Dr. Alexander Second Interview
May 16, 1985 30 minutes 4:00-4:35
Jean: I just wanted to get some ideas, Dr. Alexander, where you had come from so
I could go back and look at some 6f the things you had done. Probably this will
be looking at all of that early part and how it developed; this will be possibly
my first chapter where someone else does a review of the literature. This was
Dr. White's idea. He thought I should be able to go back and look at and read
some of the things that had influenced you and that I should know what things
had caused you to come to this conclusion about middle schools.
Dr. Alexander: I think, Jean, you will find useful reading yourself, the chapter
I did in this Perspectives on Middle School Education.
Jean: Yes, I have that.
Dr. Alexander: Have you read the chapter on the history of middle schools?
Jean: I have looked at part of it but I have not read it thoroughly.
Dr. Alexander: I'll be glad to come back and see if it deals with this, it does but
not personally quite to the extent that I understand that you want. But as I
look backward personally through the 1950's I think this is where my ideas
about education took pretty firm roots. Well, even before that. When I began
teaching, I think I told you, I originally taught, the first year I had the
interesting assignment, it was the only job I could get, teaching in my hometown
teaching half time in the elementary school and half time in the high school.
I began to see in that year the difference between the organization. This
was the only eighth grade elementary school and the four year high school. How
those eighth graders suffered and squirmed.
Jean: You were teaching eighth grade?
Dr. Alexander: Yes. Later, when World War II was over, when I really got into the
public school work with both feet, in Battle Creek, Michigan we had the situation
there of the 6-3-3 system which of course is pretty common at this time, the 40's.
The junior high that you know had taken over pretty well in the 20's and 30's
and was still going in popularity. But those junior high schools there were truly
trying so hard to be little high schools. We had the bid of the college
preparation requirements in the ninth grade that made it very difficult to
liberalize the grading policies and the elective system and the exploratory
courses in grades 7 and 8. This has been the common complaint of the junior
high schools. I saw it firsthand as I was working there as director of Curriculum
and Instruction as Assistant Superintendent of schools.
Then I moved over briefly, but for a very interesting experience to Winnetka,
Illinois which is a suburban district on the north shore of Chicago. Winnetka
like Willamette and Kenilworth and Glenco all of those school districts out
there, had even back in the 30's, many of them, and 40's and 50's and still
do have a different kind of organization from anything we have experienced in
Florida. They had the township system where you have an elementary school
district, Winnetka is the elementary school district and Utrear (Spelling may be
wrong) is the high school district. Utrear will receive children from four
different elementary school districts, still does this as far as I know. The
interesting point is that the elementary school district had'what it called a
junior high school, Skokie Junior High School, which received children coming
out of the fifth grade as the top grade in the elementary school and Skokie
itself was grade 6,7 8. This is a model that I have frequently held, and I think
other people have, of one of the types of organization possible. This was an
elementary school district, it was called a junior high school but it had a
program, really a real good protype for middle school. It was not controlled
by the requirements of the ninth grade that the kids got into when they got
into high school. This was a wealthy district and they were able to provide
a great many tbngs that were not commonly provided in the upper elementary
grades in other districts. So Skokie Junior H gh School had very find shops
for that age group, industrial arts and Homemaking and Typing and Art and
Crafts and Printing. These subjects were available, on an exploratory basis, on
what we called survey courses, very much like the exploratory courses or
special interest courses of the current middle school.
The needs, having felt, having lived through the 6-3-3 pattern with the
stranglehold of the high school and junior high, then moving in and seeing the
freedom and a program that really seemed to be adapted to these children grades
6-8 with their team teaching, they had unified studies, a care type program.
They had really a modular schedule with periods of 21 minutes and they had 21
periods in the course of the day. It was very much like what we tried to
introduce first with modular scheduling. All of these things were way ahead
of the time. It would be not until the 1960's that the Trump Plan and other
plans began to call for team teaching and modular scheduling and independent
Jean: This was in the 40's they did this?
