Long Beach Teachers and War - Part I

Gerrie Schipske
LONG BEACH High School of 1910. Some went off to war.

Back in the days when the Teachers Association of Long Beach (TALB) was known as the City Teachers’ Club of Long Beach, much was written by that organization regarding the impact of war on the local educational system.

Although formed in 1913, the first written mention of the impact of war was in the City Teacher’s Club of Long Beach Year Book dated November 1921. It included a brief article quoting the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Will C. Wood, concerning the role of schools in the aftermath of World War I:

“Especially should we dwell the role of training and the building of character. The wave of crime about us, the growing disregard of law, the orgies that shock decent citizens are due largely to the passions unloosed during the war. These passions must be shackled if civilization is to survive. It to the schools and the homes we must look for the moral training necessary to insure the future safety of America.”

Following that statement, the Long Beach Superintendent of Schools, W.I. Stephens penned:

“If ever the American people lose faith in their schools, it will be an acknowledgement that democracy itself is futile and unworthy of perpetuity.”

In the early 1930s, the City Teachers’ Club published numerous articles providing assistance to teachers on how to incorporate teaching about the “Great War” in their classrooms, reminding teachers in November 1930 that most of the boys and girls in junior high were born after the closed of “the great conflict and that many of those now in senior high schools were too young to remember.”

A year later, the Teachers’ Journal featured the names of 102 male and female teachers who had served in World War I, including Douglass Newcomb and Russell Sprong who would later serve as presidents of the City Teachers’ Club.

In 1932, several teachers traveled during their vacation to Europe and then wrote of their impressions:

“What he said I do not remember, for it was late at night when he finally arrived all worn out from his many speeches that day,” wrote the teacher. “But I do recall he spoke impressively and he was well applauded by his listeners who numbered not less than 60,000.” A year later, teachers began writing articles warning that “Hitler is a challenge to world peace.”

The January 1940 Teachers’ Journal featured an editorial wishing everyone a “Happy New Year” with the hope that the “Americas can be quarantined from the wars of the older continents. A hope that finally man will realize the futility of war and resolved that never again will he waste his energies and his substance through war.”

By December 1940, Long Beach schools were required by the federal government to provide training for both military services and for the defense industries. With the opening of the Douglas Aircraft Company plant in Long Beach, the demands for training personnel multiplied and by 1941, Long Beach schools were turning out 1000 per month to work in the local defense plant form programs held at Polytechnic High, John Dewey School, the Broadway Vocation Center and a rented building at the corner of Olive and Third.

The Teachers’ Journal reported that the Long Beach schools were enrolling and preparing “3000 men to design, build, maintain and fly aircraft.” Classes in welding were held from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., midnight to 4 a.m. and 4 a.m. to 6:30 a.m. Men employed in a nearby factory reported to work at 8 am following their class.

Faced with the problems of illiteracy of enlisted men in the army, who according to their commanding officer “could neither read orders nor write messages,” the Long Beach schools stepped forward and provided a Long Beach teacher to instruct the men how to read and write. (More than 70 percent of the troops in WWII had less than a high school education.)

When the war reached the U.S., many teachers stepped up to serve in the military and to work “Victory Shifts” at Douglas. Others took tools, recreation equipment and books to the relocation centers to which the Japanese were evacuated.




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