Interview with Robert Curran, December 10, 1979

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Interview with Robert Curran, December 10, 1979
Curran, Robert ( Interviewee )
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Samuel Proctor Oral History Program, Department of History, University of Florida
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INTERVIEWEE: Dr. Robert Curran
INTERVIEWER: Lillian Adderley
DATE: December 10, 1979

I: Okay. I have a list of questions that I would like to ask you,
Doctor. My first question for you is what made you decide that
education was to be your life's work?
S: You know, I don't know. I suppose the presence of a job, the
likelihood of a job. And I didn't much care, done a little work
in working for business, retail stores, and in the sense of doing
work in industry and business, private industry and business, and
I didn't much care for that. I imagine that I got into teaching
because I sort of liked maybe being a student. That may have been
the major reason.
I: Okay. What person had the most influence on you outside of your
S: This is the sort of question that I said I was going to have
a hard time with or harder time with. I really don't know. I
enjoyed a great number of teachers that I had. But I can't re-
call anyone particularly who had great influence or even more
influence than others. It may have been a cousin of mine who I
admired very much. It may have been.
I: What made you decide to work on a Ph.D., and where did you work
on it?
S: Well, I guess I decided to work on a Ph.D. because again I enjoyed
being a student and was pretty successful as one. And I thought
it might make me a better educator and earn me a little more money.
I: Why did you come to the University of Florida?
S: It was a job.
I: A job?
S: A job.
I: That's good. What was the student enrollment when you came here?
S: In the university or in the college?
I: In the university.

S: In the university, I'm going to have to guess. I came here in
1952, and I'm going to guess about 8,000. Now I'm not positive
about that. I would only guess about that. Maybe ten [thousand]
but certainly no more than ten.
I: What did you teach when you first came and in what hall?
S: I taught in old Norman Hall part of the time and then in some of
the prefabricated buildings that were holdovers from World War II
and on campus. One was Building K. As I remember it, that was
right across from the Computer Science building where the Computer
Lab building which in turn is across from the Hub, the Campus Book-
store. So I taught in that building. I guess it's torn down now.
And then I taught in a prefabricated building that may still be
around. It was on the, just about across the street from the
Florida Bookstore facing University Avenue. Those three then.
The two prefabricated buildings and old Norman Hall.
I: And what course did you teach?
S: Well, I taught Human Growth and Development which, whenever it was
needed. And I enjoyed doing that. It was our version of educa-
tional psychology at that time. And then I taught undergraduate
social foundations. It was then called, I think 245, and later it
was called 320,and now it's called 3604. And about two graduate
courses. One was called School and Society and the other was called
Theories of Mind and Their Educational Implications. Those courses.
I: What did you know of the university before coming?
S: Very, very little. I hadn't heard of Gainesville, Florida. I had
heard of Florida. I had some family, friends who had emigrated
from Oregon to Florida, to Jacksonville. And then who came back to
Oregon. No, it was just a job that was available and drew me
here. I didn't know anything about the Gators. I didn't realize
that the climate was particularly good and discovered, however,
that it was a little worse than I thought it was going to be be-
cause I guess the picture I had of Florida was soft winds and mod-
erate climate, palm trees, and that sort of thing.
I: Has today's student changed much from back then?
S: Yes. I think they are a little more skeptical. Today's students
are a little more skeptical. You might say realistic. Though
the regular students that I had thought they were realistic, but
they had a little more optimism about education, about teaching,
about what they might do about teaching and about what the schools