Dr. Alexander: This was in the late 40's. This was actually school year 49-50
that I was there. But they had had this, most of this they had had for 10
years at least. So then when I went to Florida, the following year, we decided
we wanted warmer climate. The schools there were fine but the climate, weather,
was awful, in the sinus gulch, they called it that. The area north of Chicago
was called this.
So we went to Dade County. I went to the University of Miami. I think
maybe you covered all this in the first interview.
Dr. Alexander: I worked there as curriculum advisor to the Dade County schools.
My first job really was to help the junior high school develop a program that
would provide better for this transition from elementary to high school. We
developed what we called the basic education program. This was a kind of a
core curriculum, 2,3 even 4 periods in subjects taught by the sane teacher.
This was the basic pattern. Again, the idea was instead of throwing them into
a highly departmentalized set up with all the paraphenaliairequiremnts, periods,
schedules, change of teachers every period--coming out of the sixth grade in a
self-contained classroom which is what the elementary school were pretty much.
Instead of doing that, in the seventh grade, provide this in between kind of
program of basic education. So they really had one teacher half of the day.
Generally speaking, it may be 1/3 of the day or 1/4 but mostly it was half the
Those were experiences that really valued me. I think it was not so much
what I read, tbugh I read of course, people who were criticizing the junior
high and there was quite a bit coming out in the literature at that time. But
no one was writing about the middle school per set they were just talking about
the failure of the junior high-school and the problems of a school that seemed
to be anticipating its senior counterpart too much, trying to be the senior
high school. So I tried to do something about it and the first thing I tried
was this basic edcuation program. I was down there for eight years and I got
this pretty well started in all the high schools, all the junior high schools.
Unfortunately a reactionary board came in there toware the end of my stay there,
this had nothing to do with my leaving, but it did have to do with ending the
basic education program a year or two after that. There had been criticisms
back in the period after Sputnik and eveyrbody was trying to get in more math
and science and the way to do it was to cut out the core program and the basic
education program in those schools; go back to teaching subject by subject.
By that time I was at Peabody and that is when I related to you, in 1963
I got the invitation to give a speech at Cornell University on the dynamic junior
high school. When I decided it really wasn't very dynamic and that these things
that I had seen in it, in Winnetka, in the upper elementary school, what we
called the junior high school there, where we did have the experimental programs
and then had developed in Dade County.
Jean: Even though they called it a junior high school it was really quite different
from what you think of as a standard junior high?
Dr. Alexander: Right and so were the basic education schools in Dade County. These
seemed to me to be answers in part, but not enough. So I tried to draw up for
that speech there the model that I considered to be the appropriate one for the
dynamic junior high school that I said it really would have to become a middle
school, a middle unit and give up grade 9 and be a 5-8 or 6-8 school.
Jean: Did you just come up with the word middle or did that?....
Dr. Alasadar: Yes, I did. I don't think I ever used it more than once or twice in
there. Did you ever see that article? Did I show it to you when you were here
Dr. Aleoandex: I don't know.
Jean: I don't remember now. You gave me some things that I copied and I may have
Dr. Aldxandes: I may have given you my copy. I just looked back since you raised
the question. Here it is, I didn't give you this one. Here is my speech I
called it "The Junior High School, A Changing View." I talked about the grave
doubts of the function of th jun or high school. I cited an article about
Johnson, this is one of the fellows I did follow, Mauritz Johnson, who
happened to be at Cornell and sponsored this annual conference. He had written
an article published in the Saturday Review that was one of the critiques of the
junior high I mentioned. The bibliography, surely I used a footnote or something
where I talked about his Saturday Review article. I can't give you the exact
date on that. For some reason the footnotes are not put in this article. That
Jean: They are not in the back?
Dr. Ahx :addar:No. It was Saturday Review. I know where I have it if you want it.
I realize I'm breaking away there.
Jean: That is alright, it is O.K.
Dr. A Pbamse: It is in the Emergent Middle School, in the bibliography where I quote
things I have read. I'm digressing here for a moment.
