In the mid-twentieth century, the Hogg Foundation conducted the Texas Cooperative Youth Study, a large-scale survey of nearly 13,000 high school students on a range of issues including segregation. It was 1954, the same year that the U.S. Supreme Court handed down the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision declaring ‘separate but equal’ educational facilities for racial minorities as unconstitutional. When the study’s findings were made public in this charged social and political climate, the Hogg Foundation found itself, suddenly and unexpectedly, the target of public protest.

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In this episode, we speak with Aviv Rau, graduate research assistant for the Hogg Foundation and graduate student in the Information Studies program at the University of Texas at Austin (UT) and Dr. Don Carlton, executive director of the Briscoe Center for American History at UT and author of Red Scare about the Texas Cooperative Youth Study, its aftermath, and the important lessons it still holds for us today.

Youth Voices

“The idea behind the 1954 Texas Cooperative Youth Study was to allow youth to anonymously explain their attitudes about a lot of different topics in their own words,” says Aviv Rau, graduate research assistant for the Hogg Foundation.

Sponsored by the Hogg Foundation, the Texas Education Agency’s Homemaking Education Division, and 16 additional state institutions, Hogg researchers and UT professors Bernice Milburn Moore and Wayne H. Holtzman led the research, surveying high school students from around the state. Drawn from both rural and urban communities, different social classes, races, and religious backgrounds, over 13,000 completed a 300 question survey during school hours.

In addition to gathering perspectives on their family and home lives, their school experiences, and their future prospects, the survey also explored students’ thoughts on a variety of social issues, including their attitudes toward the current ‘hot button’ issue of racial segregation.

Public Outcry

The results of the study caused quite a public stir — one that the Hogg Foundation was unprepared for. White parents were especially alarmed by the study’s questions, voicing their concern in the context of the anti-communist ‘panic’ of the time.

“There was also a lot of backlash from parents, schools, school boards, and legislators about the fact that it was conducted on school time,” says Aviv. “Public outcry caused Hogg Foundation founder Ima Hogg to change her position of support for the research, claiming that the study should not have been given to children.”

The Hogg’s executive director at the time, Robert Lee Sutherland, also deferred to public disapproval and the perception that the research was an invasion of privacy and tied to implanting “communistic ideals” in youth.

“However, the fact that there was a negative reaction to these studies shouldn’t have shocked anyone. This happened smack dab in the middle of a period of great turmoil in American society,” says Dr, Carlton, executive director of the Briscoe Center for American History at UT. “The reaction also stemmed from a long-standing, deeply rooted anti-government sentiment in American culture. And racism. It was a marriage of anti-government and racism.”

Although the research was important and relevant, the negative reaction from the public also illustrated the long-standing disconnect between scholars and the world outside of academia.

“As scholars and academics, we often have an incredible naivete about politics and the environment we’re living in as opposed to what we see on campus,” says Don. “In post-World War II, cold-war era America, any sociological study was just a buzzword for ‘communism’ and communist indoctrination. The negative reaction wasn’t so much a result of the individual Hogg study as it was part of this larger anti-sociology sentiment.”

Key Findings

Despite the challenge of addressing the public controversy, the researchers also gained insight into youth perceptions of family life.

“The results showed that families were still the primary socialization agent of children and had the greatest impact on shaping children’s values,” says Aviv. “Another really significant finding for the time was that kids with mothers who worked outside the home were no more unhappy and had no more problems with social adjustment than kids who had a stay-at-home mother.”

The researchers interpreted other findings in ways that reinforced cultural and social stereotypes of the times, however. For example, study results correlated higher educational and socioeconomic status of parents to kids having higher rates of well-being and lower rates of delinquency. Lower educational and socioeconomic status of parents was correlated to kids feeling pessimistic toward education, future job prospects, and the world in general. These findings might be interpreted differently using today’s research methods, says Aviv.

Reactions from concerned parents, legislators, and conservative commentators forced the Hogg Foundation to realize that their research wasn’t going to be received as just academic. It was tied to the political issues of the time.

“There were real-world impacts and real-world responses,” says Aviv.



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