Color in the Classroom: How American Schools Taught Race, 1900-1954

By Zoë Burkholder | Go to book overview

5
Race as Culture, 1946–1954

Before minorities can claim their rightful places in such a social studies
textbook, however, the prevalent conception of American culture as
the culture of the old American Anglo-Saxon group will have to be
radically revised.

—Teacher, 1946

[Teachers] can select art, music, and literature that will enlarge the chil-
dren’s experience and acquaint them with the cultural contributions of
people of various races.

—Intercultural Educator, 1949

Surveying the terrible casualties of modern warfare, the destruction by atomic bomb of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the Holocaust, many Americans felt that the expansion of training in racial tolerance in the school had come too late or that the task at hand was too daunting. From across the nation a chorus of teachers bemoaned what they saw as devastating educational shortcomings. As a teacher from Portland reflected, “If, for the past twenty-five years, American education had stressed world geography, world economics, world culture, world order, we might very well have adopted a strong and enlightened foreign policy that would have headed off World War II! Truly a tragic ‘might-have-been’!”1

Lamenting their failure to avert the world war and the murder of millions of innocent people, American educators redoubled their resolve and crafted an ambitious agenda to secure world peace. Teaching journals in 1946 and 1947 are filled with visionary articles by educational leaders, social scientists, professors of education, and classroom teachers promising to fortify global democracy through intensive tolerance education. Now understood in terms of its potential for world peace and international security, teachers made racial tolerance a defining feature of their classroom practice. Perfecting the strategy they had experimented with during the war, teachers asserted the importance of teaching

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