Jean: That is alright.
Dr. Al'exanden: "School in the Middle, Junior High, Education's Problem Child."
July 21, 1962. Course I was the one, where he was the chairman of the conference,
to talk. But not much had been written at that time.
Jeans Had you been doing things with the junior high? How did they know about you
to invite you there?
Dr. Atfxander: Someone had told him about the work I was doing in Dade County I'm
sure, with this Basic Education program. Well, then I had gone to Peabody but
this was the year that...
Jean: You had not been doing things at Peabody with the junior high?
Dr. Aar/ender: Yes, I had. Not at Peabody College but as a consultant. I left out
some of my background there. Then while I was at Peabody I served as a consultant
to the Junior High School study in Chattanooga, Tennessee. So in that city we
had the most traditional junior high schools you ever saw. I worked with
John Letson, the Superintendent of schools there who became the Atlanta
Superintendent. Now in developing more less traditional kind of junior high
school program, I suspect they have moved that work. I had also worked, during
those five or six years at Peabody, at Roanoke, Virginia as a consultant in
their program. I guess word gets around, one way or another.
Jean: They knew you were doing junior high school things.
Dr. Ad.sandev: Yes. Not just that but that was featured; in Chattanooga it was just
that. As far as other thigs in here (book he means) well, I had read about
the Educational Facilities Laboratory that had gotten out a report on a middle
school. That appeared, that word, before my material. They were talking about
conferences they were holding at Mt. Kisco, New York that attempted to develop
a new type of school. They had not developed it bet...I thought I had a file
on it somewhere. So there were those beginnings.
Well, Margaret Mead had given some speeches on early adolescence in the
United States and her information was really apropos. I quote the one article
from April, 1965 but there was earlier material of hers. Here is another article
by Johnson, (checling the book for these) Skoberg, Alfred H., "The Magic
Numbers of 7,8,9, is this Structure Really the Best for Junior High Schools?"
That appeared in the Journal for March, 1963. I can't name another author who
was criticizing the junior high school, other than Mauritz Johnson and myself.
There had been a survey done, by the United States Office of Education published in
1963, the survey was 1959 and 60 and I thought it revealed conditions that indi-
cated a need for change. That was written up in the Educational Digest. Look
at that bibliography and you'll see some of the people. Coming back to whether
I used it in this article, yes I did, let me find you the exact quotation here.
"I would vote against the separateness of current elementary, junior and
senior high schools, with the resulting need for bridges. Instead I would vote
for a 12 to 14 year institution with three levels in its vertical structure, each
which has a program and organigarion appropriate to its place in the sequential
educational pattern. Thus there would be a lower, middle and upper level or
primary, middle and high school."
After that, then I used middle school pretty generally-in the speech. This
article is the speech. I developed rather fully the model for the middle school.
That model was later developed more fully in a seminar here at the University of
Florida the following summer and it was published in Educational Leadership
in an article by Emmett Williams and myself.
Jean: Yes, I have talked to him and have some of the things from him.
Dr. Alexander: Never had a more popular article. Everybody in the country seemed to
want to quote it.
Jean: Yes, Dr. Williams said you'll went all over. I asked which states and he
said about 20 of them.
Dr. Alexander: The article in Educational Leadership,course you can't copy one
without getting permission and every mail it seemed for 2 or 3 years we got a
request from Educatinal Leadership, somebody wanted a copy of that article. That
is what you get with an idea that seems like a new idea, but not necessarily all
Jean: I know that when I first tlaked to Dr. Longstreth he said something about
Gruhn and Douglass and that some of the ideas they had way back in the old junior
high school, if you go back and look at those and you didn't know it was written
that long ago and you were looking at it knowing about middle school today, you
would think that a lot of those same ideas were there.
Dr. Alexander: You see when the junior high school was originally set up it really
was intended to do some of the things that the middle schoolwas set up 40 years
later to do that the junior high school just never did do. It got overshadowed
with the high school. Now we are very much in danger of the same thing with the
new school. That is something the middle schools have never gotten away from
the pattern of the junior high.