might do. They might have been a little more, oh, what is the word,
they might have been a little less demanding and a little less
aggressive than today's students.
I: What was the major goal of the College of Education when you came?
S: Well, I think I may not be answering you rightly but I think to
turn out good teachers and to turn out good school administrators
and turn out good scholars or researchers and other specialized
personnel. The School of Education, the College of Education,
then may have been a little more. There was once a man called John
Dewey, and it may have been a little more consciously oriented
around notions such as he expressed in his writings.
I: What was the program of the College of Education?
S: I'm not sure that I understand you. It was for the production, the
program was for turning out elementary and secondary school teachers,
school administrators, other doctoral specialists such as super-
visors of curriculum and instruction and counselors. And I think
those were the goals and maybe to makea more democratic society.
At the same time, to join in the search for scientific talent and
make teachers and counselors who would find and prepare this scien-
tific talent. You know, about that time there was great alarm over
something called Sputnik. That was in 1958, I believe. Maybe even
prior to that there was an effort to develop American scientific
talent, by finding them through counselors and training them through
the schools.
I: What compulsory courses were taught?
S: Well, the psychological foundations, Human Growth and Development,
were required of all undergraduates and it was a single course
taught in different sections and by different people. But it was a
highly unified and coordinated course for all undergraduates who
were seeking certification. Then the Social Foundations of Edu-
cation, which was less unified but was nevertheless thought of as a
single course. It was required of all undergraduates who were
seeking teacher certification. Then there was a graduate level
course called Socioeconomic Foundations of Education and the number
I believe was 620; I'm not positive what its- new number is, maybe
6606. In any event, it was required of all doctoral programs re-
gardless of what the specialization at the doctoral level was. I
think those were the requisites.

I: What important changes have you seen in the College of Education
S: More specialization in the College of Education program and, what
is the word, complication or elaboration of it. For example, when
I was here we had nothing and didn't even think of having anything
in what is now called special education as a certifiable specialty.
It was thought of, if it were thought of at all, as being simply a
part of teacher training at the elementary or secondary level.
So those two things, more specialization now and, administratively,
more decentralization. There was more centralization at that time.
Maybe a better word is coordination.
I: What do you think brought about these changes?
S: Well, what you would call organized interest groups. I believe we
have special education because there is now a politically persuasive
interest group of people in special education. That is to say,
parents of children and organizations whosededication is to excep-
tional children. I think usually handicapped exceptionalities. And
this special interest group has a way of exerting its influence on
public funds in getting public funds, and is responsible for the
obviously good thing to be done and the money with which to do it.
Then these programs at the College of Education respond. They are
developed by people who are wanting to do a good thing and finding
money with which to go about the business of trying to do it. I
think that's how it came about. The specialization that I spoke
of earlier, that is, that of increasing and expanding the program
of counselor education and maybe science teaching, was a response
again to political invitation or pressure and federal funds. I
think in most cases, you will find the changes arising because of
that. The increasing, there is another possible answer too, and
that is specialists have a habit of asserting themselves. So the
fact that the growing numbers of counselors or growing numbers
of school administrators organized would probably lead to the con-
tinuance of a program to turn out more of them and to sort of
regulate the production of more school administrators and counselors.
I: What areas have you worked in?
S: Social foundations almost exclusively. Generally, sociology of
education. Some social research in education and social philo-
sophy of education.

I: What changes have occurred in these areas that you just spoke about,
do you think, if any?
S: Declining enrollment has been one big change, particularly at the
graduate level. In general, this area, the social foundations area,
was a core requirement for all doctoral candidates--I'm not sure
about masters candidates--when I first came here, and it has lost
that position over time. So that now only those that are advised
to by their advisors at the graduate level take such courses.
Undergraduates still take these courses because they are required
to. There may be less interest on the part of students and on the
part of the college in either the philosophy or history of education
now than there was in an earlier time when I first came here.
I: What are the present and future prospects of teacher educators?
S: Well, I'm persuaded that there will be a continuing, though
maybe declining, group of teacher educators, if for no other
reason than when you have hordes of people who want to be or need
to be taught and some, we have to have some kind of agency that
says that here are the people that can do the teaching. So, I
think require, unless we admit something radically new, colleges
of education, departments of education, will continue along with
industrialization. It's just part of it, I believe. Maybe
increasing confusion of schools of education, less tendency for
a school of education to take things for granted and to assume that
what they are doing is either good enough or as good as can be done
because there seems to be a tendency for more and more criticism
from outside universities and inside universities, certainly out-
side universities, in schools of the schools. Does that answer the
question all right?
I: Yeah, okay. I would like to backtrack a little bit. Tell us
where you are from and when and where you were born?
S: Well, I was born in Oregon in what was then called central Oregon,
between the Coast Range and Cascades near a town named Eugene,
where the University of Oregon is located. This was in 1917 that
this birth occurred.
I: Where did your ancestors come from and what did they do?
S: They came from New Jersey and, I believe, Illinois. Maybe from
those two places and they were farmers when they got west, when
they got in Oregon. Prior to that, I suppose they were laborers

