Gadfly on the Rump of Education
IN RECENT weeks Dr. Max Rafferty, Superintendent of Public Instruction for California, has been, as he says, “taking soundings” to discover whether people want him for United States senator.
Some do. Some don’t. The right does and the left doesn’t. He cheers one and enrages the other. Right or left, people feel very strongly about Dr. Rafferty, whose foremost quality often appears to be his capacity for arousing extremes of passion.
He speaks with the voice of authority, decisiveness, and discipline, say his admirers. He speaks with a forked tongue, say his enemies. He is the savior of the schools. He will destroy the schools. He is the friend of true Americanism. He is the enemy of free speech and speculation. He is the new Paul Revere, warning the countryside of alien infiltration. He is old Joe McCarthy resurrected, finding a Red beneath every beard. He is a gorgeous orator. He is mindless. He is valiant. He is despicable. He has brought important reform to education. He is a mischief-maker.
To the California right, which thinks it knows him, Dr. Rafferty stands for patriotism (he is the author of a superb metaphor equating love of country with love of mother), the three R’s, astronauts, more homework for children, more discipline for children, prayers and flags, strong local government, weak federal government, police, a balanced budget, and clean literature.
To the California left, which thinks that he belongs to the right, Dr. Rafferty appears as that lurking, waiting, furtive dark man of power around whom, at a moment of crisis, the worst exponents of conservatism will rally. The left, alarmed by recent tendencies in California, its instincts alert to every overtone of right-wing extremism, fears Dr. Rafferty’s power at the polls, the influence of his high office on public education, and the extravagance of his utterances.
If the “soundings” encourage Max Rafferty to run for the United States Senate, he will announce his candidacy by January, and when he runs, he will run as a Republican. Strictly speaking, the issues of education are nonpartisan and nonpolitical — questions of federal subsidy, selection of textbooks, racial segregation in the schools, crime and punishment, Supreme Court rulings, the teaching of Darwinism. On all these questions Dr. Rafferty’s nonpartisan nonpolitical position has resembled the Republican position — hard to the right.
Yet, behind each yes or no which seems to categorize him, his language and logic offer reason to believe that the response is more than blind reflex. His arguments against federal subsidy, for example, are deeply grounded in a tradition of localism which governs his thinking at many points. His opposition to the controversial textbook Land of the Free was not based upon an antagonism to civil rights but upon what he believed to be the authors’ frequent inability (Dr. Rafferty cited eighty-one errors of one sort or another) to distinguish between fact and opinion.
Dr. Rafferty, often accused of racism, believes, in fact, that any child may attend any school he wishes, and that it is the duty of the district school board to find room. (Charges of racism against him somehow lose force when one observes that his own residence stands in an integrated neighborhood, or that one of his few appointees is his Negro secretary.)
Dr. Rafferty has called himself “a gadfly on the rump of education.” He aspires now to the rump of politics, and the California voter, taking soundings of his own, discovers that mystery deepens as acquaintance advances. For the fact is that nobody really knows what Max Rafferty would stand for if he became the next United States senator from California, perhaps not even Dr. Rafferty himself, who knows himself very well, what he stands for, and the turnings of his racing mind. He is a close student of his own origins, education, career, and convictions. In spite of the widespread notion that he is daily in the public eye, he is by nature introspective, and by training a historian who views himself with humor as mortal living tissue and imminent fossil.
The best clue to his commitment may be his description of himself (he is his own writer and his own press agent) in the “biographical sketch” he freely distributes — “complete individualist.” Since he delivers several hundred speeches a year, whether election year or not, he delivers a great many sketches to a great many masters of ceremony, who introduce him to a great many audiences. In this way, and by the most adroit use of newspapers, radio, and television, he is known — superficially at least — in every community of California. In 1966, when he won his second four-year term as superintendent of public instruction, he gathered nearly three million votes in the primaries, more than twice the tally of either ex-Governor Brown or Governor Reagan.
Of course everybody thinks he knows what Dr. Rafferty would stand for as senator, how he would vote, and the banners he would fly.
