From Buffalo to Wichita (1943)

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Agnes A. Meyer, wife of Washington Post publisher Eugene Meyer, took to the pages of Educational Leadership in November 1943 to share her observations on how World War II was affecting life in the United States. Meyer collected people’s stories during trips around the country. The result, “From Buffalo to Wichita,” (PDF) is noteworthy for its genuinely troubling stories—and its unabashed use of purple prose.

Read the article: From Buffalo to Wichita (PDF)

Meyer writes, “If precedence can be given to any of our social cankers, when so many of them are grave and each of them affects the other, I should select child labor as problem number one because it is a serious threat to the nation’s future.”

With schools closing or dramatically overcrowded and understaffed, and many adolescents being under minimal supervision, child labor had become a serious issue that the government was working to address with funding for more structured programs, such as recreation centers.

Meyer also puts her spin on the “zoot suit movement” of the era, saying, the zoot-suiters “provoke quarrels, cut up plush chairs, break windows, or crash parties.” Her catalog of social ills is thankfully accompanied by rays of hope in the form of successful community school programs and recreational activities that engage children.

The article puts issues we face in schools today in stark perspective, and it could be the basis for a fascinating document-based lesson plan.

In “My Back Pages,” we look at important issues through the historical lens of the Educational Leadership archives. ASCD members can access EL issues from 1943 to the present by signing in.

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