The Uneducated by Ginzberg and Bray 1953


Forward :::::

            It is part of a series of books on the use of labor sponsored by Columbia University: The Conservation of Human Resources Project.  It was started by General Eisenhower because he was struck by the evidence of the wastage in manpower he saw in WW II.  “The Ineffective Soldier” is a book being worked on about the soldier with emotional difficulties.  During the war, the Army and Air Force acted as one.  So thanking one is thanking both.  It is a study of the poorly educated in military and civilian life.


BOOK SUMMARY:  PART ONE “education and Society” looks at historical changes in the levels of American literacy.   PART TWO, “Military and Civilian Performance,” shows that, contrary to common wisdom, the marginally educated can be really good soldiers and civilian workers.   PART THREE, “Human Resources Policy,” says we need to give money to poorer states for education. 



1.    Our Human Resources

     During World War Two one in three (5mil out of 18 million) men were rejected for military service due to defects. 

In World War Two 716,000 men were rejected on the grounds that they were “mentally deficient.”  (300,000 for Korea).  At the start of WWII 4 million Americans had less than five years of schooling and 1.5 million were totally illiterate.


     Our economy allowed nearly free immigration until the 20s.  Relevant because it is the first manpower policy we ever developed!  We had enough manpower during WW I for home and abroad.  Stopping immigration led to higher wages?  His reading of history has us being concerned with quality of life only recently.  Volunteer groups and unions did it early on.  We’ve also taken collective responsibility for the unemployed. 


     “With roots stretching back to the early colonial period, free public education has been an outstanding characteristic of the American way of life.  (Pg 11)

First religious, then to educate the now voting populous and finally to allow for social mobility that can counter act revolutionary tendencies. 

We have underestimated the importance of an educated populace to the economy.  At high ends it is obvious. 

Typically education has been the job of the family and the local community.  And if a segment of society didn’t want education it wasn’t seen to be important to the country as a whole. 

Needing to lead the world against communism we can’t have 1/3 of the men illiterate. 


2.    The Accommodation of Education to Society 

         School  expresses values and cultures. We have been more inclusive than other nations in our public education.  Literate and illiterate immigrants has been our real target. 

    Four factors have really affected educational development in this country. 

  1. Large Scale immigration
  2. The transformation of the Negro from slave to freedman.
  3. The urbanization of the country.
  4. Our widespread geography making education really a local concern.

What is illiteracy?  Foreigners who can read another language?  In 1940 80% of those who had never attended school couldn’t read or write.  19 of 20 who had five or more years of school can read and write.  Those with less years are considered functionally illiterate. 


In 1930 of the almost 600,000 foreign – born Mexicans in the US, more than 300,000 were unable to even speak English. 

Between 1890 and 1940 there was a general closing of the gap between whites and blacks.

In 1947 older people were more likely than younger people to be illiterate. 


3.    The Uneducated in the Economy

“Education is preparation for life, for work, and for citizenship , including military service.”  Pg. 28

This chapter will look at where in society the uneducated resided in 1890 and compare that to now.

In 1890, 70% of illiterates worked on farms.  2% of executives were illiterate.  They worked in every level of society.  In 1890 one of seven male workers were illiterate. 

In 1890 40% of workers were farmers.  In 1950, 1 of 6 were.  In 1950 the south had more illiterates and the jobs they used to do were gone.  In 1940 12% of the male labor force had less than 5 years of schooling.  In 1948 it was down to 8%.  Three of 5 blacks in 1940 had less than five years.

Much of the overall improvements of the South in literacy reflect the gains of the black man. 



4.    The Scale of Illiteracy in World War Two

“Modern wars cannot be fought and won without the total involvement of all members of a society, or without the redirection of the nation’s resources to ends of war.” (39)

Between 1940 and 45 Selective Service held 6 registrations.  Prior to V-J day they had registered more than 22 million persons between 18  and 37 years of age.  But more got in because the third registration round of Feb 1942 required men through the age of 42 to register.  The fourth registration required all men between 45 and 65 to register. 


The 6500 registration boards had threefold responsibilities: register, classify and meet specific quotas set by the Armed Services.


For 1929-30 the range of expenditures of the forty eight states and DC in public schools ranged from $32 to $137.  GET ADJUSTMENT FOR INFLATION.  Pg 54


In  WWII there were thirty categories or categories that would make you unfit to serve or IV-F.  The four categories of IV-F were: Mental Deficiency, Mental Disease, Physical defects and Administrative (moral, etc.).  716,000 of 5.2 million rejects were Mental Deficient.  This amounted to 4 % of the men examined. 

Mental deficiency mostly meant educationally deficient. 

The overall negro rejection rate was six times that of the white.  The most extreme regional difference between races was in the extreme West.

Some states with low per capita income show a rejection rate comparable to much richer areas.  It is clear, nevertheless, that economics has much to do with the conditions underlying the World War II rejection rates.



5.    National Security and the Uneducated

We have previously called attention to the fact that although the US has been sparsely settled compared to other industrial countries of the world, it has not experienced serious manpower shortages.

Mobilization plans happened during the Large-scale unemployment of the 1930sSo the idea of running out of men.  So they made high standards to get the best men.


