Archive for Wednesday, November 14, 1990


November 14, 1990


— Almost 20 years after threats and racial prejudice drove Jesse Milan from Lawrence, the teacher and civic activist has returned to the area to teach at Baker University.

In August, Milan gave up semi-retirement he had begun after 17 years with the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development to rejoin the faculty at Baker, where he taught from 1969 to 1971. He and his wife, Alversa, live in Kansas City, Kan.

Milan, who taught in the Lawrence public schools from 1954 to 1969, was instrumental in the drive to convince voters to pass the bond issue to finance a municipal pool in 1968, an issue that fueled racial tensions in the city. The public previously had voted down two pool bond issues, and conflict over an integrated pool were blamed for much of the controversy.

Terroristic threats against his family, including cross burnings in his yard, had Milan guarding his home with a shotgun at night. Eventually, fearing for their safety, he and his family left the city.

Despite the difficulties, Milan is proud of his achievement as a teacher in Lawrence. "I proved black teachers can teach white kids," he said.

WHILE MILAN was completing a master's degree at Kansas University in 1954, an adviser asked if he had considered applying for a teaching position in Lawrence. He did just that, and became the first black teacher hired by the school district.

"I was excited," Milan recalled. "I didn't see myself as the first black teacher."

His accomplishment was particularly fulfilling because another school system had just returned his application and resume, saying it had already hired its quota of black teachers.

As elementary physical education consultant until 1969, he initiated a program that focused on conceptual understanding of self-growth, utilizing internal rewards and establishing motivation instead of playing competitive games. He used the class as a basis for teaching concepts not typically associated with physical education.

"THE OBJECT of ropes in a gymnasium in my classroom was for a child to understand upper body development," he said. "The end result was not to climb the rope, but to know the skills needed to do it. Today I would call it teaching physical education through the cognitive approach."

His child-oriented instructional philosophy works for older students as well, Milan said.

While teaching educational psychology, introduction to secondary education and methods in secondary education at Baker this semester, he has incorporated similar concepts into the class.

"I'm not concerned with throwing out a lot of information and having it regurgitated," he said. "I'm trying to involve the student in the learning process."

Milan hopes his future teachers will learn the skills to teach as a "facilitator instead of a lecturer."

He also hopes to someday publish two books one explaining his methods for teaching elementary physical education, and another describing the explosive atmosphere during the period he taught and sponsored extracurricular activities in Lawrence schools.

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