Today, many teachers agree that antiracist lessons are an important part of a good education, but most will concede that it can be difficult to craft these lessons well. That was also true during World War II, when American teachers embarked on an ambitious effort to fight racism, as education historian Zoë Burkholder writes.
In the late 1930s, an increased focus on national unity, along with concerns about Nazi propaganda, encouraged teachers to embrace “tolerance education.” Burkholder writes that for many teachers and students, standing up against racism was an obvious part of the fight against the Nazis. In most of the country, when teachers talked about race they were mostly discussing different ethnic groups that we would now lump together as white. One Indiana teacher, for example, focused on teaching her students about the scientific and artistic “gifts” brought to America “even from those countries whose political policies we condemn or whose sons and daughters we call wops and dagoes and hunkies.”