Most of us know that in 1957, Arkansas Gov. Orval Faubus deployed the National Guard to prevent school integration in Little Rock. It did not go as planned: President Eisenhower used his superior power to override Faubus and ordered the Guard to instead protect the students, the Little Rock Nine – a move that ushered in integration in Arkansas’s capital city and showed the world that America was moving forward.
Equality won and Faubus was defeated…
The hateful governor, however, did not go quietly: the next year, 1958, as part of a broader “massive resistance” to integration, Gov. Faubus closed all of Little Rock’s public high schools and replaced them with television lessons produced at local tv stations.
The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette explains: “Each channel would offer 30-minute courses in English, math, history and science, with each station focusing on one grade level. The students would be on an honor system to watch… and there would be no homework or credit given.”
That’s right – rather than mix races, Faubus tried to entirely upend education – a bit like Ron DeSantis threatening to dismantle AP courses because he doesn’t believe in teaching true American history.
While Faubus thought he was clever, students were less than impressed. One 14-year-old said at the time, “I can’t wait to get back to school. The TV programs are fine, but I wish there was some way to have class discussions.” Another reflected later: “It was insignificant. It was watching some teachers talk on TV. It was the most modest form of educational experience.”
The courts were equally critical: a judge ruled Arkansas’ racist remote learning was just as unjust and unconstitutional as segregation itself and Faubus was once again forced to treat all people the same. Loser.
So, next time you hear a conservative gripe about remote learning during the COVID pandemic [or the next pandemic], remind them that their ideological ancestors pioneered remote learning to prop up racist discrimination. Isn’t it ironic?
[In an added twist, Faubus was a Democrat and Eisenhower a Republican – this was before the Dems moved left and the GOP adopted the “southern strategy” that began its embrace of hateful, discriminatory policies that define it today.]
(All images Thomas J. O’Halloran, via the Library of Congress.)