Culture Clash and Accommodation
Frederick S. Buchanan
Managing An Expanding System
The Administrations of Howard S. McDonald, 1944-45, and M. Lynn Bennion, 1945-69
[p.159]In April 1944, a few weeks before D-Day and sixteen months before World War II would come to an end, Salt Lake City’s board of education was searching for its seventh superintendent since 1890. In the interim, a veteran Utah educator and Assistant Superintendent, James T. Worlton, assumed the role of Acting Superintendent. Worlton was responsible for developing a social studies curriculum to replace the traditional emphasis on history. He also promoted the use of standardized tests to classify students and spearheaded the movement to make sure each elementary teacher had “special training in her subject matter field,” and was not expected to be an expert in every area. Coordinating Units were organized in which a small number of teachers coordinated their efforts and expertise in teaching several classes. Toward the end of his tenure as Assistant Superintendent he also produced two books: Moral Primer for Democracy and Community Life in Salt Lake City and Utah, which were used in the district schools.1
With the exception of George Child, all past superintendents had come to Salt Lake City without prior involvement in the district. This precedent was established perhaps in an effort to promote diversity of perspective and to down-play any charge of parochialism if the board limited itself to local people. A Mormon-dominated board, such as existed in 1944, would have been especially anxious not to raise suspicion that they were afraid of outsiders. The ideal candidate would be someone with significant “outside” academic and professionals and “inside” sensitivity to the local culture.
In March 1944, Howard S. McDonald, a native Utahn then serving as Deputy Superintendent of San Francisco Schools, was invited to apply for the Salt Lake position. The unanimous choice to fill the Nuttall vacancy, he held the position for only one year. In 1945 he accepted a “call” to become president of Brigham Young University
Howard S. McDonald, 1944-45
M. Lynn Bennion, 1945-69
[p.159]For the second time in less than a year, the board set about to choose a new superintendent, ultimately choosing something of a dark horse candidate in the person of a Mormon Church employee, Dr. M. Lynn Bennion. Bennion decen-[p.162]tralized the administration, involving more teachers and principals in governing the district. He diluted the micro-management of district affairs by involving himself, to the point of exhaustion, in as many committees as the board was directly involved in. The old Mormon/Mason tension continued for a time, but the Masons eventually disappeared as a political entity and those who did serve on the board came to trust Bennion as a fair and competent administrator.
Bennion faced the challenge of a growing district that required more teachers, school buildings, and more money But the 1950s saw a blooming of the American economy and full public support for bond issues to expand schools to meet the needs of the post-war baby boom. When human relations, self worth, and cooperation were seen as essential to the survival of “democracy,” the schools obliged accordingly, as they did when the “Sputnik” syndrome made schools the locus of technological supremacy over the Soviets.
Lynn Bennion’s retirement in 1969, after almost a quarter of a century of leadership, marked a milestone in the district’s history. Bennion had presided over a period of growth. Now his successor was on the verge of presiding over the very opposite of what had made Bennion’s years unique, and in some sense easier to manage. The school district was in decline, having crested in school population at 42,323 a decade before; by 1965 it had fallen to 39,416 and the slide continued. New issues of race, ethnicity, and class were making their way into the schools. It is tempting to speculate what Bennion—trained at Berkeley in the thought of John Dewey—would have done had he continued as superintendent. He would perhaps have asked how children figure into such changes. Are they being helped to face this brave, and terrifying, new world? Are the schools serving all of the children of all of the people the best they can?
A Short, Dynamic Interim
The seventh superintendent of the Salt Lake City schools was born of Scottish and English emigrant parents, Francis McDonald and Emily Stevenson, in Holladay, Utah, in 1894. Howard McDonald received a BS degree in Irrigation and Drainage Engineering from Utah State Agricultural College in 1921. After teaching mathematics at Logan he received a part-time appointment as a physical education teacher in San Francisco. This enabled him to pursue a Master’s degree in school administration at Berkeley From his 1925 graduation until 1944 he occupied a number of educational positions, culminating in a ten-year term as Deputy Superintendent of San Francisco public schools. In 1941 he was appointed President of the LDS San Francisco Stake and hoped to become superintendent in San Francisco when Joseph Nourse retired. Perhaps because he was seen as something of a teacher advocate, McDonald did not get the San Francisco superintendency.
On John Nuttall’s death in Salt Lake, however, McDonald was invited to interview for that superintendency in May 1944. He had been visited often in California by board member Genevieve Curtis, who was mother to his First Counsellor in the stake presidency, Ray T. Curtis. Curtis likely convinced the board to invite McDonald to apply for the position. Preparatory to meeting the [p.163]board he studied the latest reports and concluded that the district “had gone in the red for the past couple of years, that teachers salaries were very poor, and that the system as a whole could stand much improvement.” He talked to the board about such difficulties and left feeling he would not be appointed. Two of his conditions were that his salary be increased (from $6,000 to $8,500) and that his appointment be unanimous. He did not think they would accept his conditions and told board president Stockman that they should hire one of the other able applicants. Surprisingly, the board met both demands and McDonald became superintendent 1 July 1944.2
McDonald’s one-year tenure was plagued with controversies over control of finances and personal health problems; he really had no opportunity to put his mark on the system. He immediately faced the district’s lack of resources with a firm determination to improve the lot of teachers, whose morale and salaries, in the aftermath of the depression and the war, were abysmally low. He lobbied the Utah legislature to change laws governing school finances and personally took on the Utah Tax Payer’s Association, the Apartment House Association, and assorted mining interests over the need to increase funding for the schools. McDonald even took the campaign to the floor of the legislature and, with united pressure from a coalition of other school districts, an education bill was enacted that greatly enhanced school funds. He also pushed the board to abandon George Child’s eleven-year program in favor of a traditional twelve years.3
With less than a year in as superintendent, in March 1945 McDonald received a call from President J. Reuben Clark, Jr., of the LDS First Presidency, asking him to accept the presidency of the church’s Brigham Young University McDonald obtained a “reluctant release” from the Salt Lake Board of Education and embarked on another phase of his educational career on 1 July 1945.4 His departure suited a young Mormon educator, M. Lynn Bennion, who had come to a point of decision respecting his job as supervisor of the LDS seminary system.
Making Religious Education Functional
During the 1943 debate at Bryant Junior High School on the issue of released time, Lynn Bennion sat in the back of the auditorium, listening intently but not participating actively As Supervisor of Seminaries for the LDS Church Education System, however, he had more than a casual interest in the debate. He watched as the board’s Mormon majority approved released-time for religious instruction, bringing the Salt Lake School District into line with other Utah schools [p.164]after years of resistance. Overtly, the LDS church kept a low profile during the debate, but it had much at stake in changing the public school policy, and LDS leaders were involved covertly to achieve that aim. Given the makeup of the board, few doubted how the board would vote. But the young Supervisor of Seminaries had no idea that within two years he would be under the board’s scrutiny as one of a number of educators being considered for the superintendency of the Salt Lake School District.
Milton Lindsay Bennion was born in Salt Lake City on 4 October 1902, the son of Milton and Cora Lindsay Bennion. The grandson of Mormon pioneer and school booster, John Bennion, M. Lynn (as he renamed himself) grew up surrounded by educational concerns. His father was a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Utah, and during much of Lynn’s youth had served as Dean of the University’s School of Education. In 1918 Lynn graduated from the LDS High School, spent a year at Utah State, then from 1921 to 1923 served an LDS mission in Missouri and Oklahoma. Entering the University of Utah in 1923 he served an apprenticeship as an assistant teacher and researcher under the liberal Mormon philosopher E. E. Ericksen. In 1926 he received a BS degree in history and political science, with a teaching certificate in history. Encouraged by his father, a friend, J. Willard Marriott, and by his cousin, Adam S. Bennion, Superintendent of the LDS Church Schools, young Bennion signed on to teach seminary in the LDS Church Education System that same year. He also continued his education, in 1932 receiving an MS degree in history and political science from the University of Utah.
While teaching seminary, Bennion was exposed to the thinking of prominent Biblical scholars who were brought to Utah to stimulate the intellectual interests of the Church Education System. Bennion was introduced, at these summer institutes, to such scholars as Edgar J. Goodspeed and John T. McNeill of the University of Chicago, stirring in him an interest in the intellectual study of religion. This exposure also raised “questions about Mormon orthodoxy and the conventional concepts that we were teaching to our [seminary] students.” Reflecting on these experiences some years later, Bennion recalled the visiting scholars’ approaches as “universal … broader [in] outlook than the conventional Mormon orthodoxy by far.”5 Between 1932 and 1935 Bennion pursued a doctoral program at Berkeley. Apostle Joseph Merrill, a guiding force behind the summer institutes, helped financially by arranging for Bennion’s wife, Katherine, to teach his seminary classes (although at a reduced salary) while he was in California taking graduate courses in educational administration, educational psychology, philosophy of education, and secondary education. His dissertation, “The Origin, Growth and Extension of the Educational Program of the Mormon Church in Utah,” was published in 1939 by the LDS Church Department of Education as Mormonism and Education.
