Interviewee: R. L. Johns
Interviewer: Jeff Charbonnet
Date: July 19, 1984
C: This is Jeff Charbonnet, and I am interviewing Roe Lyell Johns, a professor of
education at the University of Florida. Dr. Johns, would you please tell me about
your work with the Citizens Committee on Education?
J: I was a fiscal consultant to the Citizens Committee on Education, which was
formulated and made its studies in 1946-1947 and made its report in 1947. Dr.
[Edgar LeRoy] Morphet [professor of education] also worked with me on that
study. On that report we recommended, among many other things, that each
county in the state would be required to have a vote to consolidate all school
districts in the county into one district. We also recommended a great deal of
other financial equalizations at the state levels, such as the Foundation Program
and so on. Then I was called upon by the Citizens Committee to lobby for their
report before the [Florida] senate. Dr. Morphet lobbied before the [Florida]
House [of Representatives], but I had more friendly relationships with senators
than Dr. Morphet did. He was a very vigorous individual, and sometimes he
could be caustic in his arguments for education, which is quite the policy that
some of the senators have followed. I was a new person in the state. I had
been in Alabama. Actually, I had been in the army.
C: You came here at the end of the war [World War II]?
J: I came here at the end of the war, within about six months after I got back from
the army. I was overseas for two years. Incidentally, I was supposed to be in a
non-combat unit because I am blind in one eye, but I came out of the war with
three battle scars from a D-Day landing in southern France. That is the army for
you! I thought you might be interested in that background.
I have had some very interesting experiences. To come back to the thing that
you are interested in, we were having great difficulty in getting [state] Senator
[William A.] Shands from Gainesville to support the Foundation Program. He
was on the finance committee in senate. LeRoy Collins, who later became
governor [1955-1961 ], was also on that committee.
C: Senator Collins was the sponsor of the bill in senate, is that right?
J: Well, yes. But now, Shands was planning to run for governor, and LeRoy
Collins was planning to run for governor, and they were just like that in that
committee. Get one to agree, and the other would agree. Senator Shands was
very much opposed to the Foundation Program, while I was advocating it very
much. He was very, very much [opposed to it]. Everything I would say, he
would come out against it.
Finally, after about three hours of argument, the chairman of the committee
suggested that we have a little recess. When we had that recess, I went over to
Senator Shands and said, "Senator, my wife appreciates the help you gave her
on serving the dinner and cleaning up the dishes at the Laymen's League Supper
at the Episcopal Church the other night." He looked at me and said, "Dr. Johns,
is Mrs. Johns your wife?" She is an Episcopalian, you know, and I said yes.
That is all I said. We went back to the committee meeting, and Senator Shands
voted for everything for the Foundation Program. It is little things like that that
will sometimes turn a person's vote. In politics, what you may think are trivial
may be very important.
Then we got the legislature [on our side]. The legislature was working on it, but
in this we included capital outlay for buildings, and Governor [Millard F.] Caldwell
was opposed to that. He just cut in and said, "I am going to veto any provision
in that for capital outlay." Then Colin English, who was the state superintendent
[of public instruction] at that time and Ken [S. Kendrick] Guernsey, who was the
chairman of the Citizens Committee, ...
C: From Jacksonville.
J: Yes. [Guernsey was a member of the Board of Control. Ed.] He and English
asked me to go to the governor with them and explain it and argue with him. I
went to Governor Caldwell and gave him the reasons for it, he said, "Dr. Johns, it
is very unsound for the state to put up money for buildings and then allow the
counties to own them. That is just unsound economics." Well, I said,
"Governor, the state puts up money to build bridges in the county and to build
roads, and for all intents and purposes, the county owns them in the same way
that it owns the school buildings." He scratched his head a little bit, and then he
said, "Well, Dr. Johns, you recommended in this report that every county have a
vote on consolidating the districts of each county into one. Some of those
counties will vote against this consolidation, as you know. Many of them will.
Then you have a program here to equalize educational opportunity in the state.
I do not see why it is good policy to equalize at the state level and then
de-equalize at the local level. I have noticed you have made several studies in
the counties of the state, and you found that the districts varied widely in their
revenue, so the educational opportunities differed among the various districts in
the state because of that difference.
"I will tell you what I will do. I will go along with you on capital outlay if you will
change your recommendation to the legislature that it consolidate the districts.
Why did you not recommend that the legislature itself consolidate all those
districts into one?"
"Well," I said, "we were afraid that might seem undemocratic." Then he asked,
"Is it democratic to de-equalize education at the local level and then equalize it at
the state level?" I said, "No, Governor, it is not." That is when he said, "I want
to make a proposition to you. If you will change your recommendation to the
legislature that the legislature itself consolidate all those districts into one and do
it by the vote of the legislature rather than by local referendums, I will go along
with the capital outlay." I turned to Guernsey, who was in charge of that, and
asked if that was okay, and he shook his head yes. I turned to Colin English,
because he had a say in it. Then I reached over, and the governor and I shook
hands on it. That is the way the districts were consolidated.
C: That is an interesting story.
J: That is the way it actually happened, by the political trade.
C: Political give and take.
J: It was a political trade. The governor did not want to provide the state capital
outlay money, and he wanted to equalize at the local level. Governor Caldwell
was very wise on that. He was an extremely wise governor. Caldwell was an
excellent governor, and he then supported the Foundation Program all the way
through. I have very high regard for him.
C: Let ask you a question about your work with the Citizens Committee. When you
arrived, the committee's work was already under way, was it not?
J: It was underway. Dr. Morphet was an employee of the [Florida] Department of
Education. I had established a reputation in Alabama for drawing their
Foundation Program. I got it through the legislature, and I was doing some
consulting work for other states. I did that before I went into the army in 1943,
so I had established a reputation. Dr. Morphet knew he needed some outside
source to come in and work with the Citizens Committee, someone who was
knowledgeable, so he went to Kendrick Guernsey and Colin English asked them
to ask me to come down here and serve as a consultant to the committee.
