond Desegregation: The Problem of Power

In February of 1970, a report titled Beyond Desegregation: The Problem of Power was issued following an investigation into East Texas schools. There were some positives. For example, East Texas schools were desegregating at a faster pace than most other Southern schools. In reporting the problems, however, it draws attention to an often overlooked problem that accompanied integration. As separate school districts merged, redundant teaching positions would often get eliminated. Were the system fair, distribution of the remaining jobs would have been fair, as well. Unfortunately, the reports show that this was not the case. As the report says, "[i]t would have been news if the NEA Special Committee had found, during its study, even one single school district where there was any significant amount of faculty desegregation, where the desegregation process had been accomplished equitably and without the release or demotion of black teachers, or where a black principal had been appointed to the principalship of any school with as much as 10 percent white student enrollment."

The report is 57 pages in all, and provides a background of East Texas' uniqueness, insight into how locals resisted integration, addresses the question of power imbalance within the community, and finishes with suggestions on how to overcome this imbalance. Eventually, the report came to Gelman Library Special Collections as part of the NEA Collection. A .pdf of the first 7 pages of report is available below, explaining the methodology the investigators followed. Anyone interested in reading the rest of the report, or in knowing more about the NEA's role in integration, can contact the NEA Archivist at smallen@gwu.edu.

In 1959, National Education Association Regional Vice-President Allan M. West visited the Soviet Union to evaluate its educational system. He was only one of 7000 US citizens to visit the communist country that year. He made the trip so he could evaluate first-hand the Soviet educational system. The NEA Collection, housed in Gelman Library's Special Collections, contains records and photographs from that trip. Here we see some schoolchildren posing for the camera.

Russian Schoolchildren

Unfortunately, the pictures have no context, so we do not know which city these were taken in. The files do include a daily itinerary of West's travels, which included Poland before travelling to the Ukraine and then on to Russia proper. Along the way he was able to interview education officials and individual teachers, to get a sense of what the life was like for a teacher in the USSR. On October 9, he arrived in Moscow and photographed Red Square. You can see more photos here.

Red SquareHe had a chance to visit with officials of the Soviet Union's Trade Union of Education, Higher Education and Scientific Establishments. From this meeting, reports on statistics and anecdotes of daily life for teachers in the USSR were produced. From this report, we learn that teachers were paid 10 rubles a day, and received a 10% raise every five years. The entire enrollment is Russia in 1959 was 31,500,000 students. Most striking was that teachers in the country taught classes in 66 different languages, 40 of which were not written languages.

This was neither the first nor the last time the Association would interact with educators from Russia. In 1908, a Russian teacher wrote NEA Secretary Irwin Shephard asking if he could send over some NEA publications, as he considered the USA "the most forward" in the new methods of educating children. In 1978, Soviet officials met with NEA executive staff and, in 1995, it was Russian, rather than Soviet officials.

If you'd like to learn more about the National Education Association's interactions with Russian and Soviet educators, contact the NEA Archivist Vakil Smallen at smallen@gwu.edu or 202-994-1371.

In 1963, NEA teamed up with Hollywood to create Mr. Novak. The show was about an idealistic young high school teacher, played by James Franciscus, facing problems many teachers would recognize. As producer E. Jack Neumann described the show in interview with NEA Reporter, "[o]ur stories sometimes will be provocative and controversial, they'll sometimes show the bad as well as the good among students and teachers. But we aim to keep everything in its proper, true perspective."

By setting it in a high school, the show offered rich opportunities for drama created when young people find themselves facing the challenges of adulthood for the first time. In order to ensure realism, the producers asked NEA to provide them with a a panel of principals and classroom teachers to read first drafts of scripts. Some of the crises which confront him during the series include: students falling in love with teachers; nurturing highly talented, creative students; students considering quitting school; hazing; and teachers with the wrong priorities. The cast would feature such stars as Dean Jagger, Burgess Meredith, Jeanne Bal, and Marian Collier, and some famous guest stars included Walter Koenig, Beau Bridges, Ed Asner, and Martin Landau among others. Francisicus himself would attend the 1964 NEA Convention.

Activities Report Thumbnail

The NEA Collection in Gelman Library's Special Collections contains records of the Association's relationship with Hollywood. These include activities reports prepared for NEA's Press, Radio, and Television Relations Division, tracking how educators assisted with each episode, one of which can be seen to the side.

Those interested in viewing the Mr. Novak material, or anything else from the NEA Collection, should contact Vakil Smallen, the NEA Archivist, at smallen@gwu.edu or 202-994-1371.


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