[p.165]In a 1934 letter from Berkeley, Bennion confided to his wife his conviction that the traditional authoritarian approach to teaching seminary was not adequate to meet the problems of modern youth. Influenced by character education studies which challenged the assumption of traditional religious education that verbalizing high moral values led inexorably to high moral behaviour, he had concluded that the study of values rather than the promulgation of dogma should be the keystone of the seminary program, and that a need existed for a more practical, problems-oriented approach. If the ideas of modern scholars could be utilized, he wondered, “think what could be accomplished” in the seminaries. The books he was reading included John Dewey’s The Quest for Certainty and Herbert Spengler’s Decline of the West.6
After a year as a general agent for the publishing firm of Ginn and Company, in 1936 Bennion was invited by the church’s Commissioner of Education, Dr. Franklin West, to become the Supervisor of Seminaries for the LDS church. Commissioner West gave him free reign to revolutionize the seminaries by implementing “progressive” ideas he had been exposed to at Berkeley, through his membership in the Progressive Education Association, and through his contacts with progressive educators. Bennion wanted to make the Bible meaningful to students by organizing the seminary curriculum around problems youth faced. Neither Dr. Bennion nor his associates saw this approach as undermining LDS teachings—they simply wanted to make the study of religion academically oriented and of functional value to LDS youth.
Unfortunately for Bennion, his revision of seminary teaching coincided with a retrenchment movement among LDS leaders. Following the 1934 death of a relatively liberal member of the First Presidency, Antoine R. Ivins, who had supported bringing outside scholars to Utah, a staunch conservative, J. Reuben Clark, Jr., began to exert a strong influence in LDS education circles. This influence culminated in a 1938 address to Mormon educators at a summer institute in Aspen Grove, Utah, in which Clark clearly spelled out what he thought of the “newest fangled ideas” in education: he reiterated the traditional view that religious truth was revealed by God, not created by human discussion and reflection. Consequently, the primary mission of the LDS education system was to indoctrinate what was already revealed, not to search for new “truths.” Scholarship in this schema was subordinate to faith; seminary was to build the faith rather than the intellects of the “youth of Zion.”7
Bennion was present when Clark delivered his discourse at Aspen Grove. Given his progressive orientation it is not surprising that he viewed these comments as alarming. Dr. Franklin West was not as disturbed, and saw the issue as a [p.166]matter of differences over methods. However, time would bear out Bennion’s fears. For Clark, the good Latter-day Saint was a conformist, not a critical thinker. Doubts could only be answered by the revelations vouchsafed to the church.8
Although Bennion’s curriculum was relatively successful, especially with younger and less-traditional faculty, over the next few years suspicions were raised about Bennion’s approach. Clark once asked him why none of Joseph Smith’s revelations were used in the seminaries’ Bible curriculum. Bennion informed him that the Bible courses—outside of Salt Lake City—received high school credit and could not, therefore, promote a particular Mormon point of view. Other reports filtered back to President Clark, perhaps through his son, who taught in the Church Education System, about various positions Bennion had taken that might offend Clark.
On the other hand, Bennion received indirect encouragement from David O. McKay on numerous occasions, and a Presiding Bishopric member, Marvin O. Ashton, admonished him to “be yourself’ in directing the seminary programs. In spite of such support, around 1944 Bennion was convinced that Clark was not satisfied with him. As overseer of the Church Education System and using his considerable influence with enfeebled LDS church President, Heber J. Grant, Clark began to ease Bennion out of his position, without ever directly approaching him about the issues.9
To counteract some of the negative effects of Clark’s criticism, Grant’s Second Counselor, David O. McKay, who supervised the church’s missionary work and who had informed Bennion confidentially of Clark’s displeasure, arranged for a church mission call for Bennion, first to Texas and then to California. Family considerations intervened, however, and the mission calls never materialized. But Bennion took some satisfaction in McKay’s vote of confidence. When the mission calls could not be arranged, President McKay encouraged Bennion to pursue his career as an educator in the public domain. The opportunity to do just that opened up in the spring of 1945, when Howard McDonald resigned the superintendency to accept the presidency of Brigham Young University.
A Superintendent “Acceptable to the Whole Community”
In spite of his long affiliation with the Church Education System and his lack of experience in public schools, Bennion applied for the superintendency of Salt Lake City’s public schools on 22 March 1945. In his letter to board president LeGrand P Backman, he laid out in some detail his educational experience as a seminary teacher, seminary principal, teacher at Brigham Young University, and even his membership on the Mormon “Deseret Sunday School Union Board.” In addition to supervising the seminaries, he added, he had assisted Franklin West in the administration of all LDS schools, from BYU to the Juarez Stake Academy in Mexico.
Bennion identified some of his most important work as selecting qualified [p.167]teachers, directing inservice training programs, creating salary schedules and welfare programs for teachers, revising curriculum, and inaugurating guidance programs. He also listed his experience with budgets, buildings, and public relations.10
Given his lack of experience in public schools, Bennion thought that his chances of being appointed were minimal. He was, in fact, up against some of the foremost public educators in the state: Aldous Dixon, superintendent at Provo; E. Allen Bateman, Utah State Superintendent; and Roald Campbell, a Professor of Education and director of the University of Utah’s Stewart Training School. In addition, Nuttall’s assistant superintendents, James T Worlton and Arthur Arnesen, had also applied.
Armed with strong letters of recommendation from President George Thomas of the University of Utah and President Franklin Harris of BYU, Bennion met with the board, making a brief formal presentation and answering questions. The board did not ask about his church education experiences, nor about his philosophy of education. They liked his sense of humor and that he only took fifteen minutes for his formal presentation. He later recalled that they were pleased when he emphasized decentralized administration.11
According to Bennion’s recollections, he was elected by a narrow margin of 5-4. The “yeas,” he said, were all LDS while the “nays” were three Masons and one Mormon. The latter was probably LeGrand Backman, who did not think Bennion’s experience in Mormon education was sufficient for the superintendent’s job. One member, Dr. Rowland Merrill, apparently absented himself because he was related to another candidate. If Bennion is correct on the vote count, four members stayed away from the meeting. As in the 1920 election of George Child, some Mormons may have stayed away to downplay the impression of a powerful Mormon majority. Whatever the case, whether elected by a narrow 5-4 vote or a wider 7-4 margin, as indicated in the minutes, Dr. M. Lynn Bennion became the district’s eighth superintendent on 1 July 1945.12
Bennion regarded his selection as “a near miraculous event.” He received numerous letters from associates in the seminary system, some of whom expressed shock and regret that he would no longer be leading the church system. Others acknowledged the considerable institutional pressure and “educational trials” under which he had worked. T. Edgar Lyon, of the LDS Salt Lake Institute of Religion, was confident that Bennion would finally be able to implement educational ideas that had been forced to remain in the realm of theory. Sterling McMurrin of the LDS Tucson, Arizona, Institute said that without Bennion leading the church system, McMurrin would find it difficult to keep up his own interest in the work. Sterling Larson, principal of the LDS St. Anthony, Idaho, Seminary, said Bennion [p.168]would enjoy “independence and freedom” in developing the ideas and plans that “you have longed for.” Larson added that after working with the “many and varied boards and factions” in the Church Education System “only one city school board would be pie.” Lilian H. Whelan, who had taught a younger Bennion at Forest Dale School, was pleased that “one of her boys” had been chosen as superintendent, congratulating him for his “high standards, wholesome attitude, broad vision and great industry.”13
However, some of the staff at the Salt Lake district headquarters expressed doubt that Bennion could measure up as an effective leader in a public system. Arthur Arnesen, the Supervisor of Curriculum and Research and a candidate for the position, told him: “Frankly, I was surprised in your being named as the executive head of our school system,” then listed all the responsibilities that would now be Bennion’s. Arnesen did, however, give him a reserved pledge of support.14
Some in the community at large, especially among non-Mormons, thought Bennion’s appointment may have been “an unfortunate choice” in light of the 1943 released-time seminary controversy Others, including the Rev. Dr. J. R. Cope of the Salt Lake City Unitarian Church, wholeheartedly supported him. Cope had worked with Bennion for a number of years. The new superintendent, he said, could be depended on to avoid partisan bias, and “under his leadership the whole community will become more thoroughly united.” Bennion credited Cope with helping convince many non-Mormons that he was a person who could be “acceptable to the whole community.”15
The appointment of Bennion, former supervisor of the church’s seminaries, as superintendent of a secular public school system may be seen as representative of shifting attitudes as Salt Lake City faced post-war challenges. Given the tensions he experienced in his seminary position, he certainly was not appointed to the superintendency because of his religious orthodoxy. Rather, it was his secular orientation within a general context of Mormon community values that made his appointment a sign of the times. In addition to a changing Mormon/non-Mormon configuration, other factors worked on the schools, including a movement to a more open conception of governance; rapid growth in school population; federal involvement in local schools; the perceived threat of Communism (internally and externally); increased militancy among teachers; the shift away from traditional values; and the beginnings of an increasingly complex domestic social environment.