I agreed to come, but I had no more than gotten here when I found that Dr.
Morphet had also schemed to get me appointed as a professor at the University
of Florida. They did not have a Department of Educational Administration here
at that time. The University of Florida was entirely a male school. So they
called me down to do two things, one, to serve as a consultant to the Citizens
Committee, and, two, to serve as a professor at the University of Florida.
Then they asked me what it would take for me to come. Well, we were paid
lower salaries in Alabama. I think I was getting about $4,800 at that time. I
said I would come down here for $6,500 and perform that double mission. I was
not teaching at the University for a while while I was working with the Citizens
C: It sure was an awfully high salary for a university professor in Florida at that time.
J: It was the highest salary that was paid at the University at that time. [University
of Florida President John J.] Tigert said, "We cannot pay that high a salary upon
our scale." Well, Colin English said, "I will pay $600 of it, and he will serve as a
consultant to the state Department of Education." They continued to pay me
that $600 a year until I retired. They wanted to raise it, but I never let them raise
it because the University would deduct it from my University salary.
Anyway, then I started in working with them intensively when it came to the
development of that plan. We made local studies. First they wanted to me to
go out and see what was necessary in the counties. We made a study in a
number of counties.
C: Did you have a staff to help you with that?
J: Well, we had secretaries, and we had staff from the state Department of
Education. I even had someone from the University of Florida--Dr. [Joseph
McElroy] Leps was on the staff [in the College of Education] here. I also had
some staff help, and I had plenty of secretarial help and clerical help. In fact, we
even used some students that were here. Anyway, I had very pleasant
associations with them. They came out with an extremely statesmanlike report.
After we got it through the legislature, from time to time I have served as
consultant to the state Department of Education on various matters and studies.
For instance, I worked with them on developing the formula for transportation,
[which included an] index of the extra cost of education due to sparsity and
various things of that nature.
As far as Alachua County is concerned, my influence on Alachua County has
been on a statewide basis. We did write the studies here. I participated in the
studies of the consolidation of schools. Then we required that before any state
money was spent on school buildings it had to be spent on projects that were
approved by the state Department of Education on the basis of a survey. And I
was in charge of those surveys.
Here is an interesting thing. Colin English was afraid that this would politically
affect him. He did not want them to make the surveys because the county's
work would be controversial, so I agreed to make the surveys and direct the
surveys in all the counties so it would not put the heat on Colin English. He was
later planning to run for governor. So I directed the survey here in Alachua
County and recommended the consolidation of schools, which caused a great
deal of fussing. For instance, Waldo wanted to have a high school, and Archer
wanted to have a high school. We recommended the consolidation of these
schools [in 1947], and that just created [a firestorm of protest]. I remember the
people in Waldo said, "We are going to have 10,000 people down here in Waldo
in a few years, and here you are taking the schools from us."
C: I would like to ask you some specific questions about the surveys and about the
consolidation battle, because I think that was pretty important in Alachua County.
But before we get to that, could we go back to the Citizens Committee for just a
minute? In the report "Education and the Future of Florida," the Citizens
Committee report, there were some definite problems that were identified
regarding the local organization of schools that you mentioned. Can you
remember if any of those were relevant to Alachua County in particular, just from
your recollections of living here, like overlapping of responsibilities, and school
officials not working together because of working at cross-purposes or lack of
clear responsibility in the system?
J: I just do not remember any particular application in Alachua County. Do you
have a copy of that report, "Education in the Future of Florida"?
C: Yes, I have checked it out from the library.
J: That is the Citizens Committee report.
C: Yes, I have read that.
J: Well, the reason I asked is I have a copy of it here if you did not have it. I
wanted to be sure that you had a copy of it.
C: Yes, that is very important.
J: That is a very important report.
C: Yes. Do you remember the school board members that were here at the time?
J: Yes, I remember Dr. Hussey.
C: Could you tell me something about him?
J: No, I have no particular recollection of him.
C: He was a dentist from Gainesville.
J: He was a dentist. I mean, if a board member was particularly noisy or
combative, I would have remembered him, but I do not remember him as being
any more than just another board member. Was Howard Bishop
C: Howard Bishop was superintendent at that time.
J: Then I started teaching at the University of Florida, and Howard Bishop took
courses with me.
C: You directed his thesis.
J: Yes. Then I conducted conferences for years with the superintendents. We
would have these conferences regularly, so many each semester. A great many
of the superintendents, some of whom were not even college graduates in the
state in 1947, wanted to continue their educations, to do advanced work. So I
had graduate courses for them. They would come in for a conference, and then
they would write papers, studies, and so on for me. Eventually they discovered
a notion of the sophistication of the superintendent's [duties and responsibilities].
Dr. Morphet, of course, assisted me with these superintendent conferences, and
Dr. Leps with others.
Then, when we had developed the Foundation Program, we had to sell that to
the superintendents to get them behind it before it was passed in legislature.
Well, we had gotten an agreement on capital outlay, and Dr. Morphet was
explaining capital outlay to the superintendents. He kept using the word "capital
outlay." He spent about an hour explaining the technical phases of it and so
one, how it was allocated and various things. Then he asked if anybody had any
questions or remarks about this. I am not going to give the name of the
superintendent, but one of the superintendents got up and said, "Dr. Morphet,
that is all very good, this capital outlay that you have been talking about. But is
there any money that we are going to get for school buildings?" [Laughter.] He
did not know that capital outlay meant school buildings.
C: So you trained a whole generation of Florida superintendents all at once.
J: Yes, I trained a whole generation of them. A number of them got doctorate
degrees. Floyd Christian was down in Pinellas County, and he later became a
state superintendent [of public instruction]. I had him write for his master's
thesis an evaluation of the school board policies of Pinellas County. It was a
very good master's thesis on school board policies in Pinellas.
