There’s a name I haven’t heard in a while

Posted 6 October 2009 by

On Monday evening, October 5, 2009, I watch the PBS program “Inventing LA: The Chandlers and Their Times.” Knowing about the quality reporting attributed to the Los Angeles Times in recent times, I decided to watch this program.

With its recognized quality today (even after a buyout from Chicago), I was a bit surprised to find out some of the earlier history of this newspaper. Of course, being aware of the origins of yellow journalism, the history of the LA Times did not have surprised me too much.

(I guess my disinterest in the movies of Roman Pulanski, particularly Chinatown, has been justified.)

One thing caught my attention during the program, though. Most of the Chandler family was politically to the far right wing, and that some were members of the John Birch Society.

I haven’t heard about them in a long time.

From this YouTube video, the John Birch Society doesn’t sound all that bad, does it? The problem is that I have a good memory of how this ideology affected my education.

When I was growing up in a suburb of St. Louis, Missouri, it required a two-thirds majority to pass school operating levies and bond issues. Whenever it takes two “yes” votes to override a single “no” vote, there were problems even building the doors to they later had to try to keep open. This was during a period of population growth in the area.

Then there was the cries that the school district was out to destroy American youth.

  • Brain Washing. One social studies teacher had classes study so-called “brain washing” techniques so the students could be aware of the possible dangers. The unit included part of a class where paper sacks were placed over each student’s head as a way of forcing isolation from classmates. A picture of the class with the heads under paper sacks became public. The picture was used as proof that students were being brain washed in class.
  • Confusing Sex Roles. Some classes were “boys only” and “girls only” in these days. It caused wailing and gnashing of teeth when the right-wing discovered the “girls only” Home Mechanics class taught how to repair scratches in finished furniture and replace a frayed lamp power cord. There was more loud laments when two boys who wanted to be chefs (in one case, after serving in the US Navy) were specially sectioned together into a “girls only” Foods I class. I have the yearbook pictures to prove these abominations happened!
  • Teaching Human Reproduction. Actually, it was teaching human reproduction where the right wing least expected it, although it was clearly in the course description. There was a “girls only” Child Development class taught in the Industrial Arts (Home Economics) department. This class studied those things that affected child development from conception. The purpose was how to raise smarter kids. The right-wing monitored biology classes and health classes, where human reproduction was only an optional part of the school-mandated curriculum (but always taught by biology teachers anyway). This one caught the right-wing off guard. So, the school district was condemned for teaching a course that upheld the pro-life point of view that life began at conception.

An interesting sidebar to this was how the Hawktalk, the student newspaper, managed to create a stir over all this. The student staff had a fake article in the layout one day when the Journalism II teacher approved the paper for printing. When sent for printing, the fake article was replaced with an article that supported the school district in all this. One of the male students in Foods I was quoted as saying something like he couldn’t see anything involving sex in food, unless there were male and female pork chops. By the time time the school administration found out this happened, a large number of the papers had been distributed to students. So, they let them all be distributed.

Unfortunately, the tax levy for the next fall still wasn’t approved. This created political fallout that almost limited my junior year of high school to one semester. In addition, this switch at Hazelwood Senior High School in 1970 resulted in the school district publication rules that eventually ended up being reviewed and approved by the US Supreme Court in a case involving Hazelwood East High School in 1988.

(Since the Hazelwood School District was the publisher of the paper, the Supreme Court was correct. One thing journalism students need to learn is that the publisher controls the content. Period.)

As you can probably guess, I have no love lost on extremism on the right or left sides. There are consequences to actions. You need to be consistent in how you read documents like the constitution. Good intentions don’t cut it if you do not have your facts right or consider all the facts.

What concerns me today is that there are those handling issues like the way they were handled by the John Birchers in the 1960s. Haven’t we learned yet?

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