An Invitation to the Past

Craig Kridel

Dr. Craig Kridel

Today’s blogger is Craig Kridel (University of South Carolina), who authored the article “Black Progressive Educators of the 1940s: An Overlooked Chapter of Progressivism in American Education,” which appears in the July 2020 issue of the Kappa Delta Pi Record. Get free access to the article, which is part of the John Dewey Memorial Lecture series sponsored by the Daniel Tanner Foundation, through the month of August 2020.

I didn’t know what to expect when I embarked on an oral history project many years ago.

I thought 1930s and 1940s progressive education would have entered African American schools in some way, but because there was so little documentation, I was uncertain.

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Lincoln High School faculty, Tallahassee, FL, ca. 1944; courtesy of The Lincoln Room, The Lincoln Neighborhood Service Center, Tallahassee, FL

To my delight, I would discover a group of black progressive educators and their students, many still living, who participated in the Secondary School Study, staged from 1940 to 1946 in 17 experimental high schools in the American Southeast.

My article, “Black Progressive Educators of the 1940s,” introduces KDP members to this overlooked chapter in progressive education and African American education during the time of Jim Crow. But my essay is not as much research as an invitation for readers to hear directly from those magnificent teachers and students as they describe these extraordinary experimental schools.

The 1940s narratives . . . give us the opportunity to “enter the classroom” and watch the joys and problems of the experimentation by a group of courageous teachers and students.

These teachers welcomed classroom experimentation as a way to improve the lives of their students. Like today, they were aware of problems and issues caused by change, but they felt little fear. They built strong communities among themselves and among the other participating schools in the study where, unlike today, they were encouraged to experiment with their curricular materials and instructional methods. They didn’t have professors hounding them about research designs or establishing validity and reliability. Experimentation was a natural part of their educational life, a way of life, and the Secondary School Study would ultimately maintain that an experimental school was a healthy school.

I interviewed more than 150 individuals, between the ages of 80 and 102, during a 13-year period (2007–2019). This resulted in a 150-page exhibition catalog, Progressive Education in Black High Schools (with 102 historical images and 186 contemporary photos), and a museum website, The Secondary School Study Web Exhibitions, presenting more than 500 images and historical documents and 750 statements from the interviewees—from teachers and students themselves—as they describe progressive and experimental methods from their classrooms. The interview statements do have some glow of “those were the days,” caused by the passing of the years; yet, racial injustices and the daily indignities that black teachers, students, and parents endured during that time (and beyond) never permitted our conversations to float off into idealistic utopian rhetoric.

During my work I discovered a remarkable set of materials like no other I have ever seen in my decades of archival and historical research.

All participating schools were requested to submit final reports; however, three schools prepared creative nonfiction narratives of their experiences with classroom experimentation. In these 1940s ethnographic, historical school monographs, we join educators discussing their curricular and instructional methods and ways to better convey meanings and to connect with young adults. We overhear teachers talk to students about their hopes and plans for the future and their search for ways to make school more meaningful and more able to prepare all for the indignities that they would inevitably face.

The 1940s narratives, recently republished and now titled Becoming an African American Progressive Educator: Narratives from 1940s Black Progressive High Schools, give us the opportunity to “enter the classroom” and watch the joys and problems of the experimentation by a group of courageous teachers and students.

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High school students from Moultrie High School for Negro Youth, Moultrie, GA, 1947; courtesy of Odessa Walker Hooker.

We meet Susan Prim, a teacher with a “mule-in-the-middle-of-the-road attitude toward newfangled ideas,” but who recognized that her students’ needs were not being met; and we watch her change from a traditional teacher to a progressive educator. We are introduced to Miss Parker, a first-year teacher who comes to understand the basic tenets of progressive education and the practice of teacher–pupil planning. And we follow co-valedictorians Sarah and Herbert as they walk around their high school interviewing teachers and students to prepare their commencement speeches.

My research became a gesture of service and, ultimately, of affection for those I met.

I was graciously invited into homes so that those who had been ignored and silenced for years could finally speak.

I was able to offer teachers and students a public and academic venue for their astonishing tales of the joys of education under the harsh circumstances of segregation and social injustice.

They spoke with grace and dignity, with pride and with laughter, and with anger and righteous indignation that these special experimental schools had been ignored and dismissed by their local and regional communities.

I invite you to join me and stand in the corners of experimental classrooms of the 1940s.

The published narratives and hundreds of oral history descriptions allow us to see life in those schools and to wonder how progressive ideals and classroom experimentation could alter and improve our lives in classrooms of today. “Black Progressive Educators of the 1940s: An Overlooked Chapter of Progressivism in American Education” appears in the July 2020 issue of the Kappa Delta Pi Record.

The Secondary School Study Web Exhibitions may be visited here.

The exhibition catalog, Progressive Education in Black High Schools: The Secondary School Study, 1940–1946, may be downloaded gratis here.

The three school reports, now presented as one volume, Becoming an African American Progressive Educator: Narratives from 1940s Black Progressive High Schools, may be downloaded gratis here.

The Daniel Tanner Foundation supported the printing and web-dissemination of these Museum of Education materials as well as the article, “Black Progressive Educators of the 1940s: An Overlooked Chapter of Progressivism in American Education,” in the KDP Record.

