JANUARY 25, 1960
NEW YORK—Upon returning to New York after my recent trip, I read the story about the four teachers in the city's public school system who were suspended without pay for allegedly falsifying applications for licenses with respect to Communist party membership. The Teachers Union came to their defense, but I do not imagine this will help them a great deal.
In reading the story, you have a feeling that there is something strange about this "sudden" discovery on the part of the school board. In point of fact, they have had the knowledge about these teachers and their background for some time. They have long known that these teachers had been party members in the past, and that at least one of them had not even been a member since she began to teach. Apparently most of them have been through previous inquiries and have answered honestly about past affiliations; but they have always refused to turn informer when it came to giving the names of other members.
This is a question that by now should be permanently settled with the school board. Teachers should not be asked to give names of other teachers or other acquaintances while they were members of the party. Where they have been teaching for years with an entirely satisfactory record, it seems absurd to dismiss them at this time—especially when the mid-term exams are coming up and the students need continuity in their classwork, without which they cannot possibly do well.
Sometimes it seems to me that the school administrators are more interested in petty questions of administration than in whether the pupils are getting an education or not. To replace teachers so near the end of the term cannot help but put the young people into a very difficult situation, and I must say I have very little patience with this kind of administration. If the teachers' work has been acceptable all this time, the fact that they were misled 10, 15 or 20 years ago into becoming members of the Communist party seems to me unfortunate but not a cause for dismissal and for making the students suffer. One might question the judgment of anyone who ever joined the Communist party if one did not realize that circumstances often cloud people's judgment, and sometimes it takes greater courage to get out after you have been a member than it would have taken if you had never gone in at all.
We waste our time in the schools doing things like this, when our attention should be centered on how we can get greater honesty in public officials and wipe out some of the graft which lack of interest in public affairs has allowed to grow up in our city. I wish our educational heads would be interested in finding out how much really good citizenship is being taught in our schools. How to participate and be a good citizen in a democracy would be a course I would like to see taught in every school—and forget about the political affiliations of teachers a number of years ago.