Depending upon their political viewpoint, people rejoice or despair, for they believe that Max Rafferty possesses the power to translate conviction to practice. As a matter of fact, however, the man with three million votes possesses relatively little power, a truth he conceals by a show of much. He is merely the executive arm of the state board of education, whose decisions he must obey. He has almost no appointive power, and therefore no political apparatus within the department of education, whose 2300 workers are effectively protected by civil service. He has slight impact upon the legislature, which at the populous center views him with neither the joy of the right nor the fear of the left, easily assesses his true power, and temperamentally recoils from complete individualists.
But nobody knows better than Dr. Rafferty that if he has captured three million voters, they have also captured him. They shape his public convictions, his method, and his style, imprisoning his ingenuity. Such a course of life, political issues aside, pleases him, amuses him, entertains him, informs him, invigorates him, and has its bracing effect upon a man whose love of debate, motion, ovation, and applause is equaled only by his scholarly love of the detached contemplation of so marvelous a spectacle. The job pays $25,000 a year; he earns $6000 more for a syndicated newspaper column; and he receives additional sums for out-of-state speaking engagements.
As long as Dr. Rafferty meant only to be superintendent, not senator, he cared little about people’s interpretations of his politics. More recently, however, as the idea of becoming senator took hold, Dr. Rafferty saw that he would be required to woo the center without losing the right, a task he might more easily have accomplished had his image as a rightist not been so thoroughly and perhaps ineradicably stamped upon the public mind.
Conceivably — and for Dr. Rafferty this would solve everything at once — he will become senator by appointment in the event of the retirement of George Murphy, who is said to be ailing. More likely, however, he will be forced to contend with Senator Kuchel for the Republican nomination in 1968. Both possibilities presuppose the support of Governor Reagan, which is by no means certain; the governor’s support of Dr. Rafferty would suggest to Californians the triumph of the right, would foment Republican disunity, and therefore conflict with the governor’s own national ambitions.
Senator or superintendent, win, lose, or withdraw, Max Rafferty may finally be seen as a tragedy of American life and politics who could never fly the trap of “image.” His political identity became fixed forever in all minds which had no access to him except through the mass media; the medium itself lazily perpetuated the image it had come to accept; and Dr. Rafferty’s future may be doomed by the success of his past.
To remain politically viable he must retain the imagination of the political right by the means he has thus far employed, by making hundreds of speeches at breakfast, lunch, and dinner, by continuing to capture sensational newspaper notice, and by continuing to place his head and shoulders, if not his whole soul, upon television. In this way he can steadily offer the impression to the right that he stands as its most stalwart defender of nostalgic Americanism, and to appear in this light he must continue to reduce everything to the simplest terms. “It’s just as simple as that,” he often says, usually of issues he knows are far from simple. He is the master, wrote a hostile newspaper, of “the anticipatory panic syndrome.” He can set loose the whole right in pursuit of an alleged subversive or an alleged sexual deviate in the schools, a radical textbook, an obscene dictionary, one teacher’s skirt too short, one teacher’s beard too long.
But nobody notices — surely the right never notices — that Max Rafferty has no personal intention of pursuing anybody. He has only extended the official courtesy of his office to a taxpaying citizen (an American Legionnaire, say) who wishes to insert his complaint into channels. If in the official course of things press and public gain the impression that Dr. Rafferty either initiated the complaint or pursued the suspect, then they are mistaken. It is a nicety. The media are his tool, and he manipulates them, while accusing the Johnson Administration of managing the news.
Dr. Rafferty himself is too eclectic to take serious notice of transient phenomena. “If I may wax medieval for a moment,” he occasionally says, proceeding to observe that almost any modern instance has its counterpart in antiquity. He is one of the few men in high elective office whose breadth of reading in history and literature carry him philosophically to other worlds, although publicly he insists that 1968 will be a “year of decision” comparable with 1492, 1776, or 1860.
His dilemma is that the longer he woos the right, the greater his difficulty in recruiting support from the center. Nevertheless, he has begun to succeed. In nearly five years in office he has traveled ceaselessly about the state (the superintendent is a member ex officio of several bodies meeting frequently over wide areas), winning a great many people informally whom he had earlier antagonized with public statements. These people often find that the seeming ogre of television is remarkably easy and open in his person, and neither repressed nor puritanical in his code. All sorts of people whose inclination was to fear him or to hate him quickly find themselves bewildered by the discrepancy between the man and the image. Said one member of the academic senate of the state colleges, “My God. it’s impossible to believe that that guy at the table is the wild man who says all those things on TV.”