C: The two other school board members at that time were [Dr.] J. A. [Jesse Albert]
Goode from Alachua and Earl Gay from Hawthorne.
J: I remember the names of all of them, but I do not particularly remember the
personalities. I did not have enough dealings with them. One dealing that I had
with them directly was in making the survey on capital outlay on the buildings
here in the county. I reported to the board and discussed it with them, and then
I would be off in another county. I worked on state programs, and Alachua
County only pertained to certain ones.
C: During the Citizens Committee studies, was there a local committee within the
community that was formed to study the schools? Do you remember anything
J: Well, there may have been in certain counties, but it was a state committee. I
do not recall any in particular, although some of the superintendents undoubtedly
did engage some committees, mostly after the board passed the program. Then
they called them in to explain the program to them and what was going on,
primarily with buildings and the consolidation of the schools. Some of the
people were very indignant.
Here was the thing in the state. Many of these school district trustees
considered themselves very influential. Then when you consolidated, those
trustees of all these districts in the state lost their positions of influence, you see,
and they were very angry over losing their jobs. They had had a good deal of
For instance, what these district trustees were doing concerned differences in
tax-paying ability. They were governing those local districts, approving teachers
and principals. They would fire principals. As a matter of fact, Dr. Leps, a very
able man, a very capable professor here, was fired as a principal in Polk County
by one of these trustees. There were some very able, aggressive principals,
and the trustees were just as likely to fire them. There was some sort of
mediocrity to hold them indefinitely.
C: So you think a lot of their resistance to consolidation was that they were going to
lose their positions of influence?
J: Oh, yes. But consolidating those districts happened so fast in the legislature
they did not have time to organize against it. I had a disagreement with
Governor Caldwell one day, and the legislature passed the thing the next day or
C: And it was over.
J: It was over.
C: They were not trustees anymore.
J: They were not trustees anymore. The districts were consolidated. They tried
various attempts to negate that, to go back [to the old way]. Some of them did,
but they could not get anywhere with it because the school people were glad to
get rid of them because they were being harassed by those trustees.
You get the sort of thing that is going on over here in Keystone Heights with
these folks. Did you see that in the paper? A little group of people will come in
and harass a principal and teachers and get them fired. They cannot do it over
there because the board is not going to let them get away with it. The only thing
they can do is just harass them. But under the trustee system, they, that local
group, would have had the power to fire the principal and the teachers.
C: Just arbitrarily? The trustees had that kind of influence?
J: Yes. They had not only influence, but power.
C: Well, that was one of the great evils of the school systems that the Citizens
Committee pointed out. Did the trustees have any redeeming value at all? One
of the indictments of the Citizens Committee was that the trustees continued the
inequality, they made budgeting difficult in the counties, they made countywide
building programs impossible. Why did that system last so long?
J: Well, it lasted long because there is a great deal of tradition in America of
localism, local self government. We have states' rights on the national basis,
and then we have local self government--let the local people run it. We have all
that junk that is being dished out now by [President Ronald] Reagan in order to
escape any federal responsibility. Someone said last night that Reagan does
love America but hates its government. Well, they would love Florida but hate
its state government or the county government. That wanted to run it. There is
One of the strongest drives of both men and women--I think it would go for
women, too--is the desire for power. What are the main drives of the human
race? Well, I think the [principal] desire [is] for power. Another is money, which
gives you power. The reason for [desiring] money is power. The Bible says the
root of all evil is money. Well, a good deal of that is because it gives you power.
That is the reason why they were so reluctant to give up those things.
Now, in the Florida legislature, at that time, there was a higher percentage of
college graduates, who are knowledgeable people, in the legislature than in the
general population of the state.
Government was never meant to be mediocre. That the government should
follow [public opinion] frequently, to say the majority is always right [is ridiculous,
because] usually the majority is wrong on new things. It is the minority that
advocates new things, as [U.S. Senator] Gary Hart [of Colorado] has said. It is
the minority that pushes innovation, not the great majority. If we waited for the
mediocrity, the average beliefs of every person to prevail in government, our
government would never have amounted to much. George Washington,
Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, John Adams--all of them were way above
C: They certainly were not the common man.
J: They were not the common man. Our great contributions are not made by
mediocrity but by leadership, by people with a philosophy and the ability to
foresee what the common good of society is. That sounds undemocratic, but it
is not. Democracy based on a consensus of ignorance is a very inefficient form
of government. Even in Russia--we talk about communism--there is not a
consensus. Believe me, I have been in Russia. I have studied the school
system, too. They do not have an average, uneducated president running
things there in Russia, nor do they in China or any other government that is
succeeding anywhere in the world.
That is the reason why we need a school system that will develop, and the higher
you can develop the average consensus, the average man, the higher the
leaders can go. You cannot have an elite school system where there are just a
few educated few elites and then expect [them to effectively run the country],
because they cannot get the political support. We do go on a popular vote, and
you cannot get the political support [from uneducated people]. The leadership,
the educated elite, can function only as we move the masses--the Negroes, the
Hispanics, the crippled people, the people of low IQ as well as the people of high
That is what the Citizens Committee Report director [advocated, and] that is what
Governor [Mario] Cuomo [of New York] spoke about at the Democratic national
convention. He is a strong supporter of education. As a matter of fact, New
York state was the first state in the nation that ever developed a foundation
program, an equalization program, and other states modeled [their programs]
It is interesting [to note that] my major professor, Paul Mort, wrote his dissertation
on the equalization of educational opportunity in New York state, which was
proposed in legislature at that time, way back in the early 1920s. Al Smith was
governor of New York state at that time. They were trying to improve the school
system in New York state, and there were various proposals to do it. Among
proposals was the Stray-Ingerhart-Mart Proposal. Mart had really designed it;
Stray and Ingerhart were not so much technicians as they were promoters,
speakers, and pushers. Now, Mart was a technician--he is more like I am in
that--and a politician in the sense that he will go out and work for legislatures and
Well, there was a committee in the New York legislature that worked and worked
for days and days on developing a plan for improving the school financing
system of New York state, and they could not agree on anything. Al Smith was
a very positive sort of person. He got those committees together; he said, "I am
putting you on this committee. I will bring in food and water, but I am going to
keep the door locked, and you people are going to stay here until you agree on a
plan, a proposal for the legislature." And he did that. He locked them up until
way after midnight, and they agreed on Mart's plan. That is the way of the plan
of equalization of educational opportunities [was passed in New York].
