Dr. Irving Adler Honored

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(Host) A Shaftsbury resident once blacklisted for his progressive ideas will be honored by the American Civil Liberties Union in Vermont later this week.

Dr. Irving Adler will receive a lifetime achievement award for his work promoting equal opportunity, social justice and the rule of law.

VPR’s Susan Keese has this profile.

(Keese) Irving Adler is 96 years old, but he still feels the need to speak out on the big issues of the day. He’s been following the health care debate, for example.

(Adler) And it seemed to me there was something to be said about the public option that nobody was saying.

(Keese) So he contacted CAT-TV, the Bennington Public Access TV station, and recorded this 12-minute video.

Adler started speaking out on free speech issues as a college student in the early 1930s.

As a mathematics teacher and union leader in the New York City schools he fought for equal treatment of younger teachers. He led a teachers peace committee.

Then, in the early fifties Adler ran afoul of a state-imposed loyalty oath for teachers.

(Adler) Actually, looking back, I would have no  objection to anybody taking that loyalty oath because it was an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States.

(Keese) And Adler says the Constitution- which promises equal opportunity for everyone – is what he’s always struggled to uphold.

But back then the issue was embroiled in anti-Communist furor. In 1954 Adler was one of almost 400 New York City teachers dismissed for refusing to answer questions by a Senate subcommittee investigating Communist influence in the schools.

Adler says he was a member of the Young Communist League. He liked what they were doing to improve the lots of working men and women.

(Adler) The idea that the aim was to overthrow the government was a myth, very carefully cultivated by people who were opposed to the things that the party and others were doing. Anybody for example who opposed the policy of Jim Crow was denounced as being a communist in those days.

(Keese) He  later left the Communist Party, disenchanted by Kremlin policies and the Soviet invasion of Hungary.

He moved to Shaftsbury with his family in the early 60s. By then he had a second career, as the author of some 50 educational books explaining  principles of math, technology and science.

(Adler) I thought that the general public should be scientifically literate.

(Keese) Adler made some internationally recognized contributions in the fields of mathematics and biology.

He also raised the hackles of conservative Vermonters. He was president of  an organization called "Vermont in Mississippi" which helped launch community centers and early education in  southern black communities.

He spoke out against the war in Vietnam, in favor of environmental protection and on many issues as a member of the Shaftsbury school board.  

He credits Vermont’s clean air and healthy lifestyle for the fact that he’s still capable of  tackling an issue like health reform, when he thinks he has to.

For VPR News, I’m Susan Keese.


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