Within his own department of education, Dr. Rafferty has impressed employees with his fairness, his aggressiveness in seeking equal racial opportunities in employment, and his cordial relationships with political opponents. No scandal has touched his office. One veteran educator, now high in the structure of the department, asserts that he was “scared stiff” by Dr. Rafferty’s election, but he has come in time to value his chief for his “loyalty, warmth, kindness, and forthrightness.”
Whether Dr. Rafferty can sufficiently penetrate the political center by 1968 is a question. But 1968 may not matter. He is only fifty years old, and with a stroke of his speech-writing pencil he might easily postpone the “year of decision” to 1970 or 1972. He will defer meanwhile to the will of governor and party, avoid becoming the cause of disunity, and thereby win allies among moderate Republicans. By 1970 or 1972 he will have delivered several thousand additional public speeches, formed hundreds of new personal acquaintances, and he may have developed techniques of employing the media to address the center without losing the right.
If that time arrives, Max Rafferty as representative of the general center will no longer represent Max Rafferty the complete individualist. Television will be less amusing to look at, and the newspaper less amusing to read. Uneven, erratic, fickle, inconstant Max Rafferty — the autonomous man whose true ambition may be the creation of a system of public schools where children of genius might thrive — that Max Rafferty will disappear from public life. We shall have, then, only one more United States senator, all fire extinguished, one more architect of consensus and compromise, one more hundredth part of an august body trading this aye for that nay.
Then Max Rafferty shall conform at last, the self-styled Hercules diminished, Paul Revere unhorsed, Nathan Hale alive and well: for the principal thrust and meaning of his life have been his ambition to be not senator but hero, rescuing children by giving them heroes and resounding oratory, the ideals, and the grammar of America as it used to be.
PRIOR to 1962, when he ran for his first term as state superintendent of public instruction, almost nobody had heard of Max Rafferty except readers of the Journal of the California Teachers Association and of the Phi Delta Kappan, where his plain-speaking essays appeared, and residents of five public school districts in Southern California where for more than twenty years he had taught history and other subjects, coached athletics, and served successively as vice-principal, principal, and district superintendent. He had never run for public office.
His most formidable literary contribution, in a spirit quite different from that shown in his lively essays, was his collaboration with his friend Emery Stoops upon the awesome textbook Practices and Trends in School Administration (1961), Its quality of manual, with its emphasis upon the how of things, and its general heaviness contrast strikingly with Dr. Rafferty’s essays and newspaper columns, which are dogmatic and irreverent in the style of Mencken, whom he admires. The contrast between the two styles of Dr. Rafferty suggests the division within the man as well. Grown weary of attempting to reform education from inside, the schoolmaster became ambitious to reform it on the grand political scale. Like artists before him in other fields, weary of addressing the specialist, Dr. Rafferty reached for the masses in the style of populism.
Either way, the means was the Word. When Maxwell Lewis Rafferty, Jr., was three years old, he could read, and his mother lavished books upon him. Thereby she handed him the world, the past, the culture of the ages, the exhilaration of the sound of language, and shaped the principal item of his philosophy of education — his insistence that the basic instrument is the book. His war upon “progressive education,” which he calls “the fraud of the century,” has been a war upon whatever theories suggest the possibilities of basic instruction with other tools:
For only through a program of basic education that stresses the importance of offering and mastering organized, systematic, and disciplined subject matter do boys and girls learn the really important things. Familiarity with our cultural heritage does not rise spontaneously and inevitably out of the permissive, Pollyanna-ish, “life-adjustments” approach to instruction. Contrary to what the progressive educationists would have us believe, a child will not necessarily learn the location of Nyasaland by building a mud hut in the middle of the classroom floor, any more than he will understand the historical importance of the North American Indian migrations by making a Hopi kachina mask out of papier-mache. After more than two decades in this rather Alice-in-Wonderland profession, I am more convinced than ever that the lastest 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.
