Interview with Jean McGuire

So, I want you to tell me about your first teaching assignment in Boston. 1960, Louisa May Alcott School. What were the physical facilities, what was your class like, and maybe you could wind up by telling me about the music book that you were given to teach from.


I remember going in as a student teacher, ah, to a number of schools in Boston, including the Dwight and the Farragut and the Tobin, but my long-term assignment was at the Louisa May Alcott, built in 1842, doors opened directly onto the streets, under the assistant principalship of Doris Warner, who'd been a member of St. Bartholomew's Church in Cambridge. And, I trained in the third grade under Doris and then I learned to teach first in second grade from a wonderful first grade teacher named Jewel Vanderhoop, and one of my first students was Mel King's daughter Judy King, who is now our daughter in Chicago. That class had 42 students and 36 seats. We didn't have enough paper and soap and crayons and scissors, we just, everything was old, used, and not enough of it. And the books were old. They were 1920 Scott Foresman where the boys had dresses on with smock tops and little Mary Jane shoes with socks that hung down at the ankles. And, ah, the stories were of a time gone by. And of course there were no children of color in there whatsoever. No Asian children, no Hispanic children, such as I had in front of me. And, it was noticeable to me as a teacher that there weren't any references to the larger life that was these children's experience. And we had what we call rote music books, and then we had some other music books which were very old, I think they were published in 1903 or 1904, and they had Victorian clothes and hairdos, sort of like the original Oz- Wizard of Oz books, Ozma of Oz, the Wild[SIC] Witch of the West, and stuff like that with hairdos. And here was this book I found, which had, um, it had the word "niggers" in it, "Ten little niggers sitting on a fence. Nine little niggers playing in a line." And it was just like "Ten little Indians, nine little Indians" and it was very offensive**, and I was very upset that that kind of book was in the classroom and had been there for all these years, because these were old books, and I must have had about 25 or thirty in my room. There were dark green covers. And I collected them all, and I went around to other teachers in the primary grades to see "Do any of you have any of these books?" And of course some of them did, they had bits and pieces. I must have had a complete set. And I collected them all, and I, I took them to the NAACP and I said, "These are offensive." My principal said, "Well just don't use them." And she said, "A lot of people don't use them, they just use the rote song books." But these books had music in them, you know, with the G-clef and the F-clef and I wanted my children to learn how to read music. It was all I had. It was indicative of the state of affairs that was in Boston and probably the rest of America then. People accepted "Little Black Sambo" without comment. And I don't think you have to censor a book like that, but I think you have to use it as a teaching tool.