C: Okay. When the school plant survey [was taken] in 1947, in Alachua County we
had J. Pope Baird, James Campbell [professor of education], Dr. Leps, Dr.
Morphet, and you all on that committee. Were you a team that did most of the
surveys throughout the state, or did the team change?
J: That team traveled, especially Pope Baird, Dr. Leps, and sometimes Dr.
Morphet. Dr. Morphet went to the University of California in 1949.
C: To Berkeley?
J: Yes. He became a professor at the University of California in 1949, so he did
not stay here very long to participate in those things.
There was a coldness between Dr. Morphet and Colin English. Morphet did not
want him to run for governor. He thought he was trying to capitalize on the
Foundation Program in order to hurt the Foundation Program, so there was a
cool relationship between Morphet and Colin English, something like the
relationship between Andrew Young [mayor of Atlanta, GA] and Jesse Jackson
[religious and political activist]. Young was afraid Jackson would hurt the
campaign to defeat [President Ronald] Reagan. It was a matter of policy.
By the way, I was a visiting lecturer out at the University of California in the
summer of 1949. I started to lecture at a number of institutions. After work
here in Florida, I was offered professorship after professorship. I went [to
Auburn University] as a young doctoral graduate, twenty-seven years of age.
Then the president [of Auburn University] found out that I knew something about
finance. We were in the Depression then, and the state was not paying the
money to fund the budget. The president of Auburn asked the dean to loan me
to him as an assistant to go down and lobby the legislature for the money for the
schools, and I worked down there lobbying. That is where I had my first
experience in lobbying.
C: In the Alabama legislature?
J: The Alabama legislature. The president of Auburn was L. M. Duncan, who was
quite a politician himself, and he coached me on how to lobby. He told me,
"Now, Dr. Johns, you are brilliant, and you are smart, but do not let a legislator
think that you think that you are smarter than he is. Do not ever do that. You
must treat them very respectfully. Any question he asks you--it does not make a
difference how stupid--or any comments, take them very thoughtfully and so on.
You will find some times when a legislator will oppose you, and he will fight you
and you will have to fight him. But fight with one hand open always. When you
sign a lease, chances are you will be the first one to reach over and shake his
hand." I found that to be true working the legislature.
Later, when that was done and we had some success there, the [Alabama] state
superintendent of education wanted me as assistant state superintendent in
charge of administration in Montgomery. I went on a year's leave of absence
from Auburn. I wanted to quit, but they would not let me quit at Auburn. They
gave me a leave of absence, but I told them that I was taking the job.
So I worked with the state superintendent getting all the legislation through
Alabama legislature and developing their foundations program and equalization
Then I encountered an avid legislator who would oppose bills I would bring up.
He would say, "Dr. Johns, I am going to oppose you on this particular bill. I
promised my constituents back home that I was going to vote this way on the
thing, and I cannot go along with you on this." I said, "Well, I could not ask you
to. You have to keep your word with them. I would not ask you to go back on
your promises at all." Then he said, "I will tell you what I will do, Dr. Johns. The
next time you have a bill that you want to pass through the legislature, just bring
it to me, and I will introduce it and push it through."
Well, that is the sort of thing that you got to know working with legislators. You
cannot go up there and browbeat them. You have to work very carefully with
them. Frequently, the legislators are tied up with commitments they have made
locally, with various things against taxes or against this or against that, and you
have to respect that. You cannot label them as "enemies of education." You
want to assume that everybody is a friend of education. If there is anybody who
does that, if he even hints at it, is a very poor politician.
I had experience there working with and getting things through the legislature,
and that gave me my real opportunity to put my training at Columbia University to
work. Then at Florida I had the same opportunity. After I came here, I started
doing consulting work. I have done consulting for more than half the states in
the nation, including the northern states. I have done consulting in New York
state, Ohio, and various other states.
They did not offer professorships at the time. During the Depression, you could
not get a job. You did not get a salary. One time during the Depression, I went
the whole year without a salary and was later paid off in script. That was when I
went down to Montgomery to work with the assistant state superintendent of
education. Auburn had not paid me. They later paid me in script, but I had to
discount that script. Then it came to where you could not get a job. Then after
I got to the University of Florida, I had five different jobs offered to me. I have
been offered a job at Columbia University Teachers College. They got mad
because I turned them down. Then much later, when I was fifty-five years of
age, Stanford University offered me a job.
C: They were trying to lure you away.
J: They were trying to lure me away from Florida. When I came here, I was
forty-six. I was born in December 1900, practically 1901. Well, I asked them if
they knew know how old I was. Usually universities do not want to hire older
professors. They said, Yes, we know exactly how old you are. You are fifty-five
years of age. But we want to buy you and your reputation. You just name your
salary." I did not want to pick up and move my family at that time. My children
were in college and so on, and I liked it here in Florida. New York University
tried to get me to come several times, as did Chicago University, Peabody, so
on. After you get established in the field, you get just a plethora, an avalanche
of offers. But I remember times back there when we were not getting paid.
Nobody was hiring anybody. It was hard to get a job.
C: Even for the top people?
C: Going back to the 1947 survey, can you remember what the conditions were in
Alachua County when you went and visited the school plants?