Jean: Well, can you think of anything else that I need from you? I'll check all
of these bibliographies.
Dr. Alexander: Things that influenced my own ideas? I really can't. I think it was
mainly my experience in the three systems, plus the fact that in my reading I
discovered the few other people who were also questioning, particularly Mauritz
Johnson at Cornell, and the other one I doscivered in that list there (means
the Emergent Middle School book bibliography) There was also, I didn't know it,
but at Upper St. Clare, Pennsylvania at the same time the Superintendent of
Schools was trying to get established middle sc ools for very much the same
reasios. I quote that in this book. But I didn't know a thing about it. I
learned about it a few years later when I met the Assistant Superintendent there
Don Eichhorn who became quite a prominent figure in middle school education.
Jean: Yes, I know his name. I am familiar with his works. One thing I have been
interested in, it seems to me that most of this was, all the dissatisfaction
or the questioning or the looking at, except for Gruhn and Douglass who were
Colorado I think or western; I haven't read anything or I haven't found anything
that was questioning very much west of the Mississippi River, have you?
Alexander: I think we need to remember that the eastern half of the country has been
a dominant force in the associations and in the publications actually in
California there has been for a long time the senior high school which I think was
designed to do the same thing that our so called junior high schools were in the
north shore of Chicago. There has been a lot of vocal out there and they now have
a lot of middle schools. So far as specific literature covering them, I can't.
But when I did my survey what did we find out? I think we found out there were
quite a lot of schools themselves in the western states. I can't put my hands
on the survey.. (book Alexander means) Here we are. Region 8--in those western
states a total of 4. In region 9--197, that is not bad but Califronia had 131.
Course you see at this time, this was 1967-68, Oregon had 11. Some of these mid-
western states.... So your observation was right that not only was there not
much in the literature from there but there weren't many of the schools, they
were slower to develop, except in California.
Jean: I guess California has led in everything from the western states.
Dr. Alexander: Dregonn.and Washington have done more. As far as anyone writing,
from there, I don't know of anyone.
Jean: Most of the people I have read, even more recently, it seems like, most of
the articles and most of the things I am familiar within most of the things I see
in the middle school journal are from states other than western states. I don't
know if they have just not written as much or been into other things. Well, Texas
has middle schools.
Dr. Alexander: Oh, they have a tremendous number of schools that have that grade
organization. Probably the largest number in the country now. But they have
all sorts of organizations. They have 7-8,4-9,5-9, but they are just this year
attempting to develop a state definition of middle school and state certification
plans, I understand.
Jean: Wow! They are even ahead of us right?
Dr. AldmandBr: Well, all the states are doing that now. Florida is moving that way.
But the legislature passed legislation last year that I assume is going to do
it. We'll find out.
aean Well, this was what I needed to know today.
Dr. Alexander: Do you thhk I dug out for you enough of what you want?
Jean: Yes, I think that will cover what I need.
Dr. Ahxander: I must have said some of that before but it was not as tied to your
question as it was today.
Jean: Yes, I think it was more general and not so specific. I know you talked about
your experiences and the things that had happened but it didn't pinpoint it like
today did. I think this will help me a lot.
Dr. Alexander: I was just thinking. Even going back to my old doctoral program at
Teachers College, Columbia, I studied with one of the real leaders in the junior
high school movement, Thomas H. Briggs. Briggs, you'll run into his name if you
read one of the books on junior high school, probably goes back to the 1930's
Anyway I well remember Tom Briggs telling us these were the dreams of the junior
high school. He had his statement of the aims of the junior high school and he
said he was disappointed. It just wasn't doing the mob.
Jean: So you started out with a question about this level?
Dr. Alexander That is right. So I guess that was where the question was created
in my mind.
Jean: Was your doctoral dissertation related to this?
Dr. Alexander: No.
Jean: Well I think this will cover what I need. (thinks after tape was off.