The Need for Healing and Improvement
[p.169]Shortly after his appointment, Bennion learned about the much-rumored “gentlemen’s agreement” between the Masons and Mormons on the board. As he understood it, the agreement was that the Masons would control the appointments made to the powerful clerk-treasurer’s office and the Mormons would be allowed to control the superintendency. A perusal of the lists of clerk-treasurers and superintendents from 1901 through the 1940s supports the contention. During this period Masons or other non-Mormons did indeed hold the clerk-treasurer’s post and only Mormons were appointed (with one exception, Ernest Smith in 1916) to the superintendency. According to R. Y. Gray, the clerk-treasurer at the time Bennion was appointed, the issue was not really over religion; rather it was a matter of balancing political power. Gray recalled that one former president of the board (a Mormon) had told him that “we have the advantage [as a majority] and we’ll use it.”16 This disposition was what the agreement was meant to negate.
Masons on the board took a special interest in seeing that public funds were not squandered. Clerk-Treasurer Gray was apparently in continual conflict with Superintendent Nuttall—described by Bennion as “a very serious and abrasive relationship.” One former president of the board told Bennion that a Mason’s job on the board during Nuttall’s tenure was to “check on Nuttall and his expenditures and keep him in line.”17 Sally Mason, the secretary of the board during the 1940s, used the term “watchdog” to describe the clerk-treasurer’s relationship with Nuttall. She recalled an early clerk-treasurer, L. P Judd, as saying frequently that “We are paid by the citizens and you must never offend the public,” while he had a cigar hanging out of his mouth hardly an inoffensive gesture in Mormon Utah.18
Although Bennion was able to improve this relationship, he still faced challenges in dealings with the current clerk-treasurer, R. Y. Gray Gray’s office controlled the disbursal of funds, thus becoming involved in almost every aspect of school affairs, including policy making (by controlling expenditures). Within a year of taking office Bennion resisted Gray’s attempts to derail a policy implementation by the Supervisor of Curriculum, Arthur Arnesen. Bennion came down on the side of the educational interests of the schools, but he could not directly oppose the powerful Gray. At the same time he realized the disadvantage in his failure to control the budget.
This conflict resurfaced again and again over the next twelve years. Bennion’s staff would make plans only to find that Gray had reduced the amounts needed to accomplish the work. Indeed, the clerk-treasurer had a dominant influence on all the standing committees—he had the final say on expenditures for [p.170] curriculum and for buildings.
As clerk-treasurer, Gray felt directly responsible to the Board of Education and to the city’s business community. According to Bennion, Gray took great pride in his “honest and meticulous accounting” and in the district’s “modest pupil expenditures.” On the other hand, Bennion’s enthusiasm for educational innovation quickly got him the “reputation of being a spender.” This challenged Gray’s firm conviction that his role was to keep expenditures as low as possible, even in the face of an expanding system in the post-war years.
In a 1973 interview Gray recalled no real difficulties with Superintendent Bennion, and said that he, as clerk-treasurer, only gave the board his opinion on fiscal matters. However, even after his retirement, Gray was contacted by former board members who were concerned about “wasteful activities.” Given his “watchdog” orientation, Gray did his job well as he understood it, even if it caused Bennion some distress.19 In 1956 Bennion was influential in limiting the new clerk-treasurer, Robert L. Bridge, to financial matters. Bridge, was the first Mormon to hold this post in the history of the district, a symbol of the waning Masonic influence on the board.
In spite of such tensions, Bennion built rapport with the board and gained their backing during his long tenure. In this he was assisted by such board members as George Keyser, a Mason who served as the board’s vice-president during the early years of Bennion’s tenure. After initial resistance to Bennion’s appointment, Keyser helped Bennion make a successful transition from supervising the LDS seminaries to being superintendent of public schools. He admired Bennion’s views on the significance of “spiritual values,” assuring his fellow non-Mormon board members that Bennion would “serve all of the children of all of the people effectively without any racial or religious bias.” Recognizing the realities of operating public schools in a heavily Mormon area, Keysor encouraged Bennion to “keep in touch with 47 East South Temple” (LDS Church Headquarters) and with other religious organizations in the city.20
Keysor’s advice illustrates once again the changes occurring in Salt Lake’s religio-political climate. Perhaps both sides were moderating their stance, as Masons became less suspicious of Mormon intentions and Mormons became less ethnocentric. Also, by the early 1940s Mormon citizens took the position that if the Masons were in any way inclined to influence schools in an anti-Mormon way, then it was necessary and proper that the church members should use religious cohesion to their advantage. This strategy led ultimately to the Masons’ decline as an active influence on the board.21
With the 1943 Mormon victory over released-time seminary and Bennion’s appointment in 1945, the Masons may have decided they could no longer stem the tide of “Mormon influence.” Perhaps, in the words of political scientist G. Homer Durham, they had concluded “you can’t lick the Mormon Church in [p.171] Utah” and that cooperation, in the long run, was best for the public schools.22 At least people like Bennion and George Keyser were aware of the need to cooperate.
Toward More Open Goverance
Since its inception in 1890, the board had run on a system of standing committees divided up among the board members. In 1937 the four standing committees were Teachers and School Work; Buildings and Grounds; Finance; Rules and School Law. In 1915 Ellwood P Cubberley’s report had criticized this system for its inefficiency; it persisted probably because it gave board members a check against a powerful superintendent, and may have been one strategy to dilute Mormon influence. The system was also fairly common nationwide. Under this system, members of the board dealt with the day to day operations of the schools. The committees were “almost like separate operations,” with each committee keeping even separate financial records. According to Bennion, “It was cumbersome … divisive in effect … and brought about inevitable conflicts.”23
Not only did the committee system dilute the superintendent’s influence on educational matters, it left teachers out entirely. Proponents argued that the board represented taxpayers and had a vested interest in keeping tab of what was being done in and to schools. Bennion believed that, while the business community ought to have some say in the governance of schools, an inordinate degree of outside control was being exercised. Bennion held that the board should restrict itself to policy making and leave the implementation of policy to the professional staff.
