John “Wolf Smeller” Fredson: Chalkboard Champion and Native Alaskan Rights Activist

24210_405689419765_7704338_n-350x640Many times dedicated teachers commit themselves to the important social causes of their day. This is true of John Fredson, an Alaskan Native American educator and hospital worker who labored tirelessly on behalf of the Neetsaii Gwich’in people of the Yukon.

John was born in 1896 near Table Mountain by the Sheenjek River watershed in the Yukon. He grew up speaking Gwich’in as his first language. His Gwich’in name is Zhoh Gwatson, which translated means “Wolf Smeller.” Orphaned at a young age, John attended a mission school operated by the Episcopal church.

As a youngster, John became exceptionally skilled in climbing, hunting, and following trails. At age 14, he became a member of a 1913 expedition that climbed Mount Denali, the highest peak in North America. For this expedition Johnny served as the base camp manager. While the older men climbed, John  remained at the base camp for 31 days by himself, feeding himself by hunting caribou and sheep. The young boy’s experiences are documented in the book Ascent of Denali by Archdeacon Hudson Stuck, another member of the expedition.

With the Archdeacon’s encouragement, John decided to continue his education beyond elementary school, becoming the first native of Athabascan descent to complete high school. He earned a scholarship to attend Sewanee, the University of the South, an Episcopal college located in Tennessee. He was the first Alaska native to graduate from a university. While there, John worked with renowned linguist Edward Sapir to classify Gwich’in as part of the Na-Dene language family. This work is documented in the book John Fredson Edward Sapir Ha’a Googwandak (1982).

After he graduated from college, John served his country in the US military. When he was discharged, he returned to Alaska, where he worked at a hospital in Fort Yukon. In his later years, he built a solarium for Native American tuberculosis patients. At that time, his facility was the only hospital in the far north, and was utilized by many native Alaskan patients, primarily from the Gwich’in tribe. Most of these patients suffered from communicable diseases introduced by Europeans and Asians to which the natives had no immunity.

John also taught school in the village of Venetie, teaching how to grow household gardens to a community who had previously supported themselves through hunting. In Venetie John became a tribal leader and worked to establish the Native Alaskan rights to traditional lands. He was the primary founder of the Venetie Indian Reserve, the largest reservation in Alaska, which earned federal recognition in 1941, before Alaska was admitted to the Union as a state. The reserve was approximately 1.4 million acres at the time of its establishment. There the John Fredson School of Yukon Flats has been named in his honor, and the school remains there to this day.

All his life, John “Wolf Smeller” Fredson was a Native American rights activist, writer, hunter, skilled debater, musician, artist, and more.  He is said to have lived his life with integrity, passion, and a great sense of humor.  He always exhibited a great love for the land and for his people, and he made many significant contributions to his tribe in his relatively short life. This chalkboard champion died of pneumonia on August 22, 1945.

Blind and Teacher of the Blind, Chalkboard Champion Genevieve Caulfield

Our nation’s special education students are truly fortunate to have talented and dedicated teachers working tirelessly on their behalf. One such teacher was Genevieve Caulfield, a teacher for the blind who was, herself, visually challenged.

Genevieve was born on May 8, 1888, in Suffolk, Virginia. When she was only two months of age, she lost her sight when a doctor accidentally spilled a bottle of corrosive medicine over her eyes. A later operation restored some sight to her right eye, but for the rest of her life she saw only shades of gray. Despite her handicap, she taught herself to live like a sighted person, and to be independent and useful.

Genevieve was seventeen years old when an incident involving prejudice and a lack of cultural understanding prompted her to choose a career in teaching. She determined to learn about Japanese culture while helping the blind in their country. It took the persevering  young lady fifteen years to achieve her goal. By then she qualified as a teacher of English, practiced teaching to the blind, and proved she could survive on her own and earn a living.

In 1923, Genevieve traveled to Japan, where she taught English and Braille to blind students. In 1938, after learning that in Thailand, blind children were considered throw-away children, she mastered the difficult Thai language, traveled to that country, and founded the Bangkok School for the Blind, an institution partially financed by her own savings. When World War II ended, the hardworking educator opted to remain in Bangkok and continue her work with her school. From 1956 to 1960, at the invitation of the government of VietNam, Genevieve organized a school for the blind in Saigon. This institution also served as a rehabilitation center for boys.

