Tuesday's New York section story by reporter Ralph Blumenthal, "When Suspicion of Teachers Ran Unchecked in New York," followed the self-congratulatory liberal line that 1950s fears of Communism were not only overblown, butdevolved intomisguided "witch hunts" that caused innocents to suffer.
Fifty-seven years later, Irving Adler still remembers the day he went from teacher to ex-teacher at Straubenmuller Textile High School on West 18th Street.
It was the height of the Red Scare, and the nation was gripped by hysteria over loyalty and subversion. New York City's temples of learning, bursting with postwar immigrants and the first crop of baby boomers, rang with denunciations by interrogators and spies.
Subpoenaed in 1952 to testify before the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee investigating Communist influence in schools, Mr. Adler, the math department chairman and a member of the executive board of the embattled Teachers Union, refused to answer questions, citing his constitutional right.
The end came quickly, recalled Mr. Adler, 96, who later acknowledged membership in the Communist Party: "I was teaching a class when the principal sent up a letter he had just received from the superintendent announcing my suspension, as of the close of day."
Mr. Adler, who has written 56 books, was one of 378 New York City teachers ousted by dismissal, resignation or early retirement in the anti-Communist furor of the cold war, when invoking the Fifth Amendment became automatic grounds for termination. These painful stories may have been buried to history, if not for a coming documentary and a lawsuit seeking to reopen 150,000 documents on more than 1,150 teachers who were investigated and on the informers who turned them in. Among the questions, all these years later, is whether their names can be published, and whether there is still a stigma in being named, or having named, a Communist.
The Board of Education's purges came to be widely condemned as the city's own witch hunt, repudiated decades later by subsequent administrations that reinstated dozens of dismissed teachers.
Pardon the interruption, but just what principled ideological argument a Communist could offer against such a dismissal? Isn't one of the vital tenetsof Communism precisely that kind of pervasive state control of thought? Of course, in a Communist state, the penalties for subversion are far worse than "dismissal, resignation or early retirement."
This isn't the first time Blumenthal has pursued a misguided case of "academic freedom." In January 2007 he misleadingly couched the opposition by liberal professors at Southern Methodist University to a campus library honoring President George W. Bush as an academic freedom issue, when the truth was closer to the opposite - a group of liberal academics trying to drive off any alternate viewpoint that might make a president loathed by the left look good.