Bennion brought his diplomatic skills into play when he decided that he must find a way to influence the standing committees. He knew a frontal attack on the traditional system would not be tolerated, so at the cost of much time and energy he personally became involved, as an ad hoc member, in the regular deliberations of each of the standing committees. In this way he was able to help shape each committee’s decision so that they would reflect the “priorities that I thought were essential to have a good school system.” This structure persisted throughout his administration, but when the board was reduced from twelve to seven members in 1972, Bennion, as executive secretary of the Society of Superintendents, successfully lobbied for the abolition of the board committees.24
Bennion also wanted improved relations between the superintendent’s office and the staff. In 1946 he organized the Superintendent’s Advisory Council, consisting of thirty people chosen by the elected officers of the professional associations affiliated with the instructional staff, buildings and grounds, the superintendent’s office and the secretaries. The district’s low teacher morale influenced Bennion to organize the Council so that the majority of its members were [p.172]taken from the teacher corp. At a much later date, when the board agreed to negotiate with teachers over salaries, teachers who had served on the Superintendent’s Advisory Council played a major role in making the conflict over negotiations less confrontational than it might have been. Even when teachers went on strike in the 1960s, channels of communication were still relatively open. Such open communication Bennion regarded as among his most significant accomplishments as superintendent.25
Bennion’s diplomacy, tact, and democratic orientation contributed to a cooperative relationship necessary if he were to provide the kind of leadership he believed the schools needed. Almost any problem can be resolved, he held, if the superintendent has the “board back of [him] and a certain degree of support from the community” Without these preconditions the work of being a superintendent is “almost more than a man can take.”26
Presiding Over a Growth Industry
The war had delayed the upkeep and expansion of the physical plant, adding to Bennion’s pressure to accommodate the “baby boom,” the natural increase in population that came as reunited families grew. Projections in 1948 indicated that Utah’s population would expand 15 percent in the following decade, while Salt Lake City’s school population would increase by some 69 percent. By 1956 the district would need fifteen new elementary schools, four new junior high schools, and one new high school—all at a total cost of over $15,000,000.27 Shortly after these projections were made, Salt Lake City’s voters approved a bond issue that taxed residents to the legal limit. By 1951 the district was rushing to complete a $12,000,000-plus building program, just in time to accommodate the advance of “a tidal wave of post-war babies” who would become first graders around 1953.28 When Bennion began his tenure, enrollment stood at 30,000; by 1951 it had grown to 35,555. By the end of the 1950s the enrollment peaked at some 42,323 students and thereafter it began to decline. Bennion acknowledged the exhilarating nature of leading when so many positive things were happening in the district, even though it meant that for some “ten years [Bennion] was in the business of building” schools, rather than spending time on pedagogical issues.29
Given the LDS cultural value placed on large families and the church’s abandonment of its private schools in the 1920s, more schools financed by public funds were an absolute necessity In the early years of Bennion’s tenure the board had to rent temporary facilities, such as LDS chapels, to meet the needs of the burgeoning student population. The district also faced busing children from the new suburbs to parts of the city that were losing population and whose schools [p.173]were under utilized. Meetings to discuss such measures were always well-attended: as Bennion observed, “Whenever you’re going to do anything to significantly alter the life pattern, the life style of a family, or a child you have no trouble getting an audience.” For example, parents at a mass meeting rejected a proposal to bus children from the Uintah School on Fifteenth East to the Lowell School on the avenues. Local patrons argued that renting a local LDS building would suit their needs; they were not persuaded when Bennion pointed out that such a building was not built for schools in terms of lighting, space, and toilet facilities. Parents wanted to retain the neighborhood school because busing children twelve blocks across Salt Lake City in 1950 was considered too dangerous; childhood patterns of friendship would be dislocated and the children sent among strangers might be picked on. Bennion noted that some social-class biases surfaced during discussions he had with school committees. East Bench parents did not want their children mingling with children from less affluent areas.30 Some parents even worried that their children would be interacting with children who were members of “other” LDS wards instead of their “own” ward; if busing were prolonged, they would end up going to other ward dances, dating kids from other wards, and even end up marrying kids from the “foreign” wards. (“Oh, boy, how provincial can you get?” responded one non-Mormon board member.) Such attitudes, however, were merely an extension of the sacrosanct neighborhood schools that have formed the core of American public education for over 150 years.31
Bennion believed that informed people can together resolve even the most difficult problems, but on numerous occasions the negative of that idea seemed true: that people stirred up emotionally will not be convinced by logic or statistics, and that achieving consensus in a mass meeting is virtually impossible. After one stormy meeting over busing, building new schools, and increased taxes, Bennion attempted to inject some humor into the tense evening by remarking that “the cure for this kind of problem is to have birth control and make it retroactive for ten years.” When the press reported the comment the next day, Bennion recalled, some parents “hired an attorney to try to get me fired; they argued that I was not fit to be superintendent of schools.”32
Other tensions, as mentioned previously, came from the board. One board president who thought Bennion was not moving fast enough in the right direction took it upon himself to give principals direct instructions on how they should do their work. He took charge of the remodelling program for the older schools and even began to tell the other board members what they should be doing. All this violated Bennion’s sense of boundaries. This particular board president may have helped speed up some of the remodelling of schools, but he also created conflict and resentment among the board members, who were not able to counteract his interference. He was an aggressive leader—some described him as [p.174]a “hyperactive president” who wanted things done fast, and seems to have had the schools’ interests at heart. Even so, he gave Bennion much grief, on one occasion actually interviewing University of Utah faculty to replace the superintendent. Fortunately for Bennion, the problem was solved in a time-honored Utah manner; his nemesis was called on a mission for the LDS church.33
When LDS mission calls couldn’t relieve him of meddling board members, Bennion did find some solace in buying a small pasture in the south east section of the Salt Lake Valley. There on his horse, “Consultation,” he found some relief from the pressures of his office. With his wry sense of humor he instructed his secretary to tell persistent callers that he was not available because he was “out on consultation.”34
As often happens in implementing new procedures, the board’s busing policy produced another unwanted situation: children out of walking distance from their homes could not go home for lunch. While some schools had lunch programs as early as 1915, most did not provide hot lunches for the students, and certainly not with public funds. The board traditionally held that parents, not schools, were responsible for feeding children. In 1944 the Board even rejected a check for $638.60 from the State of Utah’s education department as “an allocation for school lunch” at Edison School (operated by the school’s PTA). The board felt that to do so would commit the Salt Lake schools to a permanent lunch program “and may open the way for entrance into other City schools of the State lunch program.”35
Many people throughout the nation had similar attitudes, but in Salt Lake City such resistance came with a peculiarly Mormon twist. Although no official statement came from church leaders, editorials in the Deseret News in the late 1940s and early 1950s expressed decided opposition to federal aid—for anything. In spite of this, every school districts in the Utah, except for Salt Lake, had accepted the federal funds for hot-lunch programs. The Salt Lake board was evenly split on the issue; opponents predicted that accepting federal aid—even for school lunches—would erode local control. In spite of support from parents, health authorities, and the superintendent, it was not until the early 1970s that the board finally accepted federal support for school lunch program. However, at least one board member, Esther Landa, was elected to the board in the interim because of her support of federal aid.36
Such resistance was hardly new. In 1949 the board passed a unanimous resolution opposing proposals then before Congress that would authorize [p.175]$300,000,000 in federal aid to states. They sent a copy of their position to Utah’s Democratic Senator, Elbert D. Thomas, who since the mid-thirties had been championing a Federal Aid to Education Bill in the U.S. Senate. President LeGrand Backman said the board saw the bill as a step toward socialism’s invasion of “the American way of life”: “[Only] local autonomy and complete supervision, control and administration of our own schools … will preserve our national heritage and keep our children unhampered from regimentation, and will act as a bulwark against the aggression of foreign influences and ideologies that are contrary to our God-given fight of free agency, and the desires and hopes of the founders of our great nation.”37 Although in 1920 the Deseret News had actually come out in favor of federal aid, saying that “No effort is too difficult and no investment too costly if it will enable the public schools to turn out young men and women of mental, moral and physical strength,” in the early days of the Cold War the News took a more conservative tack, and praised the board of education for its stand. The 1949 editorial criticized Senator Thomas as not “hitting it off well with the Salt Lake City Board of Education.” Thomas, for his part, told LeGrand Backman that Salt Lake’s district didn’t have to accept federal funds; but “for Salt Lake City to be opposed to this legislation because they do not need it where the rest of the country needs it so badly seems to me to a little inconsiderate.” Thomas cited historical evidence about federal funding to Utah’s institutions of higher education and also the massive infusion of federal aid in the form of the G.I. Bill of Rights, which he had helped sponsor. Thomas asserted that no legislation would benefit future generations more than the National Science Foundation Bill, the Federal Aid to Education Bill, and the National School Services Bill. To refuse cooperation with these proposed bills would hurt the children of Salt Lake City.38
The Salt Lake Tribune, in contrast, wholeheartedly supported the concept of federal aid and singled out Senator Thomas as commendable, along with some Republicans. “[W] here the kids are the money ain’t,” the Tribune claimed, arguing that federal aid would equalize educational opportunity The editorial compared federal aid to Utah’s long-standing practice of poorer districts receiving aid from wealthier districts. Aid would eliminate the “dangerous educational ‘slums'” appearing in many parts of the country, and would “insure that no future citizen of the United States is denied an adequate education.”39
The Utah Educational Association formally criticized the way in which the News had “unfairly” handled the difference of opinion between the Board and Senator Thomas, including unwarranted “inferences concerning the loyalty to American ideals of the supporters of Federal aid legislation.” The UEA deplored “the unfair and unbecoming methods of the editors of the DESERET NEWS and [p.176]members of the Salt Lake City Board of Education,” while endorsing federal aid as a “means of strengthening America through the improvement of the literacy and civic competence of its citizens.”40 The following year Elbert D. Thomas was unexpectedly defeated by Utah businessman Wallace Bennett. Certainly his support of “socialistic” federal aid did not endear him to conservatives who saw federal aid to education as an alien, foreign ideology.41
The largely male twelve-member board had to be prodded and cajoled into looking beyond their own cultural experience. In board member Esther Landa’s view, board members often viewed the problems of the poor in the schools as capable of being resolved through the Mormon-style Welfare Plan, in which families do all they can before calling on external aid, a tendency that desensitized many affluent male board members to the poverty in Salt Lake’s (largely non-Mormon) Central City area. A growing awareness among the electorate, however, brought three women with a deep commitment to social consciousness to the board in the 1960s: Esther Landa, a long-time social activist; Ada Burton, a public health nurse; and June Orme, a registered nurse. Together they pushed for recognition of Salt Lake City’s social problems and for federal aid to help alleviate them. According to Landa, a board meeting held in the Central City created something akin to culture shock for many on the board; they had never been exposed to the conditions that existed among the city’s poor.42 Eventually, in the 1960s, innovations such as “Headstart” were accepted as part of the city’s educational program, although not until the 1970s could it be announced that “Lunch is served”—with federal assistance.
