“My major thesis is this: Education and Democracy are to each other as roots are to the plant. Without education, there can be no democracy. If democracy disappears wholly from our earth, its demise will be coincident with the death of modern experimental education.”
Source: 1942 speech, “Shall the Modern Educator Recant? The Darkness beyond Tomorrow.”
Helen Heffernan started her career teaching in one- and two-room schoolhouses in Idaho, Nevada and Utah before going to California to complete a master’s degree. Through the 1920s, she rose through the ranks of the growing state education bureaucracy and built a network of well-trained, professional women teachers and supervisors steeped in Deweyan ideals. Though her early writings reflect a limited understanding of white supremacy and the impact of whiteness on children of color, by the 1940s she was explicitly confronting white adults’ tolerance of segregated schools, challenging teachers’ prejudice and racist pedagogy and addressing the cruelty around interring Japanese American children and their parents.