Of the almost 5 million men examined for service during WW One, approximately 40,000 were rejected for “mental deficiency.”  Defined as “in general, mental deficiency of the grade of imbecility or below.

From the official report of the Surgeon General of the Army on Defects Found in Drafted Men, the statement is made that “in general, mental deficiency of the grade of imbecility or below was a ground for unconditional rejection for any military service.”  “more than one-fourth of the enlisted men who were given mental tests were unable to read and understand newspapers and write letters home.” 63

  This did include registrants who were literate in languages other than English. 


““We learn from the history of World War I that many of the poorly educated men created a serious problem for the Army.  During the latter months of the war and the early months of demobilization, psychological examiners had to report about 8,000 men for discharge because of “mental inferiority.”  Another 10,000 were recommended for assignment to labor battalions because of low-grade intelligence.  Another 10,000 were assigned to “develoopment battalions in order that they might be more carefully observed and given preliminary training to discover, if possible, ways of using them in the Army.”  During this same period another 46,000 men were tested and found to be below “ten years mental age.”  In the opinion of Army psychologists, it was “extremely improbable that many of these individuals were worth what it cost the government to maintain, equip, and train them for military service.””63


“Since Negroes had a very high rate of failure on the tests, many contended that Negroes were basically less intelligent than whites.  Some experts, however, recognized that the Army tests did not measure “innate intelligence” and that  all generalizations, racial or otherwise, with respect to inborn mental traits were beside the point.  There was, however, general agreement among psychologists, military leaders, and to some degree, the public, that it was wasteful for the Army to try to make soldiers of individuals who had sever mental handicaps.  This basic lesson arising out of our experience in World War One played a large part in determining the approach followed during World War II.”(pg 63)


“During 1940 and early 1941 the Army accepted persons as long as they oculd understand “simple orders given in the English Language.”  64


Senator Theodore G. Bilbo of Mississippi in October, 1942 said  “... the system that you are using now has resulted in taking all the whites to meet the quota and leaving the great majority of the Negroes at home, or they are sent back [from the induction center], because there is the literacy test, and secondly there is the venereal disease...”


“In June, 1943, the Armed Forces agreed to disregard literacy completely as a formal qualification for induction.  In place of the fourth-grade standard, which had been more or less in effect for the preceding two years. After failing the literacy test candidates were given a test of mental ability.  In June 1944 a new battery of tests was introduced. 


This test weeded out from the STU programs those who were emotionally unstable too.


Samuel Goldberg distilled the aims of the STU to five:


  1. To teach the men to read at least at a fourth-grade level so that they would be able to comprehend bulletins, written orders and directives, and basic Army publications.
  2. To give the men sufficient language skills so that they would be able to use and understand the everyday oral and written language necessary for getting along with officers and men.
  3. To teach the men to do numbers work at a fourth-grade level, so that they could understand their pay accounts and laundry bills, conduct their business in the PX, and perform in other situations requiring arithmetic skills. 
  4. To facilitate the adjustment of the men to military training and Army life.
  5. To enable the men to understand in a general way why it was necessary for this country to fight a war against Germany, Japan, and Italy. 


The course ran for 120 days, approximately 40 percent of the men graduated in less than 30 days approximately 40 percent graduated in less than 60 days.


Reading, Language Expression and Arithmetic were the big subjects.

Those falling into Groups I and II spent on an average of 4 to 6 weeks in the Unit, the lower levels requiring from 8 to 12 weeks of training. 

They learned more and faster when they were allowed to experience the program as a cohort.


The teachers lived with the students so it was 24 hours a day.

We have noted that aout 255,000 soldiers were graduated out of just under 303,000 between June 1, 1943 to its end in December 1945.


Instructors, with few exceptions had college degrees, many had master’s and a few doctorates.  They were selected due to background and ability to teach.  Formerly, they were connected with civilian school systems from elementary to college.    A “unit” had 26 instructors.


In total the Army inducted about 384,000 illiterates.  220,000 were white and 164 Negro.  Including the Navy, all totaled, about 435,000 illiterates were taken in during WW II.


70% sent to the STUs were illiterates and 30% grade V.


The Army kept records of a sample ( a sample of 5%)   After the reform of June 1943, 24 STUs were established.  The sample they used for study  were from either the Special Training Unit as Camp Atterbury, Indiana or (in the South) Camp Shelby Mississippi.  there were

6.     The Military Performance of the Uneducated

They used a sample of 400 men (200 white, 200 black) ½ from the deep south and ½ from border and Northern states. 

All but 3 were born in the United States.  Foreign born was less than 1%.

Before evaluating their success, we will look at their backgrounds.  All but three of the foreign men were born in the US.  At the time of the 1940 Census, almost three-fifths of the 1.5 million draft age men with less than four years of schooling lived in small communities or farms. 

Almost three fourths were born in communities of under 5000 population. 


Slightly under half, 179, were 20 years of age or less when inducted 275 were 25 or less; and just under 85% were 30 or younger. 

The median age of the Negroes was 2.4 years higher than that of the white.


There were no conspicuous differences between the years of school completed by the Negroes and whites.  But the Northern group (Atterbury) was higher than that of the South (Shelby). 