Cold War Curriculum and the Cycle of Reform
During Lynn Bennion’s Cold War tenure, hardly anything happened in the schools that could not be connected to a national pre-occupation with the Soviet threat. The “great fear,” as anthropologist Jules Henry has characterized it, influenced everything about the schools—from the practice of having students scramble under desks during simulated atomic bomb attacks to the increased time spent on the study of mathematics and science as a means of enhancing the nation’s response to foreign attack.
In a memo to parents following the Soviet development of an atomic bomb, Bennion explained that schools must “be ready in case of bombing by enemies.” A pamphlet was distributed detailing the drills and practice to be followed to prepare for an atomic attack. The program tried to minimize alarm among pupils and avoid “giving them exaggerated ideas concerning the danger that threatens.” The memo concluded that “as destructive as we know the atomic bomb is, there [p.177]is no evidence to justify a feeling of hopelessness or helplessness in the event of such a bombing.”43 In what later seemed “an outrageous” situation, Robert Bullough remembered crawling under fixed desks in his classroom, when the atomic attack signal was sounded and crouching up in the hallway of Garfield School with his head between his legs waiting for the “all clear” signal. As if, given the nature of atomic radiation, there really could be an “all clear.”44
Eventually, such practice drills became passe, not because atomic bombs were less threatening, but because a new Soviet challenge—Sputnik—was seen as a direct commentary on America’s public schools. Few national commissions and few educational reports ever had as much effect as this small Soviet satellite, the first ever, on the American educational establishment. As educational historian Lawrence Cremin described it, “a shocked and humbled nation embarked on a bitter orgy of pedagogical soul searching.”45
Soviet success, in the thinking of many people, was due to the favorite whipping boy of the American experience: the public school. Admiral Hyman Rickover, the father of the American nuclear submarine, berated the schools for low standards and despised “the theory of John Dewey’s adherents that the purpose of education is to prepare the child for life adjustment.” Schools, Rickover believed, exist to “train the mind in the arts and sciences,” not to focus on “citizenship, group living and apprentice garage mechanicship.” The Admiral averred that the school year should be lengthened, a national standard of excellence should be established not by professional “pedagogues,” but by nationally recognized scholars—and special attention should be paid to talented children.46 Never mind that John Dewey was not a proponent of Life Adjustment Education of the 1940s and that most public schools had never embraced Progressive Education, the criticisms of high profile individuals like Rickover was cause for introspection. Some said that Rickover’s view was limited by his own interests in national defense—”perspective by periscope”—but there can be no doubt that Sputnik and its accompanying critics had unloosed an avalanche of curriculum change, which eventually rumbled into the Salt Lake Valley.
Prior to the Sputnik-induced reforms, and under Bennion’s leadership, in 1954 a committee consisting of ten teachers, principals, and Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Arthur E. Arnesen produced a curriculum report that focused on perceived needs of students. Some impetus for the report came from a 1950-51 decision to reintroduce the traditional twelve-year program for which more courses were needed. (Although students who went through the eleven-year program did as well in university studies as did others, reasons for abandoning the program included: a belief that students were missing out on some of the social experiences of high school and that the Salt Lake [p.178]City football teams were not doing as well as they might have with twelfth graders on their teams.47) The curriculum committee reorganized the curriculum with a typically progressive rationale—the schools need to be changed “in light of new times and changed needs.” In a prepared text, Curriculum Foundations for the Public Schools of Salt Lake City (Revised), the committee, aided by teachers and parents, spelled out essential purposes the schools should serve.
The seven essential purposes identified would have made Admiral Rickover cringe. Designed to guide the development of the curriculum in Salt Lake City “now and in the years immediately ahead,” the report said schools should: “develop an understanding of, and an abiding faith in democracy; promote physical and mental health; cultivate a wholesome philosophy of life; develop an effective command of basic skills; develop aesthetic insights and satisfactions; promote appropriate use of man’s resources and environment; [and] build a foundation for vocational competency.”48
These aims recalled the “Cardinal Principles” of 1918—discussed in Chapter Five. The early 1950s in Salt Lake seemed to exude an expansionist mood, viewing the curriculum as designed to meet a multiplicity of needs rather than the “training the mind” ideology favored by those who wanted a purely intellectual curriculum.
This progressive, student-needs theme continued to dominate the talk about schools. If a photographic essay on school activities—included in the superintendent’s report on the eve of Sputnik—indicates accurately what was happening, it appears as if schools had broken out of the traditional row on row of passive students being drilled by information-dispensing teachers. Pictures showed students “learning by doing”: brushing teeth, dressing up, painting, recording experiments, reading class rules, making maps, and writing poetry. Another segment, entitled “At school I have good friends,” showed students attending student council and deciding “what our class should do.” The high school section mentioned “hard study” as crucial to high school, of course, but placed decided emphasis on “social living.”
The report presented the traditional basics as a means to an end: to increase the enjoyment of literature, the ability to compute grocery bills, and even lay a foundation for technical careers. Science instruction was vital because of its increasing role in modern society and social studies and health education were designed to help students live healthy, “successful lives in a rapidly changing world.” In addition, Dr. Bennion highlighted the non-traditional aspects of the curriculum:
Of commanding importance is our responsibility to lift the eyes of children above the sordid aspects of living to which they are daily exposed. This we [p.179]attempt to do by giving them an appreciation of beauty and by showing them the constructive side of life. Every child needs daily contacts with great art, music and literature. Every child needs to see and to feel the beauty in commonplace things that can add enjoyment, tone, feeling and warmth to life.49
In 1960, when the next school report was published, the schools showed Sputnik’s effects: the content and cover showed not the happy faces of children “having fun at school,” but a stark line drawing of a rocket and a very factory-like representation of the new Highland High School under the caption: “Facing the Challenge.” The pictures inside showed serious students studying the hard sciences and illustrating their work at the Annual Science Fair—annual, that is, since 1958. Students were motivated by awards of $50 and $100 Savings Certificates. The winners were chosen not by professional educators, but by “a core of well-known scientists from the universities, colleges and industries of Utah.” Bennion acknowledged that “the stimulating effect of Sputnik is reflected throughout this biennial report.” Although Bennion held that the school could not abandon its social functions and ignore the needs of individual students, the nation’s perceived lack of scientists and mathematicians shaped definition of what was educationally important.50
As historian Joel Spring has suggested, during the Cold War the aims of American foreign policy had more to do with shaping American schools than did the deliberations of educators. Even foreign language instruction received federal funding; the State Department during the Eisenhower administration perceived fluency in foreign languages as a need of national security This national priority led Salt Lake schools to offer Latin, German, French, Spanish, Russian and Arabic. The Salt Lake District’s innovative Russian program at Highland High School won recognition in a Life magazine article. The early 1960s was the heyday of TV’s promise to revolutionize the schools; in 1959, a pilot project for teaching Russian by television to fifth graders in eleven schools was initiated, and a similar French program was initiated in seventeen elementary schools in Salt Lake City Not all students were eligible for this experimental program; it tended to favor those identified as having “high intelligence.” According to Spring, focusing on academically talented students was a common characteristic of Cold War reforms. However, as far as can be determined, these innovations did not have long-term effects on the district’s foreign language programs.51
Given the varied and sometimes conflicting nature of the demands placed on them, the schools of Salt Lake City probably did as good a job as could be expected. There is little to indicate that schools anywhere in the country resisted the encroachments of federally promoted science and mathematics curricula or [p.180] questioned the priorities which the national market dictated. The public schools’ resilience to quick change, in spite of frequent criticism, recalls Colm Brogan’s definition of democracy: It’s like a raft that can survive being tossed around on the ocean; in contrast to large totalitarian ships that sink when they hit a storm, democracy never quite sinks, but “dammit, your feet are always wet.” After more than a century of efforts to perfect what cannot be perfected, educators should have been used to sloshing around in the waters of reform.