J: Well, the buildings were pretty run down. I think that since that time, practically
every building in this county has been replaced. Some of them have been
remodeled into something else, like Kirby Smith and over there at [A. Quinn]
Jones and so on. But as far as I can recall, all of the buildings needed to be
C: So many of them were built in the 1920s, and during the 1930s there was no
money to do any work.
J: Yes. And that high school building, old Gainesville High School, [located on
West University Avenue, did not have any equipment for scientific laboratories or
libraries, so they were minimal. The heating systems were antiquated, and so
on. That was generally the situation in Florida. Now, there were some
buildings that were built by WPA, but most of those were additions. Now, this
building, the P. K. Yonge building over here [presently Norman Hall], was built by
WPA. The question always arises whether it belongs to Alachua County or the
University of Florida.
C: Sidney Lanier and J. J. Finley [elementary] schools, I think, were WPA projects.
J: Yes, there were a few, but just a few like that. Yes, I remember Sidney Lanier
was one. The buildings that were built by WPA were poorly placed in the state.
Sidney Lanier is inadequately located at the present time, as far as a school.
C: They just did not do the necessary detailed planning.
J: No. They made no surveys.
C: Did they just tend to build where they had property?
J: One of the guidelines to build sometimes was where the local districts had
money. The districts issued the bonds; they were district bonds. Even to this
day, all the districts in each county are consolidated into one district called
District One, and they issue district bonds. Not county bonds, but district bonds.
C: Right. The legislature could not completely do away with the district because
that was in the constitution.
J: They could not do that. The teachers in the state struck over salaries. I think
that was in [Florida Governor Reubin] Askew administration.
C: [That strike was in] 1968, [during Claude Kirk's administration].
J: Right. That was very poor political strategy. Prior to that time, the money was
being allocated on a teacher-unit basis rather than a pupil basis. In my
consulting work, I recommend either one, whichever is more politically
acceptable. [The difference in the weighting:] teacher-unit weighted or pupil
weighted. You have to have weighting because different types of programs cost
different amounts. You have to consider pupil/teacher ratio, exceptional
children, vocation education, and so on.
Well, the legislature got mad and changed it. We had also set up in it a
minimum salary schedule, because the salaries had been so low. But the
legislature said, "We do not appropriate money for teachers. We appropriate it
for students," so they changed it to a pupil unit. That was sort of rebuke to the
teachers. As far as I was concerned, it made no difference whether it was
teacher weighted, pupil weighted, or instruction weighted.
Now, there is an important matter here. We had to get those weights in
originally for the instruction unit so that if the district had a program for
exceptional education, and that unit was weighted, they had to actually provide
the program before they got that unit. The same was true for vocational
education. Of course, programs for exceptional education, vocational education,
and certain other things are weighted differently.
In Florida, they are weighted a little bit differently for a difference in the cost of
living. But it could be quite equitable. It is not equitable just to appropriate the
money on a flat per-pupil basis. You also have to take into consideration the
differences in local tax-paying ability that you have within a particular system. If
you did not, then the Board of Education would put on the cheapest programs
instead of an expensive program. But if you weight the pupils, you make it
possible for them to put on an expensive program for crippled children and that
sort of thing.
[A good example is] the crippled Kennedy boy. He lost a leg to cancer, and he
spoke at the convention. Of course, the [U.S.] Supreme Court has now declared
that you have to provide for these exceptional pupils. It gives them a chance to
have an education. It is under civil rights. But before then, we could not get the
boards of education to do that sort of thing because it cost more money.
C: Back in the 1940s, at the time of the Minimum Foundations law, what was the
curriculum like in the schools?
J: Well, it was limited. There was very little printed. Many of the larger, urban
counties in south Florida did not have any program as far as education of the
handicapped. I doubt if there was in Alachua County.
C: I do not think there was.
J: Most counties did not have any. The vocational programs were limited, and
there was very limited science. For instance, my daughter is now teaching over
in Pensacola; she is teaching calculus in high school. Now, there was not a
single high school in Florida that taught calculus back in 1946-1947. The
courses were academically oriented, of course. They were pretty much like ...
C: Like a classical curriculum?
J: Well, for instance, I was the superintendent of schools in [Bloomfield,] Missouri, a
town of 3,000 inhabitants. That was just after I graduated from undergraduate
school, and I was twenty-three years of age.
I started teaching when I was seventeen. I taught to save money, and I would
go to school in the summer. During the winter, I worked in St. Louis in a factory
to make money, and then I went to college. I waited tables, mowed lawns, and
served as a janitor of a Catholic church to keep myself in school, and I got myself
through college. I received no help from home. My parents were not able to
help. We had two girls, too. Any help we received had to go to the girls. I took
some time off and spent a year as principal of a little five-teacher school in the
So when I graduated college, I had had some experience, you see. I applied for
the superintendent of schools position in this town, and they offered me the job.
I became the youngest superintendent in the state of Missouri for the size of the
schools that I had.
We had no vocational education in this school, and science was extremely
limited. We taught four years of English, four years of history, fours of Latin.
No modern languages. We had a little science and one course in physics, but it
was limited, and the equipment was very limited. But that was a typical course
[of study]: academic English, history, and math. Now, we did teach math. We
taught first-term algebra and second-term algebra, and then geometry.
Sometimes we offered trigonometry. We were teaching maybe three years of
math. That was pretty much what high schools were like when I went to
To give you a notion of what that sort of a program did, the entering freshman
class, the ninth graders, numbered thirty students, and by the time they
graduated, there were eight. They were eliminated by that sort of curriculum.
They could not take the Latin, they could not take part of the math. I remember
we had girls crying because they could not solve the problems, and I helped
them. I coached some of the girls in the class so they would not flunk that.