The most striking stat of the sample was that 55% had completed four or more years of schooling.  Only 3% had never attended school.  Just over 2/3rds of the whites had farming backgrounds, but less than half of the Negroes.  Only a third of the Northern Negroes but almost 80 percent of the Southern whites had been farmers at some time. 

In 94% of the records there was no evidence that the men had ever run into any trouble with law-enforcement.  With few exceptions, they were self supporting.  Nearly half were married or had been.   So they earned enough to assume the responsibilities of the head of household. 

Of the 400 men 57 failed to graduate from the STUs.  They were mostly discharged due to being inept, but reading their records shows that a considerable number suffered from emotional disabilites that made them unfit for serve too.  Though a four week extension could be granted, in the opinon of the instructors, most of home took great pride in their work, the 42 who failed  for ineptness could not possibly pass in 16 weeks.

86% of all men initially assigned for STUs for training successfully completed the course.  In total, 6 were separated out to screening errors, 9 due to medical, disciplinary and miscellaneous discharges, 42 for ineptitude.  57 discharged, 343 graduates. 

The Negroes who constituted half the program were handicapped in their search for promotion in two major ways;  they were not assigned to combat and it was customary to assign a considerable number of white non-commissioned officers to Negro units.


“With few exceptions, Negroes were not assigned to combat units during World War II.” (pg 86)


Removing the 67 men who were separated on administrative or medical grounds, only 7% of the remaining 276 men were clear failures. 


Since it was customary throughout the war to retain in the US men with defects that might interfere with their serving competently abroad, the fact that 76 percent of the 343 men served overseas is a striking sign of the quality of their performance.  The 260 that went over averaged more than one year of service in a foreign theater.  Considering that they weren’t inducted until late in 43 or 44, spent 3-4 months in a STU, and another 3-4 months in basic training, it is clear that they were shipped overseas shortly after completing basic training.  They were sent to every theater, but the largest number were assigned to the European Theater of Operations. 


Though officers had a negative view:  Just under 200 received combat training, but much less saw battle, that isn’t surprising because 48 were negroes and negroes served as voluntary individual replacements during the Battle of the Bulge, negroes were not regularly assigned to combat units. 


You got a battle star for each campaign and four were possible: Normandy, Northern France, Rhineland, Ardennes-Alsace.  Of the 173 whites in the study, 96 had two battle stars.  Twenty five percent of the entire group achieved the grade of corporal or higher. 


Of those discharged for serious offence, 3 of 5 had previous sentences in civilian life. 


Even though some were wounded in combat, they averaged only 1.3 hospitalizations per man for an average of just under two years of service.  This was below the average for the Army as a whole. 


Of the 343 soldiers, 270 show no evidence of having contracted any venereal disease while in the service.  Seventy-three did, 60 negroes and 13 whites.  Of the 343 only 41 had been deemed Not Acceptable.  Twice as many whites were assessed as very good. 

Of the 400 men originally assigned 57 were discharged during their training. 


When compared with a control group of non-STU soldiers we found that 76% v. 82% of control group received favorable discharges.  5.5 % of the STU group and 2% of the other were discharged “unfavorably”.  17 v. 12 %won medals.  But the two highest medals (the silver star) went to STU members.  22% of STUs had court marshals.  14% of non. 


Control group did better, but had better education.  What was not expected was that the STU graduates would include so many outstanding soldiers.  Was their existence a boon?  Unequivocal.  85% served acceptably or better, as compared to 90% for the control group.  When men were badly needed, they succeeded. 



  1. Successful and Unsuccessful Soldiers

This chapter should be scanned in.  It includes the stories of many individuals.  The summary paragraph is as follows:


But whatever the limitation of the classification system may be, we are convince that more than four out of every five Special Training Unit graduates gave satisfactory performance, and more than one out of three were good or very good soldiers. 


  1. From Soldier to Civilian

“They used two types of information in attempting to learn about the post-service experience of our sample of STU graduates.  First, we asked the Veterans Administration to search its records for evidence that any of the graduates had entered a claim for further education after they left the Army.  Secondly, we sent each graduate a simple questionnaire, using the most recent address in the files of the VA.

The education available to veterans was of three types:  institutional, which included every level of the school system from grammar school to post-graduate collegiate instruction; on-the-job training, which was either industrial or in the service trades; and farming.  Of the 311 graduates we sought information about in 1951, the records revealed that just about half had entered a claim for one or more of these types of education benefits.”  125

There were practically no differences between the percentages of the whites and the Negroes who claimed educational benefits.  However, there were some interesting differences as to the types sought.  The majority of the Negroes undertook institutional education, whereas most of the whites entered farm training. 

There was a much greater demand for training by veterans who had entered the Army from the South.  2/3 v. 2/5.  The group that had the highest percentage entering further training was the Southern Negro.  125


One of the interesting regional differences is that the men from the South not only claimed more education than those from the North, but those who claimed it staying in the program more than twice as long – an average of twenty months compared to eight months. 

They sent out a total of 328 questionnaires by registered mail.  68 were returned undelivered so 260 received.  Just over half who received it replied.  Filled in questionnaires came from 42%.  Of the 130 answers, just under a third said the classes helped a lot, just under half said they helped some on in six said they’d be just as well without them. 


