The perfect storm - post-war baby boom, exploding classrooms, the Russians were ahead of us in education.

Politics And Education – 1952 – Past Daily Reference Room: Cold War Edition

The perfect storm - post-war baby boom, exploding classrooms, the Russians were ahead of us in education.

The perfect storm – post-war baby boom, exploding classrooms, and the Russians were gaining on us in education.

. . .or click on the link here for Audio Player – CBS Radio: The People Act – July 1, 1952 – Gordon Skene Sound Collection

Ever since the end of World War 2, the growth in population of the U.S. was steadily increasing, at a daily rate. What wasn’t increasing was the size of classrooms needed to accommodate this flood of youth about to descend on American schools. Couple that with the Red Scare and the threat that Russia was investing heavily in education and we were in trouble.

By the early 1950s, the average American classroom was jammed to capacity. In some schools, children had to share books, sat two and even three at a desk – or didn’t have desks at all. Makeshift classrooms were arranged in hallways, storage rooms, anywhere a kid could fit. School hours were reduced – in some communities, particularly suburban areas, school hours were cut to three and students had to attend in shifts.

It was a crisis, and it was a perfect storm – and the bottom line was; anything that would be construed as falling behind the Russians was a bad thing. And education, in both the Truman and Eisenhower Administrations was crucial.

But getting all this new construction took bond measures and community activism, and an increase of taxes.

Then as now, the notion of any kind of tax increase on a Federal or local level to support education was met with open hostility in some sectors. Rather than look at the big picture, the one that extended into the future, many felt government support of education was tantamount to Socialism. So it was a fight. Still is.

But the situation was too big, and the idea that private funding would only mean some schools would be well funded, while others would not. Add to this the recent (1954) Brown V. Board of Education decision on School de-segregation and the situation was untenable.

So to focus on the problem, and to illustrate what some communities were doing as a solution, a series of documentaries were produced in 1952 by CBS Radio in conjunction with the Ford Foundation called “The People Act”. On the one hand, it could be construed as a sort of Cold War “we-can-do-this-thing” call for community activism. But on the other hand it illustrated that community activism was a good thing, and the more of it that happened, the better off most Americans would be.

Have a listen for yourself – The People Act – July 1, 1952.

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