A Commitment to Visually Impaired Children

Personnel Preparation at San Francisco State University
written by Phil Hatlen, Professor Emeritus.

The late 1940s and early 1950s were critical years in the history of education for blind and visually impaired children Fibroblastic was at its peak from 1947 to 1953, and literally thousands of parents, and many concerned educators, were desperately seeking answers to developmental and educational issues. It is not coincidental that the personnel preparation program for teachers of blind and visually impaired students began in 1948. (Nor is it coincidental that Blind Babies Foundation began the next year.)

Sometime in either 1947 or 1948, the governor of California signed a legislative bill that mandated personnel preparation programs in two state universities (then they were called "colleges"). These programs were to include the preparation of teachers for blind children, for deaf children, and for orthopedically disabled children. It's interesting, isn't it, that these three categories later became known as "low incidence" areas of special education. Once more, I don't believe this to be a coincidence. Leo Cain would know the answer to this, but I suspect that the California legislature realized that these low incidence areas would not be adequately addressed within a university special education department unless they received special recognition by the legislature.

So, in 1948, a Special Education Department was founded at San Francisco State, under the leadership of Leo Cain. Dr. Cain hired five faculty members to form the first nucleus of this department. They were Leon Lassers, Communicative Disorders, Jerry Rothstein, Mental Retardation, Priscilla Pittinger, Deafness, Mable Whitehead, Orthopedically Disabled, and Florence Henderson, Blindness.

Soon thereafter, Sam Levine was added to the area of mental retardation. Most interesting to younger professionals is the obvious absence of learning disabilities, emotional disturbance, and severe and profound disabilities. None of these "categories" of special education had been identified in 1948.

Florence Henderson and her husband, a dentist, had recently moved from another state (Minnesota, I believe) to Santa Cruz, California. They had a blind son, whom I never met and never heard Florence discuss.

The early years of the program in visual impairment produced a number of teachers, only a few whom I know. Most notable were Bob Bowers, who later directed the teacher preparation program at Teacher's College, Columbia University, and Jean Kenmore, who became an overseas consultant for the American Foundation for the Overseas Blind. I suspect that both Angela Bourne, the pioneer teacher of the Castro Valley program, and Jerry Lucas, the first teacher for the visually impaired in San Leandro, were both early students of Florence Henderson. Another early student was Jon Westerdahl, who succeeded Bob Bowers as a resource teacher in Fresno in 1954.

But of course, to most of you, the most well-known of those early graduates would be Fred Sinclair. When I first met Fred, he was the resource teacher in Campbell, California. I had already become acquainted with Bob Bowers and Jean Kenmore, and, after meeting Fred, I decided that I had chosen the wrong profession. All were musicians. Bob was a concert viola player. Jean played the violin, and Fred was a professional dancer and a great singer. To add to this interesting scenario, Berthold Lowenfeld (then Superintendent of the California School for the Blind) was also a violinist, and Florence Henderson was a concert pianist!

Other than Bob, Jean, Fred, Angela, and Jerry, I don't know who attended the teacher preparation program between 1948 and 1954. I know that Florence and other department faculty taught courses outside special education, so I suspect the program began slowly.

In 1955, the program had four students: Sally Fox, Phil Mangold, Bill Wallace, and Phil Hatlen. Everyone knows what happened to Sally and Phil, and most know what Phil is doing. Bill was a high school resource teacher in Sacramento for many years, and retired some time ago.

There are few people who remember Florence Henderson.? But those who do will never forget her, and will tell you that she had a lasting, deep influence on them as teachers and as human beings. She contributed very little to our professional literature. She was not an inspiring or dynamic speaker. She had a life-long stuttering problem. But Florence, as much as any subsequent mentor, touched my life deeply. There was something about her that brought out the best in her students. A conversation with her would inspire your intellect, your creativity, and your soul. Florence held the program together through its first ten years, and developed some of the leaders of the next generation in the process.

Florence had a serious heart problem. In addition, her husband was in failing health, and they lived in Santa Cruz, not a good commute at that time. By 1956, she had brought in Katie Sibert from Modesto to assist her. Katie taught some of the courses I took. Florence retired in 1958, and soon died from a heart attack. She was replaced by her former student, Bob Bowers.? In 1962, Bob left for New York, and Georgie Lee Abel came to San Francisco State University.