The major complaint that came out in the survey was that they were too short. 


One response included the following, “They helped me understand about army life and also helped me to write home.  If I hadn’t gone to school I wouldn’t have been able to write home.”  Another wrote, “I could scarcely write my name when I went into service.  after my schooling I did all my writing.”           

            Several men said that if they had it to do all over again they’d have put more into it.


F.S. thought that “the classes were all right but it could have some improvements.  Such as people with good educations entering such classes to get away from Army basic training.”  He went on to say that “teachers and trainees tried their best in anyway they could but it impossible to learn too much in two months.”


GT felt the same, “I think the Ideal of the classes was good but they was not long enough I believe it would have been better if the School would have last all way through training. and it could have been after duty hour.  I would say about from 6 PM to 9PM.


“Perhaps the most characteristic reply for those who entered the Army almost totally illiterate was the following by K.Z.:

1.      I wood not have been any good at all because I could not write my name before I went in the army.  The army has help me a lots in meny ways

2.      it Learn me how to write and spell Just as I wont to no more about Those Thing-which I did not have a chance to get in my groing up days.

The third question asked if the course had helped them after they were discharged.  If so how?  Under 20 percent failed to answer.  20 no help.  20 percent that they now had control of their three rs.  15 percent said it helped them secure a better job.  10 percent that it had helped them acquire greater skill.  The remainder made a general positive remark. 

“L.M. expressed that thought in these terms: “I don’t recall to much about the studies now, but I think any education is helpful, and I willingly except it.”

There was no doubt in N.P.’s mind that his Army training had helped: “I got beat out of neary ever thing I made before I went in the army and since I came out I count with them.”  C.K. was more explicit: “Now since I learned to read and write I can keep my farm record and do all my writing.”  B.D. thought the classes “helped me In getting a job.  In doing the things I wanted to do most. which Is get ahead In life.  and If I had the chance I would still like to go to school.”

            B. G. was most specific.  He stated that the classes “helped me with the job I have now. I am a Foreman at the --- and I do a lot of reading and writing.”  H. K. revealed very clearly how is Army experience influenced his entire life:


            Yes the classes did help me  I enjoyed them.  at that time I had begin to see where I needed more Education, and I put everything I had in it.  So that I would have a better chance when I come back home for a better job.

            I started to Perry Business School, January 3, 1950.  and I finished 20th Century Accounting and Clerical course.  and then I got a chance to take a G.E.D. test and passed it.  I then got a High School Equivalency Certificate.  I am now taking Junior Accounting Course.  I will finish it some time in the latter part of this year.  I am going to School under the G.I. Bill.  You can tell by my hand write that it was very poor when I had to stop going to school and help farm.  It is not very good yet, but I have improved considerably to what it was and I am still trying.  I can type 40 words per minute.


H.K. went on to comment that these Army classes “helped me to realize that I needed more education so that I would have a better chance in life for a better job.”  During the last four years he had been employed as a truck driver earning $42 weekly by working sixty hours at 70 cents per hour.  “The reason I am working for a salary like that the Bookkeeper is leaving right away, and I am going to get his Job as bookkeeper.”


            As one might expect, there was no tremendous change in the general occupational and income circumstances of these men as a result of their military service, even with full allowance for their special training.”  130 – 131


For the most part they went back to the same part of the country and took the same types of jobs.  Prior to their induction men from the North averaged just under $40 and those from the South just under $29.  There was only a one-dollar differential in favor of the whites over the Negroes. 


J.H., who was livig in Columbus, Ohio, wrote as follows:

            I was just a country boy and I didn’t get much school but when I went in the army I couldn’t write my name, but as you see that I can write and by that you know that the school is Helping me and other to My daddy taking sick and I Hand to work and didn’t get much education But now I hope that you will understand.

            Listen I will like for you to do something for me we got to set in school from 5-30 in to 11-30 at night and don’t have no break I want you to try and do some thing about it.  Because it is Heart on us and work every day.  Please.




A.D.C. sent us the following note from his home in a small town in northern Mississippi:


Dear Sir:

            Maybe you could help me.  I have applied for Guard Duty job with the T.V.A. of Muscle Shoals, Ala.  and so far I have not been albe to get the job.  If you know of anyone who could help me in this matter I would surely appreciate it if you let me hear from you soon.

                                                Very sincerely yours,



A.X. replied in these terms:


Dear Mr. bray.  I got your letter ad you wanted too know how the classes helped I the army well I guess they did.  My work was loading and unloading ammunition I was in the Quarter Master at first but was shipped to Mississipy I went to the 6 grade before going to the army and I think I was 16 or 17 years old.  No I haven’t got no more Education.  I was doing common labor and that what Im doing now.  one thing theres no work much in White Sulphur this time of year.


A Kentucky veteran gave us a terse summary of his experience with special training in the Army:


Dear Sir:

            I will drop you a lines to tell you the reson the Classes dident help me I dident have enough education to start with and just dident have enough classes.

