Rafferty, Maxwell Lewis, Jr. ("Max")

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RAFFERTY, Maxwell Lewis, Jr. ("Max")

(b. 7 May 1917 in New Orleans, Louisiana; d. 13 June 1982 in Troy, Alabama), prominent conservative educator and California State Superintendent of Public Instruction whose flamboyant oratory during the 1960s stirred education reform.

Rafferty, an only child, was the son of Maxwell Lewis Rafferty, Sr., owner of a paint and wallpaper store, and DeEtta Cox. Growing up in the Great Depression, he learned to read, with the help of his mother, at the age of three. When his father's paint business failed in 1931, the family moved from Sioux City, Iowa, to southern California, where his father found work in an auto plant. Rafferty graduated from Beverly Hills High School when he was sixteen, two years younger than his peers. He attended the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), where he managed the football and rugby teams and served as president of the Sigma Pi fraternity. He also belonged to the UCLA Americans, a conservative campus organization that served as a balance to its left-wing counterparts. In 1938 Rafferty graduated with a C + average and a B.A. in history.

After working at a gas station for a short time, Rafferty returned to UCLA to become a teacher. In his view, however, the UCLA School of Education was full of John Dewey's progressives, whose philosophy he viewed as a denial of "positive eternal values," and whose stress on "life adjustment and group acceptance" he believed to be at the expense of individualism and curriculum content. An ardent anticommunist, Rafferty was concerned about the "grim reality of Red military force and the crafty cunning of Red psychological warfare."

Rafferty's first job as an educator was in the Trona Unified School District in California, where he taught English and history and coached the football team from 1940 to 1948. He married Frances Longman in 1944. The couple had a son and two daughters.

After serving as principal of Big Bear High School in Big Bear Lake, California, from 1948 to 1951, Rafferty became superintendent of the Saticoy School District. He meanwhile continued his education, receiving an M.A. from UCLA in 1940 and an Ed.D. in educational administration from the University of Southern California in 1956. In 1955 Rafferty became the new superintendent of the Needles, California, school system, where he raised academic standards, added a new variety of textbook, boosted teachers salaries, instituted programs for gifted students, built a strong athletic program, and raised funds for scholarships for Mexican American and Native American children.

In 1961 Rafferty was hired as the superintendent of La Canada, California, school district. His first speech before the La Canada school board proved to be a turning point in his career. In this speech, "The Passing of the Patriot," he blamed his generation of educators for having been "so busy educating for 'life adjustment' that they forgot that the first duty of a nation's schools is to preserve that nation." As a solution, he proposed returning patriotism to education, making "our young people informed and disciplined and alert—militant for freedom, clear-eyed—to the filthy menace of Communist corruption … and happy in their love of country." The speech was widely distributed to right-wing groups including the Citizen's Advisory Committee on Education, which urged Rafferty to run for state superintendent of public instruction in 1962.

Rafferty's opponent, Professor Ralph Richardson of the University of California, had the almost unanimous backing of the educational establishment in California, but Rafferty had strong support from conservative groups, and in public debates he scored heavily over Richardson. Rafferty took the election by a margin of 219,844 votes, and was reelected in 1966 with a landslide of almost three million votes. Rafferty feuded with the liberal state board of education, especially over books that he wanted banned. But his conservative philosophy of education had little real impact because of the checks and balances and local control built into the California school system. The state's schools were never as progressive as Rafferty claimed.

Rafferty's speeches to education groups and civic clubs, as well as his articles written during these years, expressed his contempt for progressive education. In a 1967 speech to the Jaycees at the Yolo County Fairgrounds, Rafferty observed: "We're in the Sick Sixties Syndrome. We are a sick society. We are bored … bored stiff. With all the sex stimulants we have, we should be raked up all the time. The faster jets fly, the faster people go crazy. The more LSD we have to war off boredom the more bored we get. It all boils down to apathy." His speeches soon won the admiration of the growing John Birch Society. In accordance with his philosophy, grammar texts were returned to the elementary grades of California's schools, and programs in compensatory education were instituted for potential dropouts. Rafferty's opposition never wavered. He later noted, "After more than two decades in this Alice-in-Wonderland profession, I am more convinced than ever that the fastest and simplest way to learn about Eskimos in Alaska is to read about them and discuss them, not to construct harpoons and eat whale blubber."

In 1967 a Riverside, California, realtor named Dick Darling formed a committee of conservative Republicans interested in unseating liberal senator Thomas H. Kuchel in the 1968 Republican primary. The committee selected Rafferty. Campaigning as an opponent of the "four deadly sins" of violence, pornography, drugs, and lawlessness, Rafferty took fifty percent of the total vote and beat Kuchel by 66,635 ballots. In the general election against liberal Democrat Alan M. Cranston, former controller of California, Rafferty stressed the theme of law and order as "the one great issue." He blamed racial unrest on unemployment and promised to support tax cuts or rebates for businesses providing jobs for inner-city dwellers. Rafferty lost to Cranston.

Rafferty proved to be a great opponent of progressive educational policies, arguing with his "fire and brimstone" style for a return in schools to discipline, patriotism, and the "three R s." His essays criticizing progressive education were brought together in a book entitled Suffer, Little Children (1962). In a stunning upset, Rafferty was defeated in 1970 in his third reelection bid for superintendent by Wilson Riles, a black educator whom he had appointed his deputy. He left California in 1971 to become the dean of education at Troy State University in Troy, Alabama. He drowned as a result of a car accident in 1982 and was buried in Green Hills Memorial Park in Troy.

There is one biography on Rafferty: Paul F. Cummins, Max Rafferty: A Study in Simplicity (1968). Insight into Rafferty's controversial views on education can be found in his books, including Suffer, Little Children (1962), What They Are Doing to Your Children (1964), Max Rafferty on Education (1968), and Classroom Countdown: Education at the Crossroads (1970). An informative article is "School Critic Max Rafferty (1917–1982) and the New Right," Review Journal of Philosophy and Social Science 10, no. 2 (1985).

Reed Markham