To deny a child books is to deny him the history of the human past, and to deny a child the past is to deny him his present life: “life adjustment” — if Dr. Rafferty’s interpretation of it be accurate — urges adjustment to life as it is presently known; but by reading the child will know a great range of options.
Through his mother, too, Dr. Rafferty inherited the right to membership in the National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution. Dr. Rafferty’s father’s family, on the other hand, arrived in America only about one hundred years ago, by immigrant steerage. Since neither his father, who is a Catholic, nor his mother, a Baptist, was overwhelmingly devoted to birthright religion, young Max, by compromise, was declared Episcopalian. In Sioux City, Iowa, the elder Rafferty was engaged in the paint-and-wallpaper business, but when Max was fourteen, his father, he recalls, went broke and said, “If we’re going to be hungry we might as well be warm.” The family moved to Southern California.
There his father was for a time unemployed, and Dr. Rafferty remembers a period when his family shared a home with another. But here again his experience forces him to quarrel with “progressive education” — at this point with its emphasis upon economic determinism — for “the hungry thirties,” as he has called them, are scarcely memorable to him for any bleakness of material circumstance; rather, he remembers more vividly than hunger the conditions of his schooling.
To be poor was only to be poor. But misery in the schoolhouse was a far deeper tragedy of childhood. The boy who had been able to read at three was unfit for school; put another way, school was unfit for Max Rafferty.
Periodically “skipped” in school, soon finding himself most miserably two years ahead of himself, “class freak . . . grind . . . bookworm,” too young for fraternities, too small for football, Max Rafferty was determined when he enrolled at the University of California at age fifteen to blend indistinguishably into the landscape. He would “adjust,” live peaceably among his fellows. He earned a bachelor’s degree in history.
Practically, he then became a graduate student in school administration, where he obtained a teacher’s certificate with little outward difficulty, but where he was again confronted with that dilemma of his earlier life which was to be the dilemma of his political future: his private objective clashed with prevailing standards, his moral being clashed with his public person.
PROFESSIONAL training at UCLA in the 1930s, as Dr. Rafferty recalls it, was “rabid with Deweyism,” gripped by that fraud of the century, “progressive education,” perpetrated by “St. John Dewey and his disciples,” most of whom, in Dr. Rafferty’s several accounts, he seems to remember as “thin-lipped.” It taught “that there are no positive, eternal values”; it stressed “life adjustment” and “group acceptance,” but “downgraded the role of the individual.” It opposed “memorization,” catered to the “interests and needs of the group,” opposed competition among individuals, and experimented with all sorts of techniques of learning, thus minimizing the importance of books.
“You see,” he says, “I became a modest authority on Dewey ism. Well, I had no choice. It was survival. It was root hog or die. It was the only way I could get a credential. I became a Grade-A number-one hypocrite, and by dint of hard work and hypocrisy I rose.” Able student that he was, he passed through that school as he had passed through others, but he would afterward insist that in all his schooling he had profited from only two courses: “Latin, because it taught me to think, and Debate, because it taught me to think on my feet”
Every day at UCLA he read, engraved upon Royce Hall, that sentence of the philosopher which, in his opinion, summarized the defects of “progressive education.” “Education,” said Josiah Royce, “is learning to use the tools which the race has found to be indispensable.” Max Rafferty adopted the legend as his own definition, and marveled more and more as the years passed that although almost everyone at UCLA must have seen the inscription frequently, everyone nevertheless went forward believing, in ignorance or hypocrisy, that he was inventing new tools.
He resented, too, the implication of the Deweyites that no alternatives existed, a viewpoint they advanced by a denial of eclectic history, refusing to study or examine historical traditions of education which might challenge their own. Such a crime was equivalent, in Max Rafferty’s eyes, to the crime of denying books to children.