Then they could not translate Caesar. Well, I happened to have the ability to do
any of those tricks. Others could, too. But generally, if you had any statistics
on those who entered in the ninth grade and those who completed high school,
they would be very interesting. I know from my own experience that less than a
third of those that entered the ninth grade finished the twelfth grade.
Getting back to the present time, if you cut out vocational education, cut out
special education, cut out remedial work, and that sort of thing and go to a strict
academic curriculum, you are going to do the same thing. You repeat the
dropout pattern instead of getting that improvement. The development of
curriculum is based entirely on those who are academically gifted. So I believe
that children should be given a chance to go to school, to go through high school,
no matter their level of ability. You can give them some type of education that
would be useful to them: vocational education, job training, citizenship, art,
music, and various things that would enrich their lives.
C: Meet the needs of the individuals.
J: Meet the needs of that individual. Now, you may have a certain curriculum that
would be college preparatory. I have no objection to that, provided that was not
the only curriculum offered. The only thing we had when I [was the principal of
this] high school was a college preparatory curriculum. That is all I had. But I
did put in vocational education, business education, and some other things to
change the curriculum of the school. I made quite a few changes that way.
After being there three years, in 1926 my school was rated the best school in the
state of Missouri for adjusting the needs of the curriculum to the needs of the
students, for my size of school. I had also introduced extra-curricular activities.
I put in band, music, and art. I coached the football team and the basketball
team. We had both boys and girls basketball.
Then the students came to school; they did not quit school. I had students come
to school wearing mustaches; students twenty-four and twenty-five years of age
came back to high school and completed high school because of these various
types of programs.
The board of education was a very conservative board in an old southern town.
Bloomfield, Missouri was very conservative. Well, they thought that I had ruined
the curriculum because I had taken the emphasis [on classics] away. I had cut
out two years of Latin; instead of having four years of Latin, I required two years.
[That was necessary] in order to have teachers for these other things. At the
end of the third year, they were not going to rehire me. I would have been fired,
but the board let the word out to me. So I resigned and went to Columbia to do
graduate work. But that shows the sort of a thing that you get into if you change
C: What was the reaction here in Florida when the curriculum changed?
J: Well, you get that reaction now. They think that the schools [are offering] a "soft
curriculum" and that the only way to improve the quality and excellence in
education is to increase the academic standing.
C: The "back to basics" movement.
J: Back to basics and that sort of thing. Much of that is stupid. Some of it is good.
I would offer all sorts of things--calculus, computer science, etc.--but I would not
require everybody to take the same curriculum. People's needs are different. I
would have a variety of curriculums opportunities to offer to let people choose
Some people tend to think that the only people that amount to anything are those
with high IQs. [People with a] low IQ are often completely ignored.
That reminds we a little bit of my son. I was very upset at the jaybirds getting in
the house and then getting into the bird feeder. They were eating figs and so
on, and I was throwing rocks at them. Well, one of my boys said, "Daddy, the
jaybirds are people, too. Why be so hard on them?" Well, that is the way with
these people with lower intelligence. The handicapped, those who do not have
an abstract mathematical intelligence, are people, too. I am afraid that some of
emphasis on this so-called "excellence in education" ignores that sort of thing. I
would say it is excellence in education if you can teach a seventy-IQ student to
become self-supporting and a respectable member of the community and a good
citizen. That is excellence in education just the same as teaching person with a
high IQ--125 IQ--to be a nuclear engineer. In fact, a nuclear engineer may do
more harm than [someone with] a seventy IQ. [laughter]
C: That is true. Well, it strikes me as so curious that in a rural state like Florida, or
even Missouri, with your experience there, that the people would not appreciate
vocational agriculture, business education, or those kinds of expansions in the
curriculum. You would think that they would welcome those kinds of changes.
Many of them did, obviously, because they flocked back into your school.
J: Yes, many did, but others were purely academics. This school had been a
private academy before the Civil War. It was in the southern part of Missouri,
and the southern part of Missouri was pro-Confederate. There were Negroes
living out in the country around there, and they were growing cotton around close
to Bloomfield, in Stoddard County in southern Missouri. Those Negroes could
come to town and trade, but it was against the law for any Negro to be in
Bloomfield after sundown. There were no liberals in my school; none lived in the
town. They would not let any Negro live in the town. Negroes were allowed to
come to town and trade in the daytime, but they could not stay in town after
Now, that is the sort of narrow-mindedness that existed in southern Missouri--and
that existed in other places--with respect to Negroes. It was an aristocratic
[society]; there were many aristocrats that lived in Bloomfield in the big
plantations and the big, old, colonial-type houses, and they were the dominating
element. They are the ones that got on the board of education. They were
afraid that I was destroying the academic excellence of the school by taking care
of these other needs. They cut student activities, too. They said I was getting
the children's minds off the books. We had organized various student clubs.
We had an English club and a debate club--we had a high school debating
society--and various things. The children had a lot of things to do, you see, and
they stayed in school.
C: Let us talk about Howard Bishop for a minute. He got into big trouble politically
trying to implement that school consolidation program that the 1947 report
advocated. What kind of man was he?
J: A very able man, very able man.
C: He grew up here in the county.
J: Yes. He came from an old, established family here. The Bishop family is, I
think, one of the oldest families here in Alachua County. And he was very able.
C: Was he a politically shrewd person, do you think?
J: Well, I do not know. I would say that he aggressively worked for what he
thought was right.
C: He spoke his mind?
J: Yes, he spoke his mind. I would say he was more concerned with his principles
and doing right than he was with his political future. Politics did not mean
surrendering a principle to him. He would stick to his principles, whether it was
politically sound or not. That is Howard Bishop.
C: For his re-election campaign as superintendent in 1948, the small communities in
the county like Archer and Waldo organized together against him. Do you
remember Lynn Hardy, his opponent that year?
J: No, I do not remember him.
C: Well, he ran on the anticonsolidation ticket, but Bishop was able to defeat him
that year. You were saying that Waldo was arguing that they were going to
have a huge population increase and should keep their school.