It's interesting to observe universities throughout the country who are now beginning teacher preparation programs during summer sessions. My memory is that, during that crucial time of 1958 to 1962, much of the teacher preparation done by Bob was during the summers. The teacher shortage was critical at that time because of retrolental fibroplasia. There was no way that San Francisco State would be able to meet the needs from a growing number of local school districts. So, a system was established in which experienced classroom teachers would come to the San Francisco State campus for six weeks in the summer. They would complete three courses: Structure and Function of the Eye, Methods of Teaching Blind Children, and Beginning Braille. Following this first summer, they would begin teaching assignments with blind children in local districts. Of course, these teachers would subsequently return to the university to complete all requirements for certification.

The arrival of Georgie Lee Abel ushered in a new era for San Francisco State. Federal funds had recently become available for the preparation of teachers in all areas of special education. Because there were few programs in visual impairment (probably less than 10 nationwide in 1962), the program at San Francisco State was well-funded throughout the 1960s and into the 1970s. Many students took advantage of this opportunity to earn a credential and an M.A. while being supported by federal funds. With the number of students increasing, Georgie Lee was able to request and receive additional faculty. Several of us went to work on a part-time basis at the university in 1962. Pete Wurzburger and I both began that year, as did a fabled braille instructor named Edna Laudenslager (I still find people using her textbooks in Nemeth Code around the country).

As the academic year program grew, so did the summer program. Georgie Lee saw the need to offer coursework for both U.S. students and Canadians on a summer basis to meet the need for teachers in regions where there was no teacher preparation.

When I discuss Georgie Lee in terms of her contributions to our profession, I always include what she did in the profession of orientation and mobility. I think it is important to add this piece of history here. Long before it became an obvious fact, Georgie Lee recognized that the early results of orientation and mobility instruction at Hines Hospital in Chicago had significant bearing on the future of education of blind and visually impaired students. It was Georgie Lee who had the courage and foresight to take what was learned at Hines and apply it to children. She employed Pete Wurzburger, Stan Suterko, Rich Russo, and other o&m pioneers to instruct teachers of blind children in the fundamentals of orientation and mobility. Many of these summer institutes were held at San Francisco State. Thus, before the first fully qualified orientation and mobility instructor ever appeared in California, many teachers had at least the fundamentals of independent travel skills that they passed on to their students. Georgie Lee deserves full credit for this movement, and for this reason alone, deserves a special place in the history of our profession.

In 1966, Georgie Lee brought in three new full-time faculty positions.? Two positions were tenure-track, university-funded positions. Pete Wurzburger and I filled these positions. The third new position, funded by grant money, brought in Bob Richards. Beginning with the Fall of 1966 and for many more years, Georgie and I were responsible for the program in preparation of teachers for blind and visually impaired students, and Pete and Bob ran the program in orientation and mobility.

It is significant to point out that the orientation and mobility personnel preparation program at SFSU was the first in the country to be funded with "education" money. The other three programs at that time were Western Michigan, Boston College, and California State University, Los Angeles. All three were supported with "rehabilitation" funds. This, again, points out Georgie Lee's leadership in bringing orientation and mobility instruction to children.

Nothing I could write would give justice to what Pete brought to San Francisco State. Within a few years, the SFSU orientation and mobility program was considered one of the best in the country. Applications for the program came in from throughout the U.S. and Canada. It seems that everyone who wanted to teach blind children how to travel independently wanted to learn their skills from Pete. In his quiet, supportive, and gentle manner, he led his students through the process of learning how to become excellent teachers. Many of his graduates have gone on to become leaders in their profession.

The program at San Francisco State thrived during the 1960s and into the 1970s. Funds were plentiful, there were four full-time faculty in the area (Georgie Lee, Pete, Phil, and Bob). This is the way federal funds were disbursed: Each M.A. student received a stipend of $2500, plus $600 for each dependent. Tuition and books were paid by the grant.? For each M.A. student, the program also received $2500. These funds purchased faculty time, bought equipment and materials, paid for student and faculty travel, etc. (I once tried to determine how much a stipend would need to be in 1990 in order to equal a $2500 stipend in 1967. I think it would have to be over $10,000). We often awarded as many as 30 M.A. stipends, and that will give you an idea of the size of the federal grant. During those years, the teacher preparation program in visual impairment at San Francisco State would receive as many as 80 applicants for 25—30 openings.