Subversives in the Schools
The Cold War not only affected the curriculum, but spilled over into how teachers were regarded in the classroom. Any hint of criticizing or questioning American policies by a school teacher would raise the hackles of patrons. The early 1950s witnessed national debates over Communists in the government and other public institutions, stimulated by the antics of Wisconsin’s Senator Joseph McCarthy While not much “red-baiting” appears to have gone on in Utah schools, teachers who tried to stimulate critical thinking in students were sometimes labelled as “Communists,” simply for seeking to increase student awareness. Around 1951 a history teacher at West High School, Joe Curtis, was accused by some students and their parents of being a member of the Communist Party. The vice-principal, Elva Cotterell, asked if he were and he denied any connection. He was, she recalled, a very good teacher, though quite radical in his views of Washington policies. Parental pressure prompted his being reassigned to East High, but his reputation followed him. He became known as “that Communist social studies teacher” and negative student response undermined his effectiveness as a teacher. He was eventually declared unfit to teach by the administration and left the school system.52
Given Salt Lake’s conservative religious orientation and the election of a conservative governor, J. Bracken Lee, during the 1950s, the “great fear” of communism was a frequent topic of public discourse. Numerous LDS general conference addresses during this period inveighed against “Godless communism” and its handmaiden, socialism. Bennion’s name turned up with respect to communism when Elder Mark E. Peterson of the LDS Quorum of Twelve Apostles spoke to the Salt Lake Kiwanis Club. Speaking on the evils of communism, he lambasted Bennion for recommending the communist Daily Worker on a reading list sent to Salt Lake City teachers. Bennion was chagrined that Peterson had misread the reading list: the Daily Worker had been included on a “not recommended” list. Bennion confronted Elder Peterson with the facts in the case, upon which Peterson admitted having become emotional about the communist menace and that he indeed had been misinformed. He accompanied Bennion to the office of the Salt Lake Tribune and there wrote out an apology, printed the next day under the headline: “Apostle Makes Retraction.”53 In retrospect, one might [p.181]wonder why Bennion, with his liberal commitment to examining all aspects of controversial issues, would recommend that teachers not read such basic information about the “enemy.” The answer lies imbedded in Apostle Peterson’s public response. If Lynn Bennion had followed his intellectual bent for reflective examination of all issues, even communism, there is no doubt that his tenure as superintendent would have been curtailed. As a superintendent under the aegis of a publicly elected school board, Bennion had to moderate his intellectual perspective with a pragmatic need to survive.
Another “subversive” issue surfaced in the last year of Lynn Bennion’s administration, when he was compelled to mediate between patron demands that a teacher be fired and the constitutional guarantees on freedom of speech. In 1968 the U.S. Attorney General, Ramsey Clark, at the behest of Senator Everett Dirksen, requested the Subversive Activities Control Board to declare seven persons as bonafide members of a subversive organization, namely the Communist Party of the United States of America. Among the seven were Wayne D. Holley of Mapleton, Utah, and Robert Archuleta of Salt Lake City, who were identified respectively as chairman and secretary-treasurer of the Communist Party of Utah.54 When word spread to Utah, a delegation of parents from the Riverside School area, including the bishop of the LDS ward, wrote Superintendent Bennion demanding that Archuleta, who had been teaching in Salt Lake City since 1953, be suspended and that an investigation be conducted into the allegation.
Archuleta, who on constitutional grounds and on the advice of his lawyer refused to admit membership in the Party, met for three hours with the president of the board, George A. Christensen. Christensen concluded that Archuleta was a loyal American and that he could not be dismissed. Bennion concluded that the issue should be studied by legal experts, a position many parents interpreted as Bennion’s attempt to stone-wall them. The controversy led to telephone threats against Archuleta and his family, and at a public meeting called by the Riverside School PTA he heard comments such as “Kill the dirty son-of-a-bitch.” No evidence was ever presented at this meeting that he had taught communism to his students. But Archuleta noticed that children were apt to be more combative after weekends at home. At the PTA “hearing” he pointedly refused to answer questions of “Are you or aren’t you?” an attitude that didn’t sit well with the parents and local LDS leaders. Noting that Archuleta had never done anything wrong, one speaker at the meeting surmised that Archuleta must have been a very good teacher, because “they [the Russians] would never send us one of their worst people.” Others claimed that at times he had omitted the words “under God” from the daily pledge of allegiance in his classroom.55
Two petitions were circulated in the community: one to keep him and one to fire him from the Riverside School, but according to Archuleta, the latter petition had many more signatures. The PTA meeting passed a resolution that he [p.182]be removed, but the board attorney handed down an opinion that to remove a teacher for having political beliefs without evidence of attempts to undermine the government would open up the board to a law suit. Consequently, in February 1969 Archuleta was appointed to head a new adult school program funded by the federal government, designed to help dropouts get their high school diplomas. In December 1969 the U.S. Court of Appeals reversed the decision of the Subversive Activities Control Board, saying that Holley’s and Archuleta’s constitutional right of free speech had been violated by the board’s findings and the following year the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Court of Appeals decision.56
A New Kind of Teacher Corps
When a district supervisor approached veteran teacher Louise Benz at Irving Junior High School in Sugarhouse, circa 1950s, about the need to modify her approach to teaching English through formal “grammar, diagramming and all the things that later were absolutely forbidden,” she stood up to the pressure to modernize her approach: “Look here, dearie, I was teaching this when you were in diapers and I am not going to change.” A staunch Presbyterian who started off her first class of every day with silent prayer, Benz was feared and liked for the selfsame attributes of strictness and unyielding discipline. Her approach to classroom management she encapsulated in her advice to a new teacher: “Dearie, that first six weeks is hell. Then I just sit back and coast.” She was thoroughly organized, taught her students how to write, and knew precisely what she was about from the opening bell.57
Although national affairs shaped the curriculum of the Cold War era, it is important to recognize that teachers were by no means inconsequential; Louise Benz’s perspective and attitude captures the essence of the traditional teacher’s role: that of a knowledgeable professional, in charge and knowing exactly where she was going with her students. In sharp contrast to Benz’s approach to teaching English, a new teacher at West High, Earl Harmer, during the same period was successfully minimizing formal grammar instruction, emphasizing student writing and using Life and Time magazines in the classroom. His classes put together their own reference library and he emphasized themes in literature such as propaganda, prejudice, or the problems of growing up, but to satisfy the demands of the formal curriculum he also had his classes study one Shakespeare play each year. On one occasion he was criticized by the superintendent for requiring too much knowledge of a play’s content on examinations. Dr. Bennion would apparently have preferred more attention to meaning and process, but Harmer felt he [p.183]was giving adequate attention to both aspects of teaching.58 Both Benz and Harmer can probably be described as successful teachers, although one was very traditional and the other flexible and open-ended. However, both were subject-matter oriented and did not involve students to any great degree in the development of classroom materials. At the other end of the subject matter—student spectrum was Dortha McDonald, a student-centered and socially aware teacher who recalled: “I really didn’t have to know much to teach first grade, but I had to know and love children.” She perceived students as “having a good sense of humor and a deep understanding of the problems of life”; that perspective shaped her own handling of classroom process and discipline.59
When Lynn Bennion became superintendent in 1945, he faced a general teacher shortage, exacerbated by the war taking many male teachers into the armed forces and by attracting others to war industries. The ban on married women teachers had been relaxed, as had certification requirements. With increased class sizes clearly in the wings as service personnel returned home and continued to establish families, the district needed more teachers. However, according to a 1948 national survey, 94 percent of the people surveyed considered teaching as an unacceptable choice of careers; among the major reasons for this was the abysmally low reward for a life-time of service in the classrooms. In the post war era teachers made relatively less than persons involved in manufacturing, let alone the much larger salary gap between teachers and other “professionals.” This was a continuation of an historic pattern in which teacher salaries have always tended to be lower than wages in manufacturing and other professional occupations, even as the requirements to become a teacher have increased.60
According to Dean John Wahlquist, a salary increase in Salt lake City around 1947 led to a substantial 200 percent increase in students deciding to enter the education program at the University of Utah. But even this increase, which made the beginning salary $2,280, was still low compared with many other similar cities and was, according to Wahlquist, “not enough to hold a large majority of graduating teachers in the profession.”61
Teachers were generally subservient to the board and to the administration. They simply had nothing to do with establishing salary schedules, and the paternalistic perspective the Salt lake board displayed toward teachers was not untypical of conservative cities in the nation at large. Although Bennion wanted to improve the standing of teachers in the community, he was himself saddled with a powerful board that let him know negotiation was out of the question when dealing with teachers’ salaries. Dorothy Smith, secretary of the Salt Lake City Teacher’s Association in 1947, recalled sitting in on many “bitter meetings” in [p.184]which the president of the board, LeGrand Backman, would assert that “We are the Board of Education”—meaning “we are in control and you do just as we say.” Disputes of this kind were regular occurrences, “just not nice at all,” and stood out in stark contrast to the chummy relationship that existed in earlier years.