This chalkboard champion received several honors for her many dedicated years of service. In 1961, Genevieve was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award for International Understanding. On December 6, 1963, seventy-three-year-old Genevieve received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in recognition of her work for the blind in Asia. The award was authorized by President John F. Kennedy, but due to the young president’s assassination, the honor was bestowed by President Lyndon B. Johnson. In 1960, Genevieve published an autobiography about her achievements entitled The Kingdom Within.

This remarkable educator passed away on December 12, 1972.

Dr. Gwendolyn Cartledge: She Developed Social Skills Curriculum for Special Education Students

v32n20_cartledgeThe teaching profession is fortunate to boast a large number of educators who are expert at working with special education students. One such educator is Dr. Gwendolyn Cartledge, a former public school teacher who is now a professor in the School of Physical Activity and Educational Services at the Ohio State University.

Gwendolyn earned her bachelor’s degree in elementary education in 1965 and her master’s degree in special education from the University of Pittsburgh in 1973. She earned her doctorate in special education and curriculum and supervision from the Ohio State University in 1975.

After her college graduation, Gwendolyn accepted a position as a teacher in the West Mifflin School District in West Mifflin, Pennsylvania. There she taught elementary students with learning and behavior disorders. While there, Gwendolyn encountered a parent who criticized the special education program, pointing out that the school had failed to teach her son critical social skills. Gwendolyn realized the parent was right. This experience challenged the educator to explore methods to fill this vital need.

After she earned her doctorate, Gwendolyn accepted a position as a faculty member at Cleveland State University where she was a facilitator for teacher inservices for educators who worked with students with mild disabilities. In addition, she consulted with various agencies on developing curriculum. Gwendolyn specializes in methods for teaching social skills to children, both those with and those without disabilities. These social skills include speaking assertively, accepting individual differences, giving and accepting criticism, respecting the property of others, helping others participate, and anger management.

At the Ohio State University, Gwendolyn’s primary responsibilities include teacher education for students with mild disabilities. In addition, this remarkable educator has produced research and writings that are recognized and cited nationally in teacher preparation programs. She has written several books and articles on these topics.

In recent years, Gwendolyn has shifted her focus to the development of social skills in children with learning and behavior disabilities to students enrolled in inner city schools. Her latest book focuses on classroom and behavior management strategies and successful interventions for culturally and racially diverse children with special educational needs.

For her innovative work, Gwendolyn was honored in 2006 with The Educator of the Year Award from the Ohio State Council for Exceptional Children.

Mary Kennedy Carter: Chalkboard Champion and Civil Rights Activist

334_AuntLillianDadUncleJoeAuntMarysmMany talented educators are often passionate about social causes and work to make the world a better place. Such is certainly the case with Mary Kennedy Carter, a social studies teacher from Ohio who became involved in the 1960’s Civil Rights Movement. Mary is pictured here, on the right, with three of her siblings.

Mary was born on January 13, 1934, in Franklin, Ohio, the youngest of six children. Her father was a barber and her mother was a teacher. In her home, a great deal of emphasis was placed on getting a good education, and the Kennedy children were taught to take pride in their African heritage. In school, however, they were taught that Africa was a continent of savages and that blacks were inferior to whites. As a child, Mary made friends with both black and white children, although she was raised in a segregated community and therefore was subjected to racism all around her. Mary felt the sting of racial prejudice first-hand. When she graduated from high school, she qualified to be the valedictorian of her class, but was not given the honor because of this bigotry.

The sting didn’t keep her down, however. Mary enrolled at the Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. Once she earned her bachelor’s degree in elementary education and history, she taught for several years in predominantly Polish elementary schools in Dayton, Ohio, and in San Diego, California.

In 1963, Mary was granted a teacher’s fellowship from Teachers for East Africa, an organization affiliated with Columbia University in New York City, where she had earned her master’s degree in Curriculum and Teaching. This fellowship allowed her to travel to Lira, Uganda, to become a trainer of educators at Canon Lawrence Teachers College. Mary said she enjoyed the opportunity to return to the continent of her ancestors, to learn from her heritage, and to finally be part of a majority, as she described it. In Uganda she came into contact with African people of power: presidents, diplomats, and officials of many African countries. She also supervised Peace Corps student teachers and served as an assistant to the director of teacher preparation in the East Africa Orientation Program. At the end of her fellowship, the remarkable educator was asked to stay in Uganda; however, she declined the invitation and returned to the United States.