                                    Yours truly,



C.J.F. wrote us a letter which itself reinforced what he had to say in it, namely that his Army education helped him very little:


dear sur:

            I have just Rec. you Letter about the School I had in the army.  and I have and all I can about it.  But I would like to say that if you want to use my name in your Report you can but the school have not help me at all.  Sent I bin out but I have megre to get by so far.  So I will close. 

                                    Very truly your



Although E. F.R. from North Carolina has had anything but good luck since returning to civilian life, he nevertheless retained a warm feeling for what the Army had tried to do for him:


            After being discharged from the Arm, I took advantage of the G.I. bill of rights in purchasing me a home, with the hopes of getting in the agriculture training classes.  I signed up and everything was O.K., after a long delay the agriculture teacher refused to send them in.

            Since three years have gone by I learned why he did not let me in the School.

            However I lost my home and now indebt to the government on account of it.

            Would like to get in some Schooling, some where, suppoe it too late.


            use my name in any way you see fit, I feel it helped me in many ways”. (Pg 134)


The biggest complaint was that the program was too short.  From the Army’s point of view, that wasn’t a shortcoming.  It is important that 50% of the men who recived the letters took the time and trouble to fill out the questionnaire. 

            “One cannot review these materials without recognizing that the opportunity afforded these men to acquire in adulthood what most people acquire in childhood – the basic tools for communicating with their fellow men – gave new and heightened meaning to their lives.  Several respondents commented on the fact their whole adjustment to life had altered because they had acquired the ability to read and write.” 136


  1. Southern Industry and the Uneducated


As late as 1940 the number of persons with less than a fifth-grade education employed in the economy amounted to approximately 12 percent of the total male civilian group.  The largest number of poorly educated live in the Southeaster part of the United States.  There are a few noticeable concentrations elsewhere – the Mexicans in Texas, the Indians in New Mexico and Arizona, the Southern migrants to the North….But the heart is in the Southeast.


A study in 1930 found that 15 percent in the Southern cotton mill towns had never been to school.  40% were either totally illiterate or were at best semi-literate.  He (the author Rhyne) found one family that didn’t send his kids to school because it “made people mean”.  A female relative had gone to school and become mean.

Ginzberg et all sent out questionnaires to industrialists.  They replied that they didn’t think of local education level when setting up a factory because all areas they considered had about the same level of education.  Forward thinking ones did, but there wasn’t a labor shortage so they could always get what they wanted.  Our society is producing an adequate supply of literate folk.  Many jobs did have a minimum education level requirement.  But if they cannot fill out the application it doesn’t automatically preclude them from all types of employment at the factories. 

If he is black a man is excluded from work in nearly all factories save the coal mining and steel manufacturing sectors. 

There is little opportunity for advancement in any branch of the industry without the ability to read and write. 

Twenty-five or thirty years ago many of the Latin American people were illiterate, or practically so.  That is much less true today and most such individuals have full opportunity to obtain grammar school, and even high school application.


The following summarized beliefs of a Southern Industrialist are said to be typical:


…the days of the log cabin are past; the days of the one-room schoolhouse are past…Our school facilites in the rural areas in the South are, I believe, equal to the rural schools in the North and Midwest.  It is true the South’s colored schools in the past have not had the same standards of facilities as the schools for white students.  That, too, is understandable.  These standards were based on the degree of appreciation of education and mental ability to absorb the education.  This standard is rapidly advancing under its own impetus.  Just how much advantage will be taken by the colored people of the higher standards is a moot question and only time will tell; however, if you can judge the future by the past it is reasonable to assume that the same advantage will not be taken by the colored people as by the white.  This is because of the fact that the colored race measures its standard of living more in terms of pleasure and leisure rather than accumulation of wealth.  Certainly the colored people have ample opportunity in the skilled trades.  Several skilled trades such as bricklayers, are monopolized by the colored people – the difficulty is getting them to work steadily.  Its seems that once they have enough money to last them for a week or two they go fishing. 

We, therefore, require high types of individuals, as the responsibility of the jobs is great and consequently high wage levels make it impossible to consider the use of illiterates in any of our positions.  The illiteracy problem here, as I see it, is (1) with Negroes, the (2) old people… this is not in the area of industrial employment. 


      Back to the author’s opinion.

      Prior to the enforcement of the school attendance law, the primary problem of educators in the county was to keep the students in school – in grammar school as well as in high school.  The parents of the children have shown very little interest in whether or not the student attended law.

      High skilled labor is brought in from the outside. 

      The population as a whole does not want taxes raised for the purpose of improving schools.


  1. The Uneducated Migrant


On the average the more education a man has, the more likely he is to migrate, and the further he is to move.  It is estimated that there are approximately 2.5 million Spanish Americans in the in the Southwest, of whom about 1.5 are in Texas, where they comprise approximately one-sixth of the total population.


            There is no point in belaboring figures which permit only one conclusion – that very large numbers of Spanish Americans were rejected for military service during World War II because they were Spanish – speaking, a factor which the various screening examination failed to take adequately into account. 