Trying to mediate between the board and the teachers who pushed for negotiation was probably Bennion’s most trying and difficult task as superintendent. When the board gave the president of the Salt Lake Teacher’s Association a mere two to three minutes to make his case for a salary increase, Bennion thought it degrading, and he supported the move to have a professional spokesman appointed by the Teacher’s Association.62 Attorney John S. Boyden was the first person appointed to this job; many board members resented his presence as a negotiator. In Bennion’s view, much of the hostility grew out of the fact that some members of the board were bishops and stake presidents in the Mormon church, used to a top-down relationship with subordinates. Now they were forced by another faithful Mormon, Boyden, to deal with their subordinates as equals.
In 1947 the Teachers Association, with Boyden as its executive secretary, demanded that the board set a pay schedule of from $2,220 to $3,840. The teachers were not satisfied, even when the board adjusted their offer upwards; for the first time in the history of the district the teachers refused to sign their contracts. The board stalled until pressure was exerted by groups such as the Junior Chamber of Commerce, the Salt Lake Council of the PTA, and the Salt Lake Council of Veterans of World War II to meet the last teacher offer, which they finally did by a vote of seven to five. A strike was averted.63 Eventually Bennion set up a “professional relations committee” consisting of four board members, four teachers and their executive secretary, the superintendent, and the president of the administrators’ association. In time this group developed a negotiating process for salary concerns.64
However, in 1951-52 the negotiating process broke down and teachers once again gave their unsigned contracts to Boyden. Bennion played a mediating role, but his tendency to empathize with the teachers wore thin; he became frustrated “and emotionally very distressed” by what he perceived as teacher intransigence and their refusal to see that the board did not have unlimited resources. The teacher negotiators simply said that resources were Bennion’s and the board’s problem—they just wanted to teach and to be paid decently to do it. According to Earl Harmer, on one occasion the board agreed to meet the teachers’ demands for an increase in dollar support to Blue Cross and Blue Shield Insurance plus a twenty-five dollar annual salary increase.65 The board may not have wanted to “negotiate,” but results indicate that they were dealing directly with an increasingly aggressive teacher association.
[p.185]In the last decade of Bennion’s tenure teacher salaries became more an issue involving the Utah Education Association and the state legislature and governor. More and more of the budget was coming from statewide sources and local involvement was reduced accordingly In the early 1950s conservative Governor J. Bracken Lee consistently blocked larger state appropriations for education, aided in large measure by fiscally conservative Mormon legislators and church leaders, particularly J. Reuben Clark, Jr., of the First Presidency. With the accession of former educator David O. McKay to the presidency of the LDS church in 1951, there was a shift toward church support of teacher demands. That and continued pressure from the teacher organizations led to increased state aid to public schools and for a few years there was a lull in the conflict. However, during George D. Clyde’s tenure as governor the issue of increased appropriations rose again. Teachers were more militant, the governor was obdurate, and this time considerable church opposition was evident. The fragile alliance built during the 1950s between the church hierarchy and the teachers came apart. Eventually teachers throughout Utah went on strike in 1964 and the National Education Association imposed sanctions on the state. Utah teachers, a large number from the Sale Lake District, had become examples of the new assertiveness gripping the teaching profession nationwide.66
When Lynn Bennion addressed the teacher’s institute in September 1964 he may have had the controversy in mind as he counselled teachers about the need to enlarge perspectives. At least for the Deseret News editor, Bennion provided in his comments some guidelines which it thought might be useful in avoiding what went wrong “on both sides—in the summer’s unpleasantness and what must be avoided in future school controversies.” Good will and a sense of self-esteem were necessary for differing points of view to be reconciled: “It is not necessary to have the same points of view. It is necessary to be understood, appreciated, and respected. To create a good human climate, we must have relative freedom from fears and from prejudice, and the ability to dispassionately analyze information from many sources. If we can rid ourselves of biases prejudices, and fears, there is hope that we can understand and appreciate others.”67 This reflects Bennion’s persistent liberal, reasoned, non-confrontational perspective. Within the decade of the 1960s, when protests over Vietnam and racism became ever more strident, many would raise questions as to whether it was possible or even desirable to be so detached in decision making. However, Bennion strove to implement some sense of detachment in his administration of Salt Lake City’s public schools. It pained him when the press of events and political, economic, and ideological tensions simply did not allow his ideals to be fully realized.
In the aftermath of these years, a new governor was elected, Democrat Calvin Rampton, whose platforms had included “adequate school finance programs.” His administration and the new legislature, in which Democrats had a [p.186]majority in both houses, enacted a “considerably expanded finance program,” which Rampton hoped would give Utah’s elementary and secondary teachers “not only a living wage, but a wage with which they could live in dignity.”68
A new phase of teacher participation in the political process had been reached. The U.E.A. was now a bonafide union. As Leonard Carter notes: “The change [in the period 1947 to 1964] was from the traditional ‘master-servant’ model of employment relationship to one of legal equals in negotiations.” As John Evans reflected on the events of 1963-64 he said that the relationship changed precisely when the teachers called their two day “recess” and some boards actually docked teachers for being absent: “[T]he old paternalistic attitude toward teachers just wasn’t going to work anymore … those days were gone.”69
RELEASED TIME (REPRISE)
According to M. Lynn Bennion, the LDS church never pressured him on any school issue. In a sense, the church per se did not have to exert pressure: LDS members of the community were more than assertive in seeing their values represented in school matters. Mormons were in the majority and, consequently, for most of his term in office the board was almost entirely Mormon.70 Stereotypes aside, however, Mormons do not agree on every public issue, as illustrated in 1956 when the seminary issue again became the focus of concern.
At a regular board meeting on 12 June some two hundred and fifty people turned up. The meeting had to be adjourned, as in 1943, to the auditorium of Bryant Junior High School. The LDS church Board of Education, through its representatives, Ernest L. Wilkinson and William E. Berrett, planned to request that high school graduation credit, up to one unit, should be given for Bible courses taught in “private schools” (i.e., LDS seminaries). The president of the board, LeGrand Backman, at the outset of the meeting had announced that the board would not make a decision on the issue that night, but would take it under advisement and “come to their own conclusions.”