C: That does seem a little ludicrous.
J: I can remember it particularly, because it was in that report. We went up there,
and a delegation of citizens said, "In a few years we are going to have 10,000
people down here."
C: A lot of them argued about the transportation, as well. They said that it would be
dangerous for their children to be out on the roads being bused to these new
schools and things like that. Was the community just fighting and scratching in
an attempt to keep its school with these arguments?
J: Yes, they were concerned about that. They just wanted to keep their schools.
You will find that true any place in the United States. You will find that there is
resistance practically everywhere. There was resistance for doing away with the
C: Is it distrust of outsiders? Did they think that they should be allowed to run their
own school their own way?
J: Well, they think it lowers property values if you take the school out. And they
might lose certain authority that they had. Power is what they want, and they
would lose certain powers. That is why there is always opposition to
You will find that actually more resistance to consolidation in the North than in the
South. For instance, you check where the small school districts are. [You will
find they are] mostly in the Midwest. Nebraska still has a great many districts.
The South has more of the county units because they consolidated these
unnecessary schools. There are far more unnecessary schools operating in the
North, generally, than they are in the South. And there is more resistance to
consolidation in the North.
C: Do you think there is just a more entrenched feeling of localism there or tradition?
J: Yes, there is more localism. In the South, the county is very important. There
is more of that influence over in England. In England, the county government is
very important, and the political power structure of the South was built more upon
England than anything else; it is more like English tradition and culture.
We have records of my own family in Guilford County, North Carolina in 1750.
They fought in the American Revolution and received grants of land in Guilford
County, North Carolina. But the land was poor and very hilly. Then they found
out they could get good land in Missouri. That was before it became a part of
the [United] States; it was still owned by Louisiana. My ancestors migrated to
Missouri to get good land on the Missouri River; they did that in 1798. They
became one of the pioneer families of Missouri. They brought slaves with them.
A lot of those Missourians, in southern Missouri particularly, came from the
South. They rode across Kentucky, Tennessee, and the Carolinas, and moved
there to get land. And they carried those same traditions with them.
There was less opposition to consolidation in the southern part of Missouri than
in the northern part of Missouri. I know that. They did away with the
unnecessary one-teacher schools in the South. They are still operating them in
the North, states such as ebraska and the Dakotas. They are rapidly being
eliminated, though, but they were the last to do so. The next thing that
happened was they consolidated high schools, the small high school where they
had them. They find it difficult to consolidate now. You can find that difficulty in
the South as well as the North. But you can consolidate elementary schools
C: Do you remember the bond issue in Alachua County and all the problems that
were centered around that?
J: No, I do not remember much about it. I was involved in a number of counties
where they were having bond issues for building, and I do not remember one
county much more than the other. I could probably tell you as much about
Escambia County as I could this county.
C: So you were not involved in all of those activities here?
J: Nothing, no.
C: Do you remember the Citizens Committee here that was formed in the early
1950s with Chester Yates? They were studying the [county's educational]
problems, and they also recommended a bond issue. I read in the newspaper
that you were an advisor to the school organization committee, and James
Richardson was the chairman of that. Do you remember that?
J: I remember it, but not much about it, because I served on a number of
committees like that over the state.
C: Were they all fairly similar?
J: Yes, they were. They served a good purpose.
C: Do you think they helped crystallize public opinion favorably for funding the
J: Oh, yes. I think that citizens' participation is very important, so we needed to get
citizen participation. That is a problem that arises with consolidation. The only
way you can get that, pretty much, is to form these committees.
C: Do you have a book on that subject?
J: Yes, there is one here, but I do not see it. I cannot place my hands on it. It is
somewhere, I know. They have that at the state Department of Education. [It
contains information on] certain changes and profiles of Florida school districts.
I did not have anything to do with it. You can find the copies in the library, I
think. I will let you keep that, if you are interested. There might be some things
in it that you would be interested in.
C: Yes, I am sure. I know this one will be very interesting.
J: And there are other profiles; there are more of them. There were several
publications on that.
We called together the representatives from the state education associations,
local school systems, and state departments of educations of fourteen southern
and border states. It said [that Florida had] one-quarter of the nation's children
to educate, one-sixth of the nation's wealth (tax-paying ability), and one-eighth of
the nation's school income. We had one-sixth of the wealth, but only one-eighth
of the income, according to an index of tax-paying ability. We called them
together for a week's conference in Daytona. Morphet served as executive
secretary of the conference, and I as assistant executive secretary for a good
many years, until 1949. We called them together first in 1939, when we met at
Daytona Beach. We decided ways to develop and improve education in the
South. The conferences met for two weeks. From then on, we met one week
each year in Daytona the first of June, just after school was out. We worked to
promote the development of education throughout the South.
After Morphet went to California, I became executive secretary of that
conference. It continued to operate even after 1970, and I continued as
chairman of that Southern States Work Conference until I retired in 1971. Then
Truman Pearce took over as chairman. It just recently had its last meeting; they
decided it had served its purpose and usefulness. But that conference lasted
forty years. Southern people have a tendency to work together. We published
bulletins on various subjects, but this was sort of an overall bulletin that was
published shortly after World War II, when I was still in the army. I was on the
You may look at the index to gather the types of things we were interested in:
Some Problems of the Southern Region, Educational Resources, Responsibility
of Educational Agencies for Meeting the Challenge, Meeting the Needs Through
Better Educational Planning, Building Curriculum to Meet the Challenge, Meeting
the Special Education Needs, Utilizing Appropriate Instructional Procedures and
Producing and Utilizing Better Instructional Material, Individualizing Education,
Equipping Teachers to Meet the Challenge, Organizing Education to Meet the
Challenge Responsibility of Education, and things like that. By the way, Howard
Bishop attended some of these meetings of the Southern States Work
Conference. [We also discussed] the whole government of education and
There is a tendency of the people in the South to work together and cooperate.