Two decades later Dr. Rafferty’s relentless argument during his fierce campaign for his first public office would be his promise to end “progressive education” in California, and to replace it with “education in depth,” whose outlines suggest a political appeal as well as guidelines for education. “Education in Depth maintains that there are lasting values . . . holds that the teaching of organized, disciplined, and systematic subject matter is the principal objective of the schools . . . intends to regard the individual as the be-all and end-all of the educative process . . . teaches that committing important names, places, events, dates, and passages of poetry and prose to memory is a necessary part of instruction . . . wants a curriculum to provide for the individual the tools and skills he needs to be a cultured, productive, patriotic American citizen . . . regards reading and recitative discussion as still the most effective and economical method of instruction . . . believes that the very survival of our country and the success of the individual in later life depend upon how well he is taught to hold his own in a highly competitive world.”
As superintendent he was also to carry into practice a training program for teachers which would emphasize subject matter, not technique. This conviction, too, was formed early. Dr. Rafferty recalls the experience of his first hour as a classroom teacher. As fledgling, he was placed beneath the supervision of Emery Stoops, who later became his collaborator on Practices and Trends. “The last thing in the world Emery was prepared to do was impose his techniques on somebody else. Teaching is an art. Emery introduced me to the class — it was an eighth-grade class in history — and he said to the kids, ‘This is Mr. Rafferty and he’s going to be your teacher,’ and he left me alone in the room. Emery was no Deweyite. Divine certainty had never been unveiled to Emery.”
For twenty years Max Rafferty more or less adjusted to the environment, earned his living, raised his family, and periodically issued critical essays which relieved feelings of hypocrisy without dramatically altering patterns of education in California. His essays were always an implicit assault upon “progressive education,” but they carried forward a battle against general tendencies as well — against such oddities as the illiterate teacher of English, against abuses of unionism and tenure, against jargon (“pedageese”), and against amateur psychiatry in the classroom. In style he strove for informality, concluded that he was often a “facile” writer, refused to enslave himself to consistency, and surprisingly confessed, in a recent conversation, that when the choice lay between “being interesting” or “being accurate,” he had a weakness for the former at the expense of the latter.
WHEN the large, public opportunity presented itself to Dr. Rafferty, he was neither seeking it nor expecting it. In 1961, after six years as district superintendent at Needles, in the furnace of the Mojave Desert (“I tell you, as far as weather goes, I served my time in Hades there”), he accepted a position as superintendent at La Canada, on the outskirts of Los Angeles. In the schoolman’s timetable of career, the job should have been his last. To La Canada he went. The month was June. “It was the best and biggest job I’d ever had and I was extremely anxious to be a success. I was unfamiliar with the community, and the community was unfamiliar with me. Somebody said, ‘Say a few words so the people can get to know you.’ All right, I’d make a speech. What should I talk about? I wanted to be noncontroversial. I looked at the calendar, it was just before the Fourth of July. I said to myself, ‘I’ll be patriotic.’ ”
Therefore, in the presence of a hundred people, he delivered a speech he entitled “The Passing of the Patriot.” The speech was formed of scraps and segments of speeches given elsewhere, and its entire center had appeared as the essay “Suffer, Little Children” five years before. “Hell, I’d given similar ones out on the desert to mild spatterings of applause,” says Dr. Rafferty, who was astounded by the response of La Canada.
He recalls it this way: “When I was about twothirds of the way through, all quadruple hell broke loose. Someone jumped up on a chair and began shouting at me, ‘You’re preaching hatred,’ and somebody else jumped up on another chair and began shouting, ‘This man is a patriot, shut up and hear him.’ Half of the people were booing, and the other half were cheering.”
Dr. Rafferty has always insisted that the response to the speech was only partly the response of patriots of the right. It was his impression that the people who soon urged him to run for state superintendent, a nonpartisan group known as the Citizens Advisory Committee on Education, valued the speech primarily for its celebration of traditional literature. “Everybody reads whatever they want to read into anything,” he observes. “I don’t know which half was booing or which was cheering. It was mixed. I’ve always said that when they’re throwing rocks at you from both sides you must be right.”
The first quarter of the speech was duly patriotic, in which Nathan Hale stands, “surrounded by his jeering foe,” in the moment of his execution. After a somewhat liberal dramatization of Hale’s last moments, time darts forward and the “jeering foe” is transformed to that “substantial number of young men” who “sold out” to the Chinese and North Koreans, and whom we have come to know as turncoats. “What went wrong?” asks Dr. Rafferty, moving into his familiar theme of the failures of “our classrooms.”