Once she returned home, Mary moved to New York City to work as an editor and writer for the textbook publishers McGraw-Hill. There she met her husband, Donald Carter. Mary left McGraw-Hill when offered the opportunity to create Black History program for the Roosevelt School District in Long Island, New York. At that time it was an elective for seniors. During the time she worked for Roosevelt Schools, she was able to arrange many prominent speakers to come to the school district, including Jackie Robinson, the first African American to play Major League Baseball, and Betty Shabazz, the widow of Malcom X. In time, Mary went on to teach in Rockville Center schools in Long Island, where she established popular after-school youth clubs that promoted diversity, multiculturalism, and anti-violence. This talented teacher promoted equality and diversity everywhere she went.

After retiring, Mary became a field supervisor and adjunct professor at Hofstra University, where she worked closely with student teachers. She also worked with the New York State Council for the Social Studies as part of a team that developed and field-tested an anti-racism curriculum entitled New York and Slavery: Complicity and Resistance. In 2005, the curriculum won the Program of Excellence Award from the National Council for the Social Studies.

In her later years, Mary Kennedy Carter was a member of the New York State Amistad Commission, an organization established by the state legislature to research the best way issues of race could be taught in America’s social studies classrooms. Near the end of her career, Mary became a professor at Hofstra University in Long Island where she supervised student teachers, conducted workshops, and taught social studies methods and educational issues classes. Most of her students were white and were raised in largely white suburban communities, so a major focus of her courses involved helping them to recognize the importance of diversity. “All students need to know the history of Africa and Egypt and the contributions they have made to world history,” Mary once expressed. “This is not just something to be taught to black children. They also all need to understand that many white people played important roles in the struggles for minority rights.”

Mary Kennedy Carter was also a published author. In 1970 she published the book On to Freedom, a 55-page narrative about a slave family planning to escape to freedom. In addition, the talented educator contributed to some editions of Race, Class, and Gender in the United States: An Integrated Study.

This chalkboard champion and Civil Rights activist passed away on December 14, 2010. She was 76 years old.

Winchel D. Bacon: Schoolteacher and Underground Railroad Participant

6158[1]In many cases hardworking school teachers become involved in important social causes. This is certainly the case with Winchel Daily Bacon, a schoolteacher, farmer, businessman, and politician from Waukesha, Wisconsin, who participated in the Underground Railroad.

Winchel was born August 21, 1816, in Stillwater, New York, the son of Samuel and Lydia Barber Dailey Bacon. For two years, he worked as a clerk in Troy, New York, before joining his parents in their 1837 move to Butternuts, New York. On July 4, 1838, the young Winchel married Delia Blackwell, a native of Butternuts. For four years the couple ran a farm in Butternuts, while Winchel taught school in the village during the winters.

On September 2, 1841, the Bacons left for the west, traveling from Utica to Buffalo, New York, by steamer, and from there to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. From Milwaukee the young schoolmaster and his wife traveled west to what was then called Prairieville. This town in now known as Waukesha. There they settled for the remainder for their lives, where Winchel continued to farm and teach school. From 1843, this intrepid pioneer ran a local newspaper and engaged in the wagon-making and blacksmithing business, in partnership with his brother-in-law Charles Blackwell and his friend, Edmund Clinton. In 1850 Winchel traded the business he’d built in Waukesha for a steam-powered sawmill located in nearby Brookfield.

Prior to the outbreak of the Civil War, the abolitionist schoolteacher participated in the Underground Railroad, even sheltering at least one fugitive slave in his own home. He was also active in organizing first the Liberty Party and then the Free Soil Party in Wisconsin. In 1852, he was elected to one term in the Assembly from Waukesha as a Free Soiler. Additionally, Winchel took an active role during the Civil War. In 1863, he was appointed paymaster in the army by President Lincoln, and was stationed at St. Louis.

After the war, Winchel used his influence to establish the Reform School located at Waukesha. As an acting commissioner, he had charge of the school’s accounts and disbursed the money until the school was opened. For several years he was a trustee of the State Insane Hospital, and he also served as a trustee of the Deaf and Dumb Asylum. He was president of the Waukesha Agricultural Society for several years, and also served as a member of the Chicago University’s Board of Trustees for several years. He was also a member of the Masonic Order of the Knights Templar.

In his later years, the former teacher was afflicted with a heart condition. At the age of 78, Winchel passed away at his home on March 20, 1894. He is buried in Prairie Home Cemetery in Waukesha County, Wisconsin.