and maybe landowners. On my father's side, I believe they were
laborers, and on my mother's side, I think they were landowners.
They could have been farmers in Illinois.
I: Tell us a little bit about your parents, like, for example, their
names and where they were born.
S: Well, my father was born in New Jersey and, you would call it,
hitchhiked to Oregon. I guess he rode the trains. It must have
been in the very early part of the second decade of the twentieth
century, in the 1910s. And my mother was born east of Eugene in
an area along the McKenzie River. It was a rural, agricultural
area. She was living in Eugene at the time she met my father. They
were married there and they started farming this place where I
was born, not far from Eugene in a small country town with farms
surrounding it.
I: How would you characterize your home situation when you were a young
child? Did your parents have the notion that they wanted their
children to get a lot of education?
S: I think so, though it was more a matter of assumption than much
talking about it or pressure to do it. I think it was just taken
for granted that we would. We were, my mother had been schooled
in what was then called business school. I'm not sure that was
in addition to high school or just part of a comprehensive high
school. It may have been a year beyond high school. I'm not sure
that my father had completed high school. I don't recall her ever
talking about it. But they did fairly well as farmers, so that we
didn't face the obstacle or the barriers of being poor, too poor
to think about it. So, I guess we thoughtabout it and assumed that
is what would happen. And so did my brother and I. But my brother
didn't finish high school. He decided that other things were more
I: Where did you go to elementary school?
S: Oh, my, my. In upper New York state, in Medford, Oregon, and in
Sacramento, California. I went to elementary school in several
places. I may have, no, that was it. That was where I went to
elementary school.
I: Approximately how many children were in your classes?
S: In the first school that I attended in upper New York state, there
may have been, I want to guess fifteen in the whole school. It
was a one-room schoolhouse and it ran from the eighth grade through

kindergarten. I was a kindergarten youngster. I had one classmate,
a little girl. So there were two of us in the class in kindergarten.
That was the size of it.
I: Approximately how many hours a day were you in school?
S: Well, I can you mean this early first school?
I: Uh huh.
S: All right, I can recall that we would start out early in the morning,
my brother and I, and get home in middle or late middle afternoon,
a full school day.
I: Where did you go to high school?
S: In Sacramento, California.
I: What was the name of the high school?
S: It was the Sacramento Senior High School.
I: And what was the school curriculum then?
S: It was what is now called and was then called a comprehensive high
school. Youngsters went to that school; I think that at the time
I entered it was the only high school that Sacramento youngsters
could go to. There may have been a night high school that they
could also have gone to. For example, they were working the daytime.
But anyway, that was the only one that was called a, or thought of
as a senior high school and they went there if they wanted to do
what you would now call college prep or what was then called college
prep, like become a chemist or a teacher. They went there if they
wanted to enter into one of the vocations such as now we prepare
for in community college, business or secretarial work or skilled
craftsmen, auto mechanics or soldering or something of that nature.
And they went there if they had nothing else to do or could find
nothing else to do but had no particular vocation they wanted.
I: What year did you graduate from high school?
S: I think it was 1936.
I: What did you do after you graduated from high school?
S: I went to Sacramento Junior College after I graduated from high