            The large scale rejections for military service refer to the resident Spanish American population – the majority of whom were born in the United States – and not to the recent immigrants most of whom entered the United States illegally.  How does it happen, therefore, that these native-born Americans failed to acquire even a minimum literacy in English?  Certain detailed information is available about Hidalgo County in the extreme southern part of Texas.  This county had a very high rejection rate – just under 40 percent.  However, almost three – fourths of the population is Spanish – speaking.  A sample study reveals that more than half of the Spanish speaking population had no schooling whatever, that 80 percent had less than five years of schooling and 90 percent had less than seven years.  Of those who had no schooling whatever and were over twenty-one years of age at the time of the survey in 1949-50, it was found that seven out of ten had been born in Mexico.  Perhaps the most important statistic is the average daily school-attendance which was only 28% of those enrolled.  The explanation for this very low rate must be found in the heavy seasonal migration of this population.  In each two-year period one out of every two families moves north.  Apparently they are dispossessed by the illegal immigrant who comes over the border at harvest time.

            Unlike other rural places in Texas, Hidalgo was wealthy.  The average salary per farm was $13,500 though they had a high rejection rate.  The illegal immigrant, the wetback, amounted to 25 cents per hour.  [note: “wetback” the author’s term]

            Spanish Americans who are long term residents are underrepresented in heavy industry.  Many are in light industry where they form from a fifth to a third of the total labor force.  Usually they are between one and 6 percent of the labor force.  They are however a third of the metal industry.  They are usually either not hired or hired in department. 

            “…the Spanish American population I the Southwest indicates that they suffer from a large number of handicaps, including the specific handicap of limited education and literacy.  If they are to overcome the barriers which face them and adjust successfully to the American way of life they must acquire a knowledge of English.  Hence educatin can be said to play a crucial part in their adjustment process.” 176


            “Most states, hard pressed to find revenues to educate their own children revised their residency laws to deny the migrants most of the rights of citizenship, including the right to send their children to a free school.”  177


            The technological revolution has made it increasingly difficult for the farm worker to obtain a full year’s work.  Animal power is being replaced by tractors.

            “In any case, they rarely attend school when outside of their home state, and frequently are absent when at home.  While most states and localities no longer specifically exclude the children of migrants, few make any serious effort to compel school attendance.  The determining factor is the attitudes of parents and children toward education. The need for the wages of the children…the reluctance of the children to attend classes in which they are older than the others, and the social ostracism that usually meets the migrant – all contribute to the obvious result.  ….only a small percentage of the school-age children of migrants actually attend school when they are outside of their home state, and those who do are usually between two to five years behind the resident children.  It is indeed questionable whether the educational problem posed by the children of migrants can be resolved short of a successful attack on the problem of migratory labor itself.”  (pg. 178)


---------The Navajo Indians--------

Experts agree that the illiteracy rate among the Navajos approximated 90 percent at the outbreak of World War II.  Prior to World War II the main explanation for the very high illiteracy rate among the Navajos was the basic lack of motivation among the Indians themselves  Parents saw no special reason for their children to learn English.   A shortage of water usually dictates that the Navajo have two homes- a winter home and a summer home, it is clear why even with very strong motivation success would be hard. 


It was estimated at the end of the 1940s that “five-sevenths of all Navajo children (15,000 out of 21,000) are not enrolled in any school.

One boarding school mentioned “Fort Defiance” was very overcrowded. 

There is a common theme to all.  “Each group is confronted by the same problem.  Each group has a background of farming where labor surpluses and underemployment prevail.  Out-migration is the only possible solution.  But migration is difficult because they lack education. Finally, the community they must join is a literate community which shows little hospitality to the illiterate.





  1. The School and the Community

We discovered that the single most important component of the relatively low education level in the South throughout the period from 1890 to date was the illiteracy of a large portion of its Negro population.  Over the past fifty to sixty years, no other region has had to contend with so burdensome an inheritance.

            It is difficult for the illiterate or even the poorly educated to force his way into more desirable sectors of the economy. 

            The existence of the problem was revealed to the country as a whole at the tme of World War I.

But the “return to normalcy” after the end of the war and the prosperity of the 1920’s deflected attention from the findings; then the major depression of 1929 – 33 and the continuing underemployment  throughout the rest of the decade led the country to be preoccupied with the problem of manpower surpluses. 

            World War II brought back into our attention. Those rejected for illiteracy reflect the educational structure as it existed around 1930.   There has been an almost complete disappearance of European immigration since 1930 and the very rapid industrialization of the south since 1940 have changed the needs and situation we face. 

            In presenting these essential facts the following structure will be employed.  First, an effort will  be made to estimate the scale of responsibility for educating the young which rests upon the South relative to other sections of the country.  This will be be followed by an estimate of the resources available to the South in comparison with other regions of the country. 

            Although the South has a high ratio of children to the active working population, it has a relatively low proportion of aged. 

            But the really striking ratio is the one that indicates that among the Negro farm population of the South there are nine children for every ten adults!  There can be no doubt that the burden of educating children  is much heavier in the South.

            One of the major exports to other parts of the country is young adults. 

            The average expenditure per child in the poorest Southern states was still less than half the national average. 

            Between 1929-30 and 1949-50 the national average expenditures for education decreased from $2.80 to $2.30 per $100 income earned.  Outside of the South every state decreased the proportion of income spent on school operation. 