Now, there is in New England, too. The New England states have regional
meetings, too, on certain matters--the New England Association. But we
operated through that to help education in our own states.
Here is what we found. You could not move one state in the South very far
unless you were moving other states, too. We got the legislatures to compare
expenditures and budgets, and we had to move the whole South in order to
move an individual state. And all southern people knew that. They would
come, and all the states were working together to try to improve education in it.
Well, the legislatures would ask, "How much would it cost to do that?"
Just to show what it was at one time, before we started the Southern States
Work Conference, in 1933 I told you I went to the [Alabama] legislature as the
assistant state superintendent of education and lobbied for improving the
educational program through better financing, better organization, and so on. I
was appearing before a committee of the legislature--and this actually
happened--and arguing for improving the financing of education in Alabama, and
I fought it out. As for pupil expenditures, Alabama was the lowest of any state in
the Union except Georgia; Georgia was at the bottom. There was a legislator
that had been chewing tobacco (or snuff, I do not know which), and there was a
big brass spittoon there, and after I said that, he reached over and spit a big
spurt of tobacco into that spittoon. Then he said, "Dr. Johns, will you please tell
me why it is that education costs more per pupil in Alabama than it does in
Georgia? If Alabama is not on the bottom, why isn't it?" Now, that was the sort
of a sentiment we had to improving education in the depth of the Depression.
At that time, if you will recall, 25 percent of the population was unemployed.
There was no friendship to education in a Depression locality. The biggest help
we had was from Roosevelt's program. We put a lot of the teachers on WPA;
WPA paid their salaries, and they came and worked in the schools. They did the
same thing in Florida--they were on WPA. Those were very difficult times. The
Roosevelt program had various other programs that helped education, that
helped students. That was when the federal government first began to take any
real interest in education, under the Roosevelt administration.
C: Can we talk for a minute about the Negro school system? How did it work? It
seems like it functioned completely separate of the whole system of trustees and
things like that. Who appointed Negro school teachers in Florida?
J: Well, they were appointed either by the local district trustees or by the county
board of education.
C: In the same manner as the white teachers?
J: Certainly, they were. They were appointed that way. Now, they may have had
some local Negro citizens committees. I am not sure of that, I do not recall, but
Florida may have had some districts. You see, the Negroes were not voting
much. There was very little encouragement of them to vote. They may have
had some Negro citizens committees, although I do know about that. I never did
C: No, I have never seen any.
[End side A1]
J: If they had them, I did not know about it. What has helped the Negro school
some is called the Gene Supervisor.
C: That was a philanthropic organization.
J: Yes. They got help through that. I doubt if the board of education paid for a
supervisor out of public funds for the Negro schools. They did for whites.
C: So the Negro system tended to lag for that reason.
J: Well, it lagged for every known reason.
C: Well, they had a shorter term.
J: They did not have any equipment, and the buildings were very poor.
C: Salaries were lower.
C: I was in a Negro school in west Florida where they did not have any floors; there
was dirt on the floor. For heat, there was a fire in the middle of it and a hole in
the roof, just like a tent. That was a Negro school in west Florida. Actually, it
was just a shell.
Here is something else. It is not generally known or remembered, but in
Alabama rural counties, the boards of education would not build any schools for
Negroes. There were no public funds used for the building of Negro schools.
What they did, usually, was use a church that the Negroes built themselves.
Most of the rural schools in Alabama, when I went there in 1927, were conducted
in churches. You talk about mixing church and state! They were taught in the
churches. The boards of education told the Negroes, "Now, we can pay the
teachers, but you have to build a building." Of course, what they did was get
together and build a church, then maybe expand it a little bit. But in most of the
rural counties in the state in the 1920s, most of the schools for Negroes were
conducted in churches. They talk now about violating church and state by
saying a prayer in public schools. Well, they held school in a church. Talk
about having religious meetings in the public schools! And I am sure in Alachua
County they had the same thing, that there were rural schools here in Alachua
County in 1946 and 1947 that were taught in churches.
C: Well, 1947 would have been the time of your first survey. It seems like there
were far more Negro schools than white schools, but the Negro schools were the
one-teacher schools, and the whites had improved their schools to the point that
they were more centralized, the larger-unit schools.
J: You might go to Starke [Bradford County schools] and find out whether any of
those schools were taught in churches rather than in public school buildings. I
will bet you some of them were. I know they were in 1926 and 1927, because
that was common in Florida. We made the survey, and a great many of the
Negro schools in the country were taught in the Negro churches. The boards of
education would not build a building for them. They thought that was enough for
them if they paid the teacher's salary.
C: The Negroes had to provide the building themselves, so they used the church.
J: Yes. They may have built some themselves, but it was easier to utilize a
building that was already built. Now, they may have built an addition to the
church, or something like that. It was easy to do that. The Negroes were very
poor. You can understand how the whites themselves were poor to us, but the
Negroes were of very low economic standing.
C: Minimum Foundations definitely helped the Negro schools a great deal. It
seems like as far as the proportion of help that they received from the position
they were in in the early 1940s, they were improved as much as or more than the
white schools were.
J: Yes. I expect on a percentage basis, they were improved more than the white
schools. Then teaching became a very attractive occupation in the Negro
schools, so many Negroes went to institutions of higher learning to train
themselves to be teachers.
C: There were not very many other professions that were open to Negroes.
J: That is right. Well, even yet to this date, education has been very
attractive--government employment in general--for Negroes, as well as law
enforcement. They are after government employment. Any kind of government
employment is a relief to them.
C: Dr. Johns, to continue my study on Alachua County, are there any people that
you can think of that I should go talk with?
J: Well, have you talked with Mary Earl Meyers?
C: No, I have not.
J: Let me just give her a ring if I can.