I: Where did you get the idea about going to college?
S: In high school, I suppose. Pretty early in high school.
I: Did you have a counselor that you talked to?
S: Oh, yes. We had counselors. I don't think they were as specialized
as counselors are now, but they were designated as counselors and
I had counselors in junior high school and I had counselors in
senior high school and even in the community college, junior college,
I attended, though at the junior college level, they were a little
harder to find, the counselors were. They were more likely to be a
teacher to whom you turned, if you especially liked the teacher or
the teacher seems to be particularly able to turn to you.
I: How did you pick the college you attended?
S: The junior college I attended just simply because it was close to
home. And it wasn't expensive, it wasn't so expensive that I couldn't
attend it. That was how I picked that. And from there, I went to
the University of Oregon because of money again. I could go to the
University of Oregon and claim to be a citizen of the state and have
a lower tuition cost by reason of close kin in Oregon, rather than
to the University of California at Berkeley. It was not so, the
University of Oregon wasn't strange to me. As I said before, I had
kin around there. And I also had a chance to get work, through these
kin, these relatives, while I was at the University of Oregon, and
I wouldn't have had that chance if I had stayed at the University of
California. So that is why I went to the University of California,
Oregon, I mean to say.
I: Who supported you while you were in college and approximately how
much did it cost?
S: Well, I supported myself. I may have gotten a scholarship or some-
thing from some organization such as the Masons or Knights of Col-
umbus or something of that nature. And it was a very small scholar-
ship,but for the most part I supported myself. I worked as a dish-
washer and a busboy and a waiter in the fraternity where I lived.
I think I made $45.00 a month. I believe I got my meals free and I
may also have gotten my room free. It seems to me that it cost me,
we were on the quarter system, or the term system which is the
equivalent, I believe, to our quarter system. I'm not sure. In
any event, it seems to me that tuition was $30.00 a term, $90.00
a year. So, it was quite, much less in terms of paper dollars than
it is now. But I imagine that the, in terms of real dollars, it
was about the same as it is now.

I: What was your major and why did you choose it?
S: I guess I chose it because it interested me and I was fairly easy
with it. I was at ease with it. My major in college was German,
the German language. I enjoyed it and felt pretty much at home
with it. And then for teaching, I chose to teach, if I couldn't
teach German, English. That seemed to be an easy thing for me
too, and I enjoyed it. I guess those were the two reasons.
I: After graduation, what did you do and what was your first job and
S: Well, after my baccalaureate degree, I stayed on and got a master's
degree at the University of Oregon. It may have been during the
master's degree, the time, or maybe my senior and master's degree
year, I picked up the certification by the State of Oregon. And
I taught in Grants Pass High School, Grants Pass, Oregon, which
was just a few miles north of where I lived in Medford for awhile
as a very young boy. And I think my salary was $1200 a year. I
believe that's what it was. I made a little extra by driving a
bus, one of the school buses, at that time. This was in 1942, I
think,I had this high school teaching job.
I: What were certification requirements?
S: Well, I don't think they have changed a great deal from what they
are now. So many hours in education, so many of those hours in,
probably I, in what you and I call methods, and I imagine I had to
have something special to Oregon like Oregon history or the Oregon
constitution. Most states at that time required this sort of
thing,perhaps because it was a way of keeping people from out-of-
state coming in that state and teaching too easily and maybe also
because the Oregonians or the people who passed these laws thought
it was necessary to make a good Oregon teacher or a teacher of
Oregon pupils. I don't think they, we may require more hours now
but I don't think the content is much different.
I: What influence do you think the College of Education has had on the
University of Florida, if any?
S: This college here has had on the Univerisity of Florida?
I: Yes.
S: I think it has had a big influence. I think it has, for one thing,
in years past, it helped the University of Florida, in the sense of
the word, survive by packing in a great number of students during

the summertime. So, it has helped the University of Florida realize
the survivable, full-time equivalent, proper enrollment of students.
And I think it has had an influence upon the university in being
involved in or being part of the controversy over what is a good
university education and what's necessary for competent training
of teachers and perhaps school administrators. So, the College
of Education has, ever since I have been here, been a very active
and vigorous part of the university.
I: Okay, my last question I have for you is what impression do you
hope to leave here at the University of Florida?
S: I don't think any particular impressions. When I leave, I'll
leave quietly.
I: All right then, thank you very much.
S: You're welcome, you're welcome.