A result of an investigative report by tenacious University of Oregon journalism students, Classroom 15 tells the story of how the dreams of fourth-grade students at the Riverside School, Roseburg, in rural Oregon timber country, were crushed by the prevailing Red Scare, McCarthyism, state and societal censorship, and J. Edgar Hoover's FBI.
The teacher of Classroom 15, known fondly as Mr. McFetridge, assigned a pen pal project in an effort to take geography lessons outside of the classroom. Imagining a place as far from Oregon as they possibly could, the students wrote letters to nine- and ten-year-old counterparts in the Soviet Union. Janice Boyle, the class secretary, reached out to Oregon's Congressional representative, Charles O. Porter, seeking assistance connecting with peers in Russia. Representative Porter forwarded the letter to the Secretary of State Christian Herter, and a week later the students received the shocking and disheartening news that their benign request had been needlessly denied. In the wake of McCarthyism, the Eisenhower administration subverted the assignment, fearing Communist propaganda would infect the innocent minds of eager Oregon schoolchildren.
The students' plight quickly gained national attention with stories running from the Roseburg News-Review to the New York Times. The publicity didn't miss the attention of J. Edgar Hoover's FBI. His agents investigated. They traveled to Roseburg, collected evidence, and took it back to the Bureau's regional headquarters in Portland. The public reaction was swift and unrelenting. The teacher and the Congressman were attacked by outraged Roseburg citizens, the school board, and enraged Americans across the country.
Classroom 15 is all the above and a page-turning adventure story told with the voices of the empowered, tenacious University of Oregon journalism students who took the nascent story and demonstrated their unwavering devotion to the journalistic process by telling the tale.
Peter Laufer, PhD, holds the inaugural James Wallace Chair in Journalism at the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication where he was awarded the Marshall Prize for teaching innovation. A former and longtime global correspondent for NBC News, Laufer reports on borders, identities and migration. He has covered the requisite wars and earthquakes, coups and elections.
Foreword, by Ann Curry; Introduction, by Peter Laufer; Dramatis Personae; Chapter One Children as Victims, Children as Peacemakers, Zack Demars; Chapter Two Janice 101, Maddie Moore; Chapter Three Hoover's G- Men Come to Town-Sort of, Zack Demars; Chapter Four Janice's Teacher, Amelia Salzman; Chapter Five Roseburg Then and Now, Carol Kress; Chapter Six A Time of Fear, Madie Eidam; Chapter Seven Behind the Curtain, Isabel Burton; Chapter Eight The Decades-Old Dossier, Zack Demars; Chapter Nine Progress and the Press, Julia Mueller; Chapter Ten Classroom 15 Today, Vaughn Kness; Chapter Eleven Nastya Has a Cat Named Chris, Zack Demars; Epilogue: The Process, Hayley Hendrickson and Zack Demars; Afterword, Scott McFetridge; Editors, Authors and Contributors; Acknowledgments; Index.