A Man for All Seasons: Dr. John W. Taylor
Published in TC Today - Volume 26, No. 1
Though frail now, the life of 95 year-old John Wilkinson Taylor is filled with accomplishments in education, diplomacy, civil-rights, and communications, which shaped the face of this nation and world.
Taylor's major intellectual influence, he would admit, has its link to Dr. Thomas Alexander, who would found the New College at Teachers College in 1932. Taylor met Alexander earlier at the Peabody College for Teachers in Nashville, and became a life-long protege of the director of the demonstration school. According to a 1947 article in the Louisville-Courier, "Alexander guided Taylor and helped him skip the aimless years many men spend finding themselves."
While Taylor would make his mark in education as a university and military administrator, Alexander made certain that teaching was in the young man's blood. Alexander advised Taylor, "Be a good subject-matter teacher first and then, if you have the temperament for it, be an administrator."
After a year at Vanderbilt University, Taylor followed Alexander to Teachers College, where the mentor was an associate in the International Institute in the Department of Comparative Education. Taylor was inclined toward teaching comparative education and took the advice of Alexander to heart-"The way to learn to appreciate your own culture is to learn someone else's. Live in France or Germany and you'll be a better American."
Taylor received his B.A. in 1929 from Columbia, his M.A. in the Administration of Teaching in 1930, and his doctorate from TC in 1936. During this time, Taylor taught at the Kaiser Frederich Realgymnasium in Berlin, the University of Berlin, traveled throughout Europe and was in charge of Foreign Study Program of TC's New College, which required foreign travel as a degree requirement.
With the closure of New College and the storm clouds of war fast approaching, Taylor went off to Louisiana State University but soon found himself a captain and then a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army. After the war, as the International Herald Tribune reported, "his knowledge of the German educational system" made him the right person for the right job-chief of the education and religious division of military government under General Lucius Clay. This time Professor Alexander worked for Taylor, who was called the man who controlled German education in the American occupied zone in Germany.
Prior to the invasion of France, Taylor, preparing for civil affairs assignment, spent months in England looking at microfilmed copies of 268 pre-Hitler textbooks. He had sent for the books from the Teachers College collection of 4,000 international textbooks, many of which he had picked up himself in Europe while working for the New College.
With the French Legion of Honor in hand, Taylor was named the President of the University of Louisville in 1948. By 1951, Taylor's proudest moment of his presidency came when Louisville became the first southern university to abolish segregation.
Taylor was also not content to stick with the trappings of a traditional brick and mortar college and introduced an early version of distance learning, "radio-assisted correspondence courses." Time magazine's July 19, 1948 edition featured Taylor and said the twice-weekly radio course on "Problems of Modern Society" attracted more than 300 listeners within one week.
In January 1951, Taylor put his experience in international education to work when he accepted the position of Deputy Director General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). In a statement issued from UNESCO headquarters in Paris, Taylor said, "I feel that the position I am privileged to occupy is one for which I have been preparing all my life."
He went on to say, "I come to UNESCO at a time when there is perhaps more need of international understanding than at any other previous period in historyÉIt seems to me, therefore, that the most important work for UNESCO must lie in the programs designed to help wipe out illiteracy and to foster that basic education which can contribute greatly to raising the level of productivity in the world's underdeveloped areas."
During his tenure from 1951 to 1954, Taylor moved ahead on a basic world education program that envisioned six cultural centers training 5,000 persons to teach others how to teach. The first center was opened in Mexico City and ten other countries, including Egypt, which asked that the second fundamental education college be opened within its borders.
The pioneer in international education returned to the United States to start planning for the opening of the Chicago Educational Television Association (CETA), the home of Channel 11, WTTW and Channel 20, WXXW. Under Taylor's leadership, who was CETA's Executive Director from 1954 to 1971. More than 900,000 children from kindergarten through secondary school levels in the greater Chicago area received part of their classroom instruction over WTTW and WXXW.
According to the Chicago Sun-Times, which featured the tenth anniversary of CETA in an October 1965 edition, "The only bad side to such a successful 10-year history is the pace it sets for the next decade. But CETA people have a slogan, 'Ten years old and growing,' and they mean it."
The death of his beloved wife, Helen Green Taylor in January of 1966 was a blow to Taylor. He remained active after leaving CETA, keeping a hand in the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations, The Television Academy of Arts and Sciences and a host of memberships on civic boards. Today, he spends his retirement with a close-knit family that is assembling a scrapbook of memories that overflow with commitment, activism, acumen, and intellectual curiosity.previous page