Except for a brief return at the conclusion of his speech to God and flag in the manner of a century of patriotic oration, the speech focuses upon a comparison between the inspirational literature of the past and the “insipid” texts now approved for use in schools.
Ulysses and Penelope have been replaced by Dick and Jane in the textbooks of our schools. The quest of the Golden Fleece has been crowded out by the visit of Tom and Susan to the Zoo. The deeds of the heroes before Troy are now passé, and the peregrinations of the local milkman as he wends his way among the stodgy streets and littered alleys of Blah City are deemed worthy of numberless pages in our readers. . . . Bobby and Betty pursue their goal of a ride in the district garbage truck with good old crotchety Mr. Jones, while the deathless ride of Paul Revere goes unwept, unhonored, and unsung. It is interesting and significant, I think, that education has deliberately debunked the hero to make room for the jerk.
Today’s hero —if there is one — is fashioned in the blasphemous image of Ourselves.
He is “Daddy” in the second reader, who comes mincing home with his eternal briefcase from his meaningless day in his antiseptic office just in time to pat Jip the dog and carry blonde little Laurie into the inevitable white bungalow on his stylishly padded shoulders.
He is “Mommy” in the third-grade books, always silk-stockinged and impeccable after a day spent over the electric range, with never a cross word on her carefully made-up lips and never an idea in her empty head.
What idea should she have in her head? Dr. Rafferty’s litany of heroes — Wilfred of Ivanhoe, Richard the Lion-Hearted, Arthur, the Musketeers, Siegfried, Horatius, and Andy Jackson — lead but to ideas of patriotism and nationalism. “Watch their faces. See the eyes brighten and the spirits ruffle. See the color come, the backs straighten, the arms go up. They dream, they live, they glow. Patriotism will come easily to them now, as it does to all of us who know our nation’s past — and love it. . . . We educators had better not be caught short. We had better not be caught withholding trom the nation’s children the wonderful, sharpedged glittering sword of Patriotism.”
When the Citizens Advisory Committee asked him to run, he at first declined. He hesitated to resign his new job, especially since a losing campaign built upon an antagonism toward “progressive education” would probably make difficult his gaining another. At length he agreed to run, subject to certain conditions: he would take no hand in fund-raising, and he would require a guarantee of appreciable support in the mass media. Several months later — December, 1961 — the committee returned to him, assuring him of sufficient funds and newspaper support; Dr. Rafferty resigned at La Canada and filed for office.
NOBODY had ever fought hard to be superintendent. In the past, the office had always been conceded to the incumbent (not since 1918 had an open race occurred), who, if he stepped down, conveniently did so at midterm to permit the governor to appoint his successor.
In 1962 the race began quietly, as always. In a field of nine candidates in the June primaries, Ralph Richardson, the favored candidate, ran first with 705,330 votes, but Max Rafferty’s total of 641,808 forced a November runoff.
California sought changes in public education. It was prepared, in the years after Sputnik, to attach itself to reform, and it was inclined to delegate the matter to experts. Richardson was its logical choice, UCLA professor, chairman of the Los Angeles Board of Education, quiet, apparently intellectual, and a bit glamorous in the tradition of Adlai Stevenson, he was instantly endorsed by every organization of educators, by labor, by many prominent citizens, and by ranking Democratic politicians.
But his supposed assets proved liabilities. He had “the defects of the characteristic liberal,” as one analyst of politics phrased it, “and people didn’t rally to that kind of moderation.” Moreover, he was badly cast as reformer, for if reform was his aim — a question often asked by his challenger, Max Rafferty — why was he supported by “virtually every professional group in the state which had a vested interest in the status quo?”
