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Willard E. Goslin (1899–1969)

A nationally acclaimed school superintendent, Willard E. Goslin became a symbol of the end of educational progressivism, when he was forced to resign from the Pasadena, California, schools in November 1950. Goslin's ouster was a victory for citizens' groups that deemed his support of racial understanding, outdoor education, child guidance, and mental health as evidence of subversive, un-American values.

Goslin was raised on a Missouri farm. He began teaching in the rural schools of Boone County, Missouri, in 1916. After receiving a B.S. degree from Northeast Missouri State Teachers College (later, Truman State University) in 1922, he was appointed principal (1922–1923) and superintendent (1923–1928) in Slater, Missouri. He earned an M.A. degree from the University of Missouri in 1928 and served as superintendent of Webster Groves, Missouri, from 1930 to 1944. In 1944 Goslin was named superintendent of Minneapolis schools. During his tenure there he was named one of the five outstanding public school administrators in the country. In 1948, while serving as Minneapolis's superintendent, he concurrently held the office of president of the American Association of School Administrators. That year he also accepted the superintendency of the Pasadena (California) Public Schools, a move that was to bring him considerable fame as well as disappointment.

As a Progressive educator, he soon found himself the center of criticism from a vigorous and reactionary minority of Pasadena's residents, who criticized him not only for his advocacy of Progressive education, but also for his "ideological" support of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), his inclusion of sex education in the curriculum, his concern for African Americans, and his advocacy of racial integration of the schools.

In June 1950 Goslin and the Pasadena School Board proposed an increased tax levy, which was soundly defeated by a two-to-one vote. From then on, both the board and the superintendent experienced increasing difficulties. Goslin endeavored to prune the budget and carry on. The forces that, in the closing hours of the tax election campaign, had indulged in a number of misrepresentations and attacks on the superintendent, had created a rupture between the administration and the lay board. Early in November the board asked for his resignation. After a few weeks of discussion, private and public, which David Hulburd describes as "Turmoil in Pasadena," Mr. Goslin resigned from his position.

Although public criticism ultimately forced him to resign from his position, an action that stunned professional educators throughout the country, it was the lack of press support that became an important factor in his eventual ouster from the school board. Educators' interest in such an event is obvious, but the situation offered enough drama to stimulate a great deal of interest for the public as well. The forced resignation of Willard Goslin as superintendent of Pasadena schools had enough appeal to warrant prominent attention in the national press as in, for example, Life magazine.

At least two careful investigations found Goslin's dismissal to result largely from the demands of a comparatively small but very vocal group of critics. Goslin had received a warm welcome as the new superintendent. The end of the honeymoon period began with the defeat of a tax proposal to provide additional educational funds. The organization that had spearheaded the campaign to defeat the tax proposal went on to denounce as leftist and educationally unsound the "Progressive Education" that Goslin was alleged to represent. Among the charges hurled at Goslin by the Pasadena unit of Pro-America and others were his association with W. H. Kilpatrick and the "Columbia [Teachers College] cult of progressive educators," and his support of a program alleged "to sell our children on the collapse of our way of life" (Hulburd, p. 89).

Despite untruths and what appears to be an absence of justice, the Goslin case involved events that transpired while he was superintendent. Not all attacks on schools of the day reached such a dramatic and pronounced climax, but even in more typical cases, where school personnel were not threatened to such an extent, intense assaults had widespread ramifications among school employees. For instance, a severe undermining of teachers' morale during the attack on Goslin took place in Pasadena. A 1955 survey conducted by the National Education Association's Defense Commission substantiated the effects of attacks on schools of the day. The study noted "various morale problems, and numerous resignations by teachers as well as by administrators"(p. 20).

Responding to criticisms of the public schools during this period, educators faced a familiar dilemma. On the one hand, the public schools belong to the people and should never be exempt from critical examination and appraisal by the people; nor should educators be unduly defensive or smug about claimed achievement for schools. On the other hand, the attacks on the schools were incited and supported by a minority and were often manifestly unfair and distorted.

Following the Pasadena crisis, Ernest O. Melby, dean of the School of Education at New York University, wrote American Education under Fire: The Story of the 'Phony Three-R Fight. Issued as one of the Freedom Pamphlets of the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith and sponsored by the American Education Fellowship, the John Dewey Society, and two constituent bodies of the National Education Association, this publication analyzed the methods used by the organizations that systematically attacked public schools of the day, particularly Allen Zoll's National Council for American Education. Over and above this Melby's discussion focused on identifying the characteristics of a "good education" and outlining procedures by which critics and criticism may be properly answered. His concluding section demonstrates how educators and interested citizens can cooperate to secure better schools.

In September 1951 Goslin became head of the Division of School Administration and Community Development at George Peabody College for Teachers. The National Education Association gave him their American Education Award for 1952. In 1953 Goslin contributed a chapter to the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development's 1953 yearbook, Forces Affecting American Education. His chapter, titled "The People and Their Schools," drove home the idea that the success with which public schools do their job depends upon the interest, support, and participation of all the citizens of every community and their understanding of educational principles and practices. In 1961, Seoul University awarded Goslin an honorary doctorate for his work as coordinator of a Korean teacher education project, hailing him as "the father of modern education in Korea" (New York Times, p. 27).

Goslin's work with Peabody College's "Multi-Year Project" in Korea was a capstone of his professional activities at Peabody. However, his seminars and regular classes were his true love. He specialized in teaching "foundations of education" and history of education, as well as teaching a colloquium on the superintendency each semester. It has been reported that his classes sometimes reached 80 to 100 students. Students and colleagues remember him as an excellent orator, having a "Will Rogers" kind of demeanor. He retired from teaching in 1966 at the age of sixty-seven, but remained actively involved with his students on a daily basis until his death in 1969.


AXTELLE, GEORGE E. 1951. "Public Relations and Educational Statesmanship: Next Steps." Progressive Education 27–28 (May):214–216.

GOSLIN, WILLARD E. 1953. "The People and Their Schools," In Forces Affecting American Education, ed. William Van Til. Washington, DC: National Education Association.

HULBURD, DAVID. 1951. This Happened in Pasadena. New York: Macmillan.

Life. 1950. "Editorial." 29 (24):95–96.

MELBY, ERNEST O. 1951. "American Education under Fire: The Story of the 'Phony Three-R Fight." The New York Times Magazine September 23:9, 57–60.

NATIONAL EDUCATION ASSOCIATION, COMMISSION FOR THE DEFENSE OF DEMOCRACY THROUGH EDUCATION. 1951. State of the Nation in Regard to Attacks on the Schools and Problems of Concern to Teachers. Washington, DC: National Education Association.

The New York Times. "Obituary." March 8, 1969, p.7.

Who's Who in America. 1950–1951. Vol. 26. Chicago: Marquis.


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