            Despite the fact that the Federal Government made various types of contributions between 1930 and 1950, mostly in the form of assistance in construction and in the support of school lunch program, approximately 98 percent of all educational expenditures in 1950 came from state or local funds.

Between the 1930s and 1950s the State took more of a role from  the locality.  State contributions went from 15% to 43%.  The increasing role of the State government in the South these two decades:  The percentage provided by the state increased in North Carolina from one to 78%; in Georgia from 37% to 63%; in South Carolina, 27% to 70 percent. 

            Florida and Oklahoma spent more on Negroes than many southern states spent on whites.  The high expenditures for Negroes in the state of Oklahoma reflects their only being 35,000 in the state and segregation being expensive for that small a number of kids.

            There has been, however, a real effort in the South to increase its expenditures for both white and Negro students with particular stress on the latter.  For instance, between 1941 and 1951 Alabama increased its expenditures per pupil enrolled about 170 percent for whites and 530 percent for Negroes.  At the present time the state itself spends the same amount for Negroes as for whites; such differences as remain reflect local funds which account for only 20 percent of the total.  Between 1930-50 Florida increased the total amount spent on white pupils from $62 to $186 and from $17 to $131 for Negroes.  In South Carolina expenditures for white pupils increased from $58 to $113, and for Negroes from $8 to $ 54.  Between 1940 and 1951 Arkansas increased its expenditures for Negro pupils from $14 to $78 per annum. 

            We have always spent more on facilities than instructional staff.   In the eight states with the highest proportion of Negroes in the population, 7,000 out of 8,5000 one-room schools were for Negro children.  But the expenditure is going up for Negroes more than for whites in part in recognition that the South has discriminated badly against the negro.  In 1951 Mississippi spent $5 million were spent on white schools and $8  million on Negro schools.

            In 1950, 84% of all the children living in the Northeast who were between five and 17 years old were enrolled in school.  In the South the percentage varied from a low of 78 for the white and the Negro children on farms to a high of 82% for urban and white children. 


In the south, between 1941 and 1951 the pay for teachers went from 1,030 to 2,500.  That for Negro teachers went from $510 to $2,105.  In 1941 only one out of every three Negro teachers in Florida had a Bachelor’s degree; today nine out of ten have one. 

Recent composite data presented a favorable picture; in the South there are twenty-nine white pupils per teacher and thirty-four Negro pupils per teacher. 


            For the nation as a whole only seven out of every ten children who were enrolled in the first grade in 1943-44 had reached the fifth grade four years later.  Of the Negro students in the seventeen states and DC which segregate, only four out of every ten had reached the fifth grade. 

            In 1950 one out of every three children between the ages of ten and 13 in the Northeast had failed to complete five years of school; in the same age group, the ratio for Southern Negroes was 60 %.  In 1947 a special study revealed that one out of every six male Negro children between the ages of fourteen and seventeen had not completed five grades, and it was reasonable to conclude that they never would. 


  1. The Armed Services

At the outset of the Korean war, the Armed Services knew little more about what its induction and training system should be than at the beginning of WW II.  Based on unfounded bias against illiterates they went back up to high standards and rates of rejection. 

Control over standards for enlistment and induction rested with the Services, not with the Selective Service System nor with Congress.

From July 1950 to December 1951, 1.3 servicemen were accepted and slightly more than 700,000 rejected.  Of all the rejected, 54 percent had failed to pass the new mental examination called the Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT).

Of the 392,000 who failed the exam, 213,000 came from the Southeast.  During WW II the Southeast accounted fro 435,000 of the 716,000 total who were rejected because of mental or educational handicaps (61%).  Today this region accounts for 54%.  The Southeast and Southwest have improved due to substantial migration. 

The present examination which is made up of three parts- arithmetic, language, and spatial relations – certainly cannot be handled well without a reasonably good reading knowledge of English.  He says that this is conflated with mental ability and increases needless rejection.

67 % of the rejected were foreign born, 27 % were Negroes, and only 6 % were native born whites.  The three predominant groups among the foreign born were Italians, Puerto Ricans, and Poles.  The foreign born and the Negroes had attended school for an average of only 3.5 years.  The rejected white probably were retarded, but not the foreign born.

Why have they been so adamant about rejecting otherwise physically fit men? Because the illiterate recruits are erroneously thought to be costly.

Among other points stressed were that Education is not a primary function of the Armed Forces.  Armies in democratically organized nations with an industrial economy must utilize in an emergence, personnel with a general education level which civilian education systems have produced. 

In Korea low standards is leading to the Army being to heavily Negro than the other branches of the military. 

There is an informed opinion which suggests that about 2 percent of the population would find it impossible to meet the ordinary social and economic demands of life unless their environment were protective.  They simply do not possess sufficient mental acumen to be able to meet the stresses and strains of an individualistic and competitive world. 

The rejection rate for mental reasons in the US, both in WW II and again in Korea,  is approximately three times that of the British. 

Under the Nazis the Germans set a very low mental standard for acceptance; it was the equivalent of an IQ of 55.  Since Germany was practically free of illiterates, those who scored very low were clearly feeble minded.  However they were utilized.  And a number were able to improve and avoid sterilization.