Official Democratic support for Richardson deflated his claim to nonpartisanship, and a hardrunning, hard-fighting Max Rafferty, whose claim would always be that he was nonpartisan and nonpolitical, skillfully exploited the political bases of the issues of education. It is dangerous and innocent to believe, as Dr. Rafferty claims, that “The Passing of the Patriot” is “noncontroversial.” It is equally dangerous to read a man’s mind. But the fact was that the complete individual became, in 1962, the complete candidate, running hard to the right, where his support was, as he will be forced to run hard to the right again in the event he challenges Senator Kuchel. His campaign symbol in 1962 was a replica of “the little red schoolhouse,” and his promise was that he would be “lobbyist for the children,” giving to children the kind of education their parents wanted them to have. “Cultured, productive” became synonymous with “patriotic.” He would teach “basics,” “fundamentals,” and the three R’s, all somehow the same thing as the love of heroes, which would make America once again — so he concluded “The Passing of the Patriot” — “this lovely land of ours as it once was.” In their hearts, everybody knew what that meant.
Master of television, Candidate Rafferty could answer any question swiftly and decisively, in exactly as many seconds as the tape allowed. In face-to-face debate with Richardson, Max Rafferty scored heavily with techniques learned not so much in school as out. He could think; he could think on his feet; and he was no doubt passionately motivated by the prospect of vanquishing a representative of “progressive education” based at that very UCLA campus where the young Max Rafferty had lived so bitterly with his own unwilling hypocrisy.
Did Candidate Rafferty simplify the issues? Did he reduce the complexities of education to easy understanding? Did simplification and reduction give him the sound of opportunist? Did the classicist go to the marketplace? Did the Aristotelian abandon logic? Did the historian become immediate? Did the idealist go pragmatic? Dr. Rafferty is a learned man, and he understands the questions very well. “I’m an educator,” he thoughtfully says. “This job should be held by an educator. The only way I could get it was to run for it.”
Between June and November of 1962 his manner of running created his permanent image. For that moment, at least, it served. In a California political year when Governor Brown won over Richard Nixon, Max Rafferty should have been swamped by Ralph Richardson. Instead, he carried his own day against the trend, winning the race for superintendent by more than 200,000 votes (2,528,712 to 2,319,590), becoming thereby one of only seven statewide officeholders, and by virtue of his character, if not the tradition of the office, a strong contender for whatever political rewards await men with the gift of winning.
Critics of Superintendent Rafferty soon accused him of spending his first term of office running for governor. Said Governor Brown in Sacramento, “I wish he’d stay in town a little more.” An aide to Dr. Rafferty replied that the superintendent worked twelve hours a day six days a week at his desk, and Dr. Rafferty pointed out that he was required by the education code to visit all school districts, some of which had not set eyes on a superintendent in sixty-five years.
Critics of Dr. Rafferty argued that he had failed to reform the school system. Dr. Rafferty replied that of twenty-seven major areas of necessary reform he had completed the work in nineteen, though he confessed that reforms in the remaining areas had “not yet been fully carried out.”
His critics said that “progressive education” was on the wane anyhow, and indeed, in that respect, and in most others, truth was always in the middle of vastness: the little red schoolhouse had 4.5 million students and a budget of more than $1 billion, and both were increasing annually.
In 1966, instead of running for governor, Dr. Rafferty ran for re-election as superintendent, winning his office in the primaries by gathering 2,925,401 votes against negligible opposition. His poll was greater than the combined votes of Ronald Reagan and Governor Brown in their primary races, and Superintendent Rafferty was now a logical candidate not for governor but for senator.
However, mass adoration is only one form of political power. The superintendent’s popular support has not been matched by the support of his more immediate bosses — the state board of education, and the legislature — partly because both bodies are Democratic, but also because of their mistrust of his complete individualism. His interesting virtue and his public technique have not regularly been accompanied by that spirit of selfdenial which attracts the support of political men. Dr. Rafferty has not been drawn toward the center at the risk of alienating his right; he has not supported moderate Republicans. His argument is that his work is education, not politics, but the grayflanneled organization men of politics remain skeptical of that claim, and Dr. Rafferty, as a result, remains a great wheel not quite attached to the main machinery.
“The Irish,” says Dr. Rafferty, “are known for their blarney, their ability to argue convincingly any side of the question.” Possibly he argued too convincingly the side of the political right between June and November of 1962, creating forever an image he had intended to last only to election day. His genius may have been his undoing.