A Legacy of Neglect: George I. Sánchez, Mexican American Education, and the Ideal of Integration, 1940–1970
by Carlos Kevin Blanton — 2012
This biographical study of Dr. George I. Sánchez, a leading Mexican American educator, intellectual, and activist from the 1930s through the 1960s, opens up the idea of compensatory education—the prevalent notion of the 1960s that schools use specialized instructional programs to combat the alleged cultural deprivation of some children, particularly minorities—to a wider focus. While George Sánchez addressed key themes of compensatory education in critical and even predictive ways since at least the 1940s, he was not known to the compensatory education movement, nor was his most passionate subject, Mexican Americans, much of a factor in compensatory education thinking. And this was most unfortunate. No one captured more forcefully the tension between liberal sympathy to offer special schooling to Mexican Americans and how such innovative educational programs maintained and perpetuated the widespread practice of racial segregation. I focus on several discrete, illustrative episodes of Sánchez’s life and activism over a three-decade period: first, Sánchez’s New Deal-era idealism from the late 1930s and early 1940s in which he used stricter sociological definitions of Mexican American culture as deficient and in need of government action; second, his efforts of the 1940s and 1950s to desegregate public schools in Texas and the Southwest on behalf of the nascent Mexican American civil rights movement; third, his support for bilingual education in the 1960s for reasons of civic and political equality, but not from the perspective of sociolinguistic theory; and finally, Sánchez’s surprisingly persistent and pugnacious opposition throughout the 1960s to a preschool compensatory program that originated from within the Mexican American community. These four phases of Sanchez’s career illustrate the degree to which Sánchez wrestled with, and even predicted, some key points of later criticism of the entire compensatory education intellectual project. These aspects of Sanchez’s work also document just how invisible Mexican American struggles were to national intellectual and policy circles. But most of all, George I. Sánchez recognized that the Mexican American people in the United States, his people, suffered greatly from a sad legacy of neglect. One of the central consistencies to his pedagogical thinking regardless of the decade was his willingness to call attention to that tragic legacy in the hopes of correcting it. This underlying principle to Sánchez’s life and work, as well as his sharp diagnosis of the leading educational theories of the day, makes his marginal, almost invisible position among compensatory education thinkers of the 1960s, who also sought to correct legacies of injustice, just as tragic. Educational thinkers today should know more about George I. Sánchez as well as his perspectives on Mexican Americans, schools, and justice.
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