William Berrett argued that granting credit would make seminary students “more Moral, God-fearing and Honorable.” He claimed that the course of study would be submitted to the board of education and the staff to “demonstrate it is non-sectarian.”71 Ernest L. Wilkinson, head of the LDS Church Education System and president of Brigham Young University, claimed such credit would be constitutional, citing recent Supreme Court decisions.72
In response, at least seven individuals, including representatives of the Religious Liberty Association, the Committee for Religious Freedom, the Salt Lake [p.187]Ministerial Association, and the Nevada-Utah Conference of Seventh Day Adventists voiced their strong opposition to the proposal on the grounds that it was an indirect support of religion, that it went contrary to national and the Utah constitutions, that it violated separation of church and state, and put churches not able to afford such a program at a distinct disadvantage. Dr. D. D. Stockman, who had presided at the 1943 seminary debate, reiterated his opposition to the entire practice, but indicated that while in 1943 there had been evidence that many people wanted released time, he was not aware that a large number of people was requesting credit in 1956.73
Unlike the 1943 debate, the credit proposal was put on hold by the board, and they referred the issue to the Teacher and School Work Committee for study and recommendation. The board’s lawyers concluded that credit would be constitutional as long as the content could be evaluated “using the same standard of scholarship as used in other courses.” The course would also have to be as free “from religious instruction and sectarian control as any class in literature, history or mathematics.”74
While Superintendent Bennion did not get involved in the public debate, it was his personal and professional opinion that such Bible courses could not be non-sectarian. They were designed to indoctrinate students with LDS views and would not bear up under close scrutiny.75 Perhaps the requirement of having seminary courses scrutinized by professional educators dissuaded Wilkinson from persisting with the plan; in the fall of 1956, Berrett withdrew the proposal. According to a New York Times article, two days before the board meeting a number of board members (all of whom were LDS) were quoted as wishing “it hadn’t come up.”76
The Salt Lake School District’s historic refusal to give credit for released-time religious instruction was vindicated by the decision of the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in 1981. The Appeals Court upheld the 1978 ruling of a federal judge that the granting credit for LDS seminary courses in the Logan City School District was an unwarranted intermingling of church and state. In the same breath, however, it reaffirmed the ruling of Zorach vs Clawson, upholding the concept of released-time religious instruction.77
One final postscript indicates that the tension over released-time seminary was still alive in the 1960s, but also illustrates the changes occurring in the Mormon community and its relationship to its public schools. Esther Landa, a prominent member of the Jewish congregation in Salt Lake City, was elected to the board of education in 1958. After a successful term she sought re-election in the [p.188]1960s and seemed to be assured a win. Her assurance was, however, rudely shattered on the Sunday before the election, when she was told by a Mormon friend and school teacher that at his priesthood meeting that morning, claims were made that Landa planned to use her influence to abolish the system of released-time seminary classes. Sensing certain defeat if this were accepted as fact, she mobilized her resources and the day before the election distributed to the electorate a statement categorically denying that the elimination of the released time policy was part of her educational platform. She was re-elected.78
The End of an Era
In the fall of 1967 M. Lynn Bennion turned 65, the traditional age for retirement, and shortly thereafter he proffered his retirement to the board, effective July 1968. He had been elected to the superintendency twelve times since 1945, a remarkable record even in the days of long-term superintendents. A special board meeting was called and President George Christensen expressed the board’s opinion that Bennion should continue for another year to tie up loose ends, help prepare programs for the upcoming legislative session, and continue the professional negotiations with teachers. It was, in Bennion’s words, “too interesting and exciting a time to withdraw,” and he stayed on at the board’s behest. At the same time, the board decided that his Assistant Superintendent, Dr. Arthur C. Wiscombe, would succeed him on 1 July 1969. In accepting his last election as superintendent, Bennion expressed the hope that the district would be able “to retain a climate where our teachers feel free to speak and will avoid discontinuing services to our students.”79
In reporting Bennion’s retirement the following year, John Cummins, the Salt Lake Tribune‘s education writer, summarized Bennion’s educational credo: “It is paramount that we meet the human needs. Somehow this must come first.” While acknowledging immense technological and academic growth in the schools, the former student of progressive education at Berkeley and the person who had tried to make religious education respond to people here and now was still convinced that schools must serve a social function: “Most of our problems are people problems. … [M]eeting social problems has always been a part of our purpose in education, but the factor of rapid social change makes this a time of stress and challenge for the educator.” Revealing his basic sense that ultimately human beings are what public education should be about, Bennion was quoted as believing that
[p]arents and teachers can cause failures because of wrong assumptions—the assumption that the child’s cognitive learning is more important than the child—that this learning must take place on schedule, that all first graders must read no matter what the effort to teach them does to their personalities and their self-concepts … . Another false assumption is that we can do all this in school. Many [p.189]of our present schools are giving most children academic success, college success and middle class status. But we are not adequately giving their people a sense of social responsibility and compassion. We must change our ways—get out of the school house and bring children and young adults together around great ideals and give them a chance to meet and work with people of other races and economic positions—give them a chance to act and to give of themselves in the improvement of the life of others.80
These words describe in large measure the posture some educators attempted to take in the ensuing decade as racism, the problems of poverty, and the issues of war and peace began to reshape the aims and purposes of schools. Perhaps Bennion saw what was on the horizon, but his successor inherited the revolution.
As he concluded his autobiography some eighteen years after his retirement, eighty-six year old M. Lynn Bennion recalled the words of John Dewey when he defined education as the “continuous reconstruction of experience,” adding that only in perceiving education in this way “can one have a zest for venturing and exploring in the never ending search for constructive solutions to conditions that need improvement.”81
Bennion’s many years of service to the community was publicly recognized in 1980 when a new school was named the “M. Lynn Bennion Elementary School”—the first Salt Lake City superintendent to be so honored.
[p.163]2. Howard S. McDonald, Brief Autobiography (Privately published, c. 1970), 36-37. Copy in Brigham Young University Library McDonald had begun work on an Ed.D. degree at Berkeley in 1925, but did not complete the work for the degree until 1949, shortly before leaving BYU. See McDonald, Brief Autobiography, 65.
4. McDonald, Brief Autobiography, 57. McDonald served at BYU until 1949 when he left to assume the joint presidency of Los Angeles State College of Applied Arts and Sciences and Los Angeles City College, positions he held until 1958. Subsequently he was a Regional Representative for the U.S. Commissioner of Education from 1962 until 1964. He died in 1986.
[p.164]5. M. Lynn Bennion, Oral History, 15 May 1973. I conducted these oral history interviews. The transcripts are in the Frederick S. Buchanan Papers, Special Collections, Marriott Library, Uniiversity of Utah. They are in a rough draft form and consequently no pagination has been assigned to them.
[p.165]6. Recollections of a Schoolman: The Autobiography of M. Lynn Bennion (Salt Lake City: Western Epics, 1987), 89-90; H. Hartshorne and M.A. May, “A Summary of the Work of Character Education Inquiry,” Religious Education, 25 (Sept. 1930), 607-19; 754-62.
7. “First Presidency Sets Standards for Church Educators,” Deseret News Church Section, 13 Aug. 1938; reprinted by the LDS church as “The Charted Course of the Church in Education,” Aspen Grove, Utah, 8 Aug. 1939. Frequently reprinted it has become something of a standard for determining the content and method of LDS education.
12. Bennion, Recollections, 128; Board of Education, Minutes of Special Meeting, 26 Apr. 1945. For list of members on the board as of 3 Apr. 1945 see Minutes, 10 Apr. 1945; conversation with M. Lynn Bennion, 14 Apr. 1992.
[p.168]13. See letters in Bennion Papers, especially those of Edith and Charles Shepherd, 28 Apr.; Heber C. Snell, 1 May; T. Edgar Lyon, 27 Apr.; Sterling McMurrin, 5 May; Sterling Larson, 27 Apr.; Feramorz Y. Fox, 2 May; Lillian H. Whelan, 3 May 1945.
[p.169]16. Al Church, “The Controversy of Mormons and Masons, Reflected in the Salt Lake School Board as recalled by M. Lynn Bennion, Lawrence Schroeder, Sally Mason, R. Y. Gray, Paul B. Cannon [and] Newell Dayton,” Term Paper, University of Utah, March 1973, 9-10.
[p.174]33. Bennion, Oral History, 10 Apr. 1974; Esther Landa, Oral History, 17 May 1991. Landa (the only Jewish board member) told me that just before this mission call was issued, she had commented to her husband that the problem could, in fact, be solved with a mission call.
38. Deseret News, 5 June 1920, as cited in A. I. Champlin, “Editorial Policies of the Deseret News and Salt Lake Tribune Newspapers Towards Education in Utah,” M.A. thesis, University of Utah, 1963, 58-59; Etbert D. Thomas to LeGrand Backman, 9 Apr. 1949.
41. Republican campaign literature explicitly tagged Thomas as a “communist.” During a round-table discussion of federal aid at the UEA convention, he was booed by the educators assembled in the Mormon Tabernacle. Rulon R. Garfield, “An Approach to the Politics of Elbert D. Thomas,” M.A. thesis, University of Utah, 1956, chapter 1.
[p.178]47. Orvil C. England, “Cooperative University Achievement of Students Having Eleven Years and Twelve Years Elementary-Secondary Preparation,” Ed.D. diss., Leland Stanford Junior University, 1947; Bennion, Oral History, 3 June 1991.
51. Joel Spring, The Sorting Machine Revisited (New York: Longman, 1989), 64, 69; “Salt Lake Adds Russian to 3Rs,” Life (6 Oct. 1958): 113-16; Salt Lake Tribune, 12 Aug., 3 Oct., 22 Oct. 1959; Shawn H. Ford, “Salt Lake City’s Curriculum and Implementation, 1943-1972” Term Paper, University of Utah, 1990.
[p.82]56. “Informers Tag 2 Utahns as Commies,” Deseret News, 4 Oct. 1968; “Court Calls Halt to Red Disclosure,” Deseret News, 13 Dec. 1969; “Justices Let Ruling Stand against Subversive Control,” Deseret News, Apr. 1970. I am indebted to Robert Archuleta for newspaper clippings dealing with this issue.
63. Benmort, Oral History, 3 June 1991, 24-25; Leonard D. Carter, “The Development of an Adversarial Employment Relationship between Teachers and Boards of Education in Utah, 1940-1970,” Ph.D. diss., University of Utah, 1985, 55-65.
[p.185]66. West, My Life as an Advocate, 82-96, 123-30; for the development of unionism among Utah teachers, see W. Dale Rees, “The Professional Education Association Movement in Utah: An Interpretive History,” Ph.D. diss., University of Utah, 1977.
71. Board of Education, Minutes, 12 June 1956. For a detailed treatment of this request for credit, see my “Masons and Mormons: Released-Time Politics in Salt Lake City, 1930-1956,” Journal of Mormon History 19 (Spring 1993): 104-14.
74. See letters of Paul B. Cannon to Judge Rulon W. Clark, 23 Aug. 1956; Rulon W. Clark and Paul E Royall to LeGrand P Backman and Members of Salt Lake Board of Education, 4 Dec. 1956, in appendix to Church, “Controversy of Mormons and Masons.”