Nothing new under the sun
John Birchers tried to take over PUSD in 1963
If this story seems familiar, that may be because it’s happened before.
In 1963, a group of radically conservative parents of Paradise High students decided they didn’t like what one of the teachers was telling their kids. The parents, led by a couple of ex-cops and a chewing gum salesman, all members of the right-wing John Birch Society, charged that social studies teacher Virginia Franklin was teaching their kids to be communists.
The charges stemmed from a series of in-class debates and mock-government hearings Franklin led, which encouraged students to explore divergent points of view. Franklin was lauded by educational organizations for her work, even receiving an award from the American Legion’s Freedom Foundation. Ironically, the Paradise legion chapter was one of the groups calling for her to be fired.
The controversy got so intense that one parent helped his son hollow out the pages of a textbook so he could hide a tape recorder there and surreptitiously tape Franklin’s class. The discovery of the tape was documented by a photographer from Life magazine, which ran an 11-page spread on the issue, bringing national, albeit unwanted, attention to Paradise.
When the school board refused to fire Franklin, the Birchers did what Stankiss is doing now—they ran a slate of candidates against the incumbents. They were defeated at the polls, but by only about 500 votes. Franklin later filed and won defamation suits against some of the parents, one of whom had gone so far as to wrap Halloween candy in notes that painted Franklin as a dangerous subversive.—Josh Indar