Summers were busy, too. We continued to prepare a lot of summers-only students. The Canadian western provinces sent dozens of their future teachers for summer courses at SFSU. While the rest of the SFSU Special Education Department became virtually dormant in the summer, we filled the dorms and the classrooms with some of the most interesting, committed, and fun-filled students!

In 1974, Georgie retired, having built the teacher preparation program and the orientation and mobility program into highly respected national models of personnel preparation. She was replaced for two years by Dick Champion, who then accepted a leadership position in Washington, D.C. Sally Mangold began her career at SFSU in 1977.

Anyone who has known Sally, as a student, a colleague, or a friend, has been profoundly impacted by this wonderful person. I have no question but that every student she had at SFSU carries a piece of Sally with him/her. She is an incredibly giving, nurturing person who also knows her profession and discipline extremely well. Thus it was that during the late 1970s through the early 1980s, students at SFSU were exposed to a combination of Sally, Pete, and Phil.

I would be remiss in not mentioning the joint doctoral program in special education, developed between San Francisco State University and the University of California, Berkeley. This program allows the doctoral student to stay in touch with her/his discipline (education for the visually impaired) while benefiting from the expanded resources and instruction available at the University of California. Graduates of this program include such leaders as Sally Mangold, Sharon Sacks, Amanda Lueck, Dean Tuttle, and Sandy Lewis. My failing memory has caused me to leave out the names of other important leaders, and they and you will have to forgive me.

The 1980s brought many changes, perhaps the most traumatic being a significant reduction in federal support. There were grants still available, but there was a rapidly-growing competition, inflation had taken its toll both on the size of stipends and cost-of-living, and applications for admission had dropped.

Academic year enrollment dropped, but summer programs continued to draw students from throughout North America. As we watched our student number reduce in size, we discovered that none of us had any knowledge about recruitment. We didn't know what to do. We knew that the reduction of federal money had caused a drop in enrollment. We knew that education in general as a profession was not held in high esteem. And we knew that, at last, the doors to all professions had truly been opened to women, and any woman could select from any profession in which she had interest and ability. While this was an overdue tremendous cultural advance, it left the two professions (education and nursing) wondering where their applicants had gone. We struggled, we pleaded with admissions to allow us to carry small classes, we reluctantly agreed to teach some generic special education classes, and we watched our faculty and the number of our graduates reduce in size.

Bob resigned in 1982, leaving Pete to run the orientation and mobility program with part-time help. Pete retired in 1984, and Phil, who had recently received his professional preparation in orientation and mobility, took over the orientation and mobility program. Now Sally and Phil were running personnel preparation, with some outstanding help from part-time faculty. Receipt of a grant to begin a program to prepare rehabilitation teachers made it possible to hire Sandy Rosen in 1988.With her expertise in orientation and mobility, she soon split her duties between rehabilitation teaching and orientation and mobility.

A highlight of Sally's tenure was the establishment of a distance learning program. One of the less obvious solutions for meeting a continuing chronic need for teachers for visually impaired students, while matriculated, on-campus students was decreasing, was to provide personnel preparation to individuals where they lived, on their time schedule. Sally recognized the potential in this approach, and was a pioneer in developing highly successful distance learning techniques.? Her contributions in this field have allowed others to expand and refine the potential of distance learning.

I won't dwell on the more recent years, except to say that I left in 1990, and was not replaced. Sandy became solely responsible for orientation and mobility. Sally retired in 1995, and part-time faculty were called upon, especially Sharon Sacks, to keep the program in teacher preparation going.Sandy served as Program Coordinator during this time of transition. Amanda Lueck was hired in 1996.The future looks very bright for the next 50 years!

It has been my personal privilege to have been a part of our field during a time when it moved from being a "folk art" to a profession. I have observed, and been a part of, the most exciting time in our history—the second half of the twentieth century. Most of my professional years have been spent at San Francisco State University, and for that I will be eternally grateful. I had the tremendous experience of colleagues on the faculty whom I loved and admired, of students from whom I learned more than I gave, and professional colleagues all over the world who have added to my quality of life. SFSU will always be my professional home.