In Switzerland there was only one illiterate soldier.  .




  1. Human Resources Potential

All too long the Social sciences have been retreating from the lines of action.  They have been intimidated about the ability to contribute to the solution of complex social issues.  Caution, modesty and restraint are necessary virtues for the serious-minded researcher.  There is excellent reason for the conscientious scholar not to make excessive claims.  Excessive caution that is turned into evasion is a vice. 

The Aristotelian insight that man is a political animal was never more pertinent than in assessing the role of a social scientist in a democracy.  The social scientist hides behind the need for more time and more study.  There is nothing contradictory, however, between his search for better solution, which may well require more time and more study, and his willingness to make at least a partial contribution.


There may still be significant alternatives when it comes to translating them for the realm of action.  A conservative and a liberal may have honest differences of opinion about how to proceed in attacking a particular type of social pathology.  But the Army should use the info from WW II on Korea.  From civilian life, we can get results to the question of the relationships which exist between a man’s educational background and his performance at a specific level of work. 

            Some social scientists may question the statement that it is the obligation of an investigator to make explicit the policy implications that grow out of his research  This philosophy underlies the present investigation and all those of the project on the Conservation of Human resources. 

            During WWII more than 700,000 men were permanently rejected for service because of low mental level.  Yet we could also be proud that illiteracy is today just a residual problem.  In 1890, there were more than 6.3 million illiterates in the US  (one of seven people).  In 1950 there were 2.5 illiterates, or one in fifty.

            The extent of illiteracy in the native-born white population has declined from more than six percent in 1890 to less than one percent today.  Although the decline in the amount of illiteracy among the foreign-born population, hasn’t changed much, there is reason to expect a steady general decline because the older group is dying and immigration is laws have not permitted many folk to enter since WW I. 

            In 1890 more than one in two Negroes was illiterate; today the comparable ratio is approximately one in ten.

            Why is it a serious error for the country as a whole to continue to disregard the consequences that flow from regional deficiencies?

1.      We may have another war that requires a full blown mobilization (Korea might).  We don’t need to wait for an emergency when we’re busy.

2.      Large-scale technological changes under way in the Southeast.  In 1890 two out of every three persons in the South earned their livelihoods farming.  today this is true of only one in four.  If large scale out-migration from the South continues, then it becomes important for the entire country to address their literacy. 

3.      No matter how much we may regret it, the classic foundations of our democracy – local responsibility and local participation – have undergone major changes in response to large-scale industrialization and urbanization.  Many years ago it was possible for an illiterate citizen to be sufficiently well-informed about the major problems on which he had to form a judgment through word-of-mouth discussions with his neighbors. “

“It is not possible for our democracy to remain strong unless the citizenry is able and willing to inform itself abut many and complex issues that far transcend local problems. For this we need to be able to read and read critically.  We are very concerned these days with our external security, but we have every reason to be equally concerned about our internal strength.  Almost two hundred years ago Adam Smith argued the case for educating the populace on the ground that men who could read and write would be better able to resist the political appeals based upon emotionalism.” 231


In 1940 one out of every ten Negroes in the country had never attended school; the preliminary report of the 1950 Census reveals that the ratio had dropped to less than four out of every hundred. 

      Each year an estimated 125,000 illiterate children are slipping past the compulsory attendance ages. 


Illiterates could gain literacy via a period of military service.  The Armed Forces are under constant pressures to undertake incidental or peripheral missions; medical rehab, character building and such.  The Armed Serices see danger in undertaking secondary missions; they will be more vulnerable to the charge that they are trying to take over the whole of society.  But, it was not possible for the Armed Services to avoid establishing a large-scale literacy program during the war.  During the first year after the outbreak of hostilities in Korea, more than 300,000 men were turned down due to illiteracy.  Soon the director of Selective Service will have some unpleasant choices.  It is difficult to understand the desire to wait for emergency conditions. 


We have back up munitions plants that can’t be easily converted to peacetime uses just in case.  How about back up literates.  They can be demobilized and converted easily. 

“If the US wants to strengthen its military arm, if it desires to contribute to the heightened productivity of the economy, if it wants to buttress the foundations of American democracy, then it is incumbent upon the country to work for the eradication of illiteracy among the population.” 243

Because of our surplus of workers, we haven’t been really concerned about raising the competence of individual workers.  But farm life is ending. 


It is understandable why there was confusion after WW I about the results of the intelligence tests with respect to the mental characteristics of the American population.  Reputable scholars made racial claims based on them.  But those who failed the older test were not (we now know) mentally deficient. Our unwillingness to make use of this data may have to do with prejudice.  The strength of this prejudice can be seen in the reluctance of the military to use illiterates (mostly black ones).  Another unfounded assumption of the military was that there was a connection between literacy and the ability to perform satisfactory.  We are too little concerned with our human resources.  The shortage of trained women and men in the settling of the West was an exception. 

For maximum progress we must bust down the barriers that stand between women, minorities and education.  Our strength in our struggle against communism lies not just in the quantity of our population, but in its competence, imagination and dedication.  “For the welfare and security of the United States, in fact of the free world, have come to depend upon granting every individual citizen the opportunity for the full development and utilization of his potentials.