Get free access to the article, which is part of the John Dewey Memorial Lecture series sponsored by the Daniel Tanner Foundation, through the month of August 2020.

Craig Kridel is the E. S. Gambrell Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Educational Studies and Curator Emeritus of the Museum of Education, University of South Carolina, and is currently completing the unfinished memoir of Harold Taylor (1914–1993), former president of Sarah Lawrence College and KDP Laureate.

Celebrating the Life and Leadership of Dr. Frank E. Marsh

Faye Snodgress is Executive Director of Kappa Delta Pi.

Dr. Frank Marsh

With a very heavy heart, I share news of the death of Dr. Frank E. Marsh, Professor Emeritus of Northeastern University, and a truly outstanding and dedicated leader of Kappa Delta Pi International for nearly 7 decades. Inducted into KDP’s Beta Beta Chapter at The University of New Hampshire in 1949, his service goes back far enough that he had opportunities to meet the founders of KDP and often shared interesting stories about KDP in the early years.

It is fitting at his passing to acknowledge his many significant contributions to the Society. There is no one who matched his sustained effort in leadership excellence. He captured the spirit of KDP in all the work he accomplished in his professional life as a teacher, coach, university professor, and Dean. He personified the ideals of the Society.

When we reflect on his legacy, there are many significant firsts associated with his term as President of the Society (1972–1974), many of which are still in place today, such as offering regional one-day conferences for members, training of new Chapter Counselors at Headquarters, holding student forums at Convocation, and establishing the Educational Foundation, where he served as Board Chair for 18 years. During his tenure as leader, the Foundation raised millions of dollars, resulting in increased scholarships, awards to teachers, national conference sponsorships, and the completion of a fundraising campaign to purchase a new headquarters’ facility in Indianapolis.

Dr. Richard Judd (L) with Dr. Frank Marsh (C)

“Frank was the one who nominated me for President. A true leader in all respects. As Frank’s leaf dies and drops from sight, other substances of his abundant life will take their place. His place remains, and in spirit remains very, very present with us. As theologian Karl Rahner has said, ‘Every person is a person of eternity, and not just noble spirits of memory.’ All who knew Frank knew that we had been invited to a special table of life that was anything but ordinary, if not quite extraordinary. We realize that sharing his life and our participation with Frank came as a gift, not a given. We are all thankful for the opportunity we had to be part of Frank’s life—his world of the mind, family, colleagues, friends, and conviviality.” –Richard Judd, Former KDP President

In addition to his service as the Chair of the Educational Foundation, his leadership benefited the Society through his service as the Academic Editor of the Kappa Delta Pi Record from 1996 through 2001, on multiple Convocation Planning Committees, on the President’s Advisory Committee, and as the founding counselor of the Kappa Zeta Chapter at Northeastern University. A constant in all of his leadership roles was his ability to provide the vision and initiatives for improvements in these organizations.

He always provided steadfast support of the Society, the staff, and all educators in its community. His consistently positive and gracious disposition set him apart and served to make him a special mentor, coach, and beloved leader.

Honoring his significant and longtime contribution of service to Kappa Delta Pi, he was inducted in 2015 as a member of the prestigious Eleanor Roosevelt Chapter—one of the highest recognitions bestowed by the Society.

In addition to Frank’s sustained service and leadership in KDP, what impressed me most is that every conversation I ever had with Frank, he was always positive and hopeful of the great things that lie ahead. He definitely had a “glass half full” disposition . . . a most gracious and kind man. May he rest in peace.

105 years old. And going strong!

HistoryBlockIn a time when instant, fast, and temporary are the norm, on March 8, 2016, Kappa Delta Pi will capture a moment to celebrate Founders Day and its rich 105-year history.

So what does this longevity say about an organization that is thriving in a high-tech world where immediate gratification rules? It speaks volumes!

For more than a century since its founding, Kappa Delta Pi has stayed true to its original purpose of recognizing scholarly achievement and sustaining a community of educators for the purpose of contributing to their ongoing professional growth.

The Society has evolved in the ways that it supports and serves educators to ensure the products and services they receive have value and relevancy in an ever-changing professional environment. Increasingly, the Society recognizes its role in advocating for the profession and all educators in it, as well as giving educators a collective voice in developing a model of education that prepares today’s youth for an uncertain future. Given the critical importance of quality learning for all, KDP will leverage its rich legacy of high standards and excellence in teaching to advance the goal of ensuring a quality education for all students that results in career readiness and the ability to lead fulfilling lives.

To the thousands of valued educators in the KDP community, please join me in celebrating another impressive milestone by taking a moment to reflect on the Ideals we have pledged to uphold:

Fidelity to Humanity, Service, Science, and Toil.

Given the increasing global inequalities, maintaining our collective commitment to advancing these four ideals is more important than ever. We invite you to invest in KDP and double your impact on Founders Day through our unique matching gift initiative.

As we celebrate our founding, let’s also celebrate our profession and the opportunity it provides us to change the future.

Thank you for being a member of KDP!

Faye_S_7-1-14Faye Snodgress serves as the Executive Director of Kappa Delta Pi, International Honor Society in Education and has been on staff since 2001. Faye strongly believes that Teachers Change the Future and wants to hear your story!