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George I. Sanchez (1906–1972)

Career, Contribution

Reformer and activist, George I. Sanchez is recognized for his contributions to educational equity, especially for Mexican-American children. Sanchez was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and attended schools in Arizona and New Mexico before graduation from high school in Albuquerque. He taught for eight years in rural schools while working on his bachelor's degree and taking weekend and summer courses at the University of New Mexico. After graduation Sanchez received a fellowship for graduate study from the General Education Board (GEB), a foundation funded by the Rockefellers, and the funding provided the means for him to receive his master's degree in education with specializations in educational psychology and Spanish, and his Ed. D. in educational administration from the University of California at Berkeley. His master's thesis concerned the inequity of using I.Q. tests developed for English-speaking children for evaluation of Spanish-speaking children.


The GEB provided the funding for his first position as director of the Division of Information and Statistics of the New Mexico State Department of Education (1931–1935). Sanchez's abilities were noticed by prestigious, national foundations. In 1935 the Julius Rosenwald Fund (founded by the owner of Sears Roebuck) asked Sanchez to conduct field studies concerning rural and Negro education in the south and in Mexico. The latter resulted in Mexico: A Revolution by Education, which remained the definitive source on education in Mexico for many years. Two years later Sanchez was invited to become a member of the Venezuelan Ministry of Education and to be responsible for organizing a normal school for secondary teachers. After serving as director of the Instititio Pedagogica Nacional from 1937 to 1938, he returned to New Mexico and to the renewal of a battle over school finance reform. Prior to leaving for Venezuela, he had served as president of the teachers association in New Mexico. In that capacity, he led the fight for the equalization of school finance through legislation. Sanchez had been told that he would be offered a tenured position at the University of New Mexico on his return, but after the school finance controversy, his politically powerful opponents blocked his appointment.

From 1938 to 1940 he surveyed Taos County, New Mexico, for the Carnegie Foundation (a survey that resulted in Sanchez's book, Forgotten People: A Study of New Mexicans) and taught at the University of New Mexico. Forgotten People brought about a public awareness of the severity of inequities for the school children of New Mexico. Sanchez pointed out that two-thirds of the other states had higher literacy ranking compared with New Mexico, with an illiterate population of 13.3 percent. He emphasized the lack of literature in rural schools, the low enrollment of Spanish-speaking children, the low expenditures per pupil, and the highest infant mortality rates in "counties where more than half of the population is Spanish-speaking" (Sanchez 1940, p. 29).

Sanchez's most productive years as an activist with national influence began after he came to Austin, Texas, in 1940 as a tenured, full professor at the University of Texas. His outspoken political opinions and actions exasperated many members of various boards of regents, but he never allowed himself to be pressured into denying his principles. Sanchez was hired as the first professor of Latin American studies and later served as chair of the History and Philosophy of Education Department.

In 1946 and 1947 Sanchez conducted a survey of Navajo education for the U.S. Department of the Interior. His findings, as presented in The People: A Study of the Navajo, pointed out the inequities of the education of Navajo children. Only about 25 percent of eligible children attended school, the schools were inadequate in materials and facilities, and most were located by traveling through roads that he described as gullies. He stated, "The Navajos are people–Americans worthy of a dignified, American way of life" (Mowry, p. 152).

After World War II Sanchez began a period of unceasing activism on behalf of equity for Mexican Americans, especially Mexican-American children in public education. In 1941 he was national president of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), and while he appreciated the contributions of LULAC, he saw a need for a more active approach to civil rights. The end of the war and return of veterans, the G.I. Bill, and Sanchez's foundation contacts all came together to assist him in his mission. Mexican-American men returned from World War II with a feeling that they should have equal rights in the country for which they risked their lives. Also, many had an opportunity for higher education not possible previously; many entered law school. Both undergraduates and law school students sought out Sanchez, and he later worked with them on court cases affecting the right of Mexican-American children to equity. His dedication to civil rights influenced many to become active in challenging discrimination in the courts. At this time Sanchez began to look for funding and court cases concerning equal rights. Throughout his career he was involved in causes that received support, moral and/or monetary, from Alianzo Hispano-Americana, the American G.I. Forum, the American Council of Spanish-Speaking People, American Civil Liberties Union, the Marshall Trust, and the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund. During the 1950s Sanchez received funding from the Marshall Trust to found an organization to work for equity for Mexican Americans. This organization, the American Council of Spanish-Speaking People, funded several court cases and provided encouragement and support for Mexican-American concerns, especially in the area of education.


The University of California at Berkeley recognized Sanchez in 1984 with a retrospective honoring him as the leader in laws affecting Mexican Americans. He was involved as advisor, expert witness, or investigator concerning legal issues throughout his life, and two cases are considered to be landmark cases. In Delgado v. Gracy (1948), a case that resulted in an agreed judgment, Sanchez and Gustavo Garcia, an attorney, were specifically given credit by the Texas State Board of Education for the formal policy adopted by the state board to oppose segregation of Mexican-American children in schools because of their Spanish surnames. The Delgado case set a precedent–the legality of separating and treating Mexican-American children as a class apart had been successfully challenged.

The other case, Hernandez v. Texas (1954), was the first U.S. Supreme Court case concerning Mexican-American rights and was decided unanimously in favor of the plaintiffs. Although the appeals concerned equity in jury selection, the final ruling could be applied to public education. Again the concern had been the treatment of Mexican Americans as a class apart. Garcia and Carlos Cadena were the lead attorneys, and Cadena gave credit to Sanchez for developing the theoretical basis for the brief–Sanchez's class apart theory–that it was illegal to discriminate and segregate based on Spanish surname. In numerous other cases Sanchez was called as an expert witness because of his research and publications on the misuse of I.Q. tests to place Mexican-American children. Besides his expert testimony, Sanchez's major contributions to legal cases were the following: (1) to advise attorneys to use the precedent of the class apart theory; (2) always to ask for one dollar in damages because opponents will rarely appeal since it would open the case back up for damages; and (3) to sue the members of the state board of education in each case because they usually will make a deal in order to have their names dropped. None of the cases in which he was involved was appealed.

As an individual Sanchez was a man of many interests. Arithmetic in Maya was written by him. His papers at the Benson Latin American Collection at the University of Texas contain his drawings of a computer–an unknown device for most people–and he corresponded with Walt Disney about making educational movies.

Professionally, Sanchez wrote books on education in Mexico, higher education in Mexico, education in Venezuela, and the education of New Mexicans and Navajos, as well as many journal articles. For many years he was on the editorial board of the Nation's Schools. He also wrote several textbooks.

National recognition was widespread. Sanchez served in the following capacities: member of John F. Kennedy's Committee of Fifty on New Frontier Policy in the Americas; National Advisory Committee for the Peace Corps; Latin American Consultant to the U.S. Office of Civil Defense as well as to U.S. Office of Indian Affairs; U.S. Office of Education on Migrants; U.S. Office of Interior; and Navajo Tribal Council.

After Sanchez's death in 1972 schools were named for him in Texas and California, as well as a room in the U.S. Office of Education. On May 2, 1995, the University of Texas at Austin named the College of Education after him. In life he was considered an all too vocal radical by university presidents and regents; in death a new, more enlightened leadership recognized him as a pioneer reformer.


MOWRY, JAMES. 1977. "Study of the Educational Thought and Action of George I. Sanchez." Ph.D. diss., University of Texas at Austin.

SANCHEZ, GEORGE I. 1936. Mexico: A Revolution by Education. New York: Viking.

SANCHEZ, GEORGE I. 1940. Forgotten People: A Study of New Mexicans. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.

SANCHEZ, GEORGE I. 1948. The People: A Study of the Navajo. Washington, DC: United States Indian Service.

SANCHEZ, GEORGE I. 1951. Concerning Segregation of Spanish-Speaking Children in the Public Schools. Austin, TX: Inter-American Occasional Papers.

TEVIS, MARTHA. 1994. "George I. Sanchez." In Lives in Education: A Narrative of People and Ideas, 2nd ed., ed. L. Glenn Smith, Joan K. Smith, et al. New York: St. Martin's Press.

WILEY, TOM. 1965. Politics and Purse Strings in New Mexico. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.


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