The Founding of MATSOL

by Robert Saitz, Founding President of MATSOL

Reprinted from MATSOL Currents Vol. 35, No. 1, Spring/Summer 2012

TESOL Background

As James Alatis noted, in his “The Early History of TESOL” (Volume XXI, No. 2 of the TESOL NEWSLETTER), the generation of a professional organization for teachers of English to speakers of other languages took place in 1963. He wrote, “At the April 1963 annual conference of the National Association for Foreign Student Affairs (NAFSA), the suggestion was made that Charles A. Ferguson of the Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL) call a small conference of representatives from various kinds of ESOL programs to determine the advisability of a unique, more inclusive organization for teachers of English to speakers of other languages.

A pilot meeting was held in Washington, D.C. on September 12, 1963 with representatives from NAFSA, CAL, National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), Modern Language Association (MLA), and the Speech Association of America (SAA) now the Speech Communication Association, as well as representatives from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the state educational systems of California, Michigan, Florida, Arizona, New Mexico, the city of New York and Canada.”

As a result of that meeting, a conference was set up to take place in Tucson, Arizona May 6-9, 1964. Although about 100 people were expected, over 700 showed up. Additional conferences followed in San Diego (1965), and New York City (1966). At the New York conference, the TFSOL organization was formally created and the organization held its first official conference in Miami in 1967. There were about 1,000 members and dues were $6.00. The rationale for the organization, as Alatis noted, centered on three needs: “(1) The need for a professional organization that would be permanently devoted to the problems of teaching English to speakers of other languages, at all levels. (2) The need for a pedagogical journal to serve the entire profession. (3) The need for a register of specialists which might be helpful to foundations, government agencies, and universities with the ever-growing need for qualified personnel in the area of ESOL.”

There was an interest in the establishment of affiliates from the very beginning and by 1970 New Mexico, New Jersey, Puerto Rico, Texas, California, Illinois, Florida, New York, and Washington (D.C. area) had joined. MATSOL joined TESOL officially on Jan. 1, 1973

Massachusetts Background

In 1647, William Bradford, writing in his of Plimoth Plantation, referred to an American Indian named Samoset, who had been “skulking about” the Puritans. Samoset had come from Maine, from “these eastern parts where some English ships came to fish, with whom he was acquainted and could name sundry of them by their names, amongst whom he had got his language.”

Had Samoset acquired English on his own by working with English sailors and traders or had someone in the colony (Maine was not distinct from Massachu- setts at the time) taught him, someone who might have been the first local teacher of English as a second language with a recorded success! Or was it Squanto who interpreted for the Pilgrims and Wampanoags? There seems not to have been a seventeenth-century Massachusetts Association of Learners of English as a Second Language (MALESL?). But in any case, the area had a long history of language learning as its coastal location and its hunting and fishing opportunities brought speakers of Spanish, Portuguese, Basque, Pidgin English and English into contact with each other here. From the seventeenth to the twentieth centuries, immigration guaranteed the continuity of English teaching, with the huge immigrations of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries producing the need for the many immigrant day schools such as the one in the South End of Boston.

However, it was in the 1940s that some of the forces leading to the establishment of TESOL and MATSOL first emerged. Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Good Neighbor Policy led to increased interest in Latin America, with support forthcoming for sending U.S. citizens there, bringing Latin Americans here, and training teachers of English and developing materials. One particularly rich result was the estab- lishment of the English Language Institute at the University of Michigan with its extensive teaching programs and material development. After World War II, which itself brought thousands of Americans in contact with speakers of other languages, the United States was significantly less isolationist than it had been. Circumstances led to immediate rehabilitation programs in Asia and Europe, such as the Marshall Plan, and later the Peace Corps program extended an American reach into many countries. Further, an increased awareness of the “one world” idea (at that time some Americans created a world federalist party, giving up their U.S. citizenships to become citizens of the world) led to enthusiasm for programs designed to interchange peoples: e.g., the Fulbright program and the Experiment in International Living. Since at the same time English was becoming the world language, a number of these programs which were related to or organized through universities included English teaching, teacher training and development of ESL materials. The final impulse toward the expansion of the English teaching world came as a result of the immigration wave of the 1960s which increased significantly the number of domestic residents and citizens who did not speak English as a first language. That shifted the focus to local concern; it was no longer universities with internationals students but elementary and secondary schools now faced with the need of a non-English speaking population.

The challenge to meet the needs of the school-age children was responded to by the teachers and local superintendents, with the support of federal, state and city governments, especially through the federal Title 1 program for elementary and secondary schools, and particularly in the larger cities such as Boston, New Bedford, Fall River, Lowell, Lawrence, Worcester and Springfield. Teachers in the local schools included Martha Shanley, Maria Fleites, Maria Geddes, Carmen Neckeles in Boston; Carmen was a teacher in the John J.Williams School in the South End of Boston (in the district of Superintendent William Cannon) and she recalls that in the sixties she was taken out of her regular classroom and impressed as an ESL pullout teacher. She “pulled out” six or seven non-English speaking children at a time (mostly Hispanic and Chinese) and met with them in the hall, a closet or a corner. There were no materials so she cut pictures out of newspapers. Undergoing similar experiences were John Corcoran in Worcester, John Schumann in Waltham, Mary Shannon in Lawrence, Barbara Lawler in New Bedford, and others throughout the state. In New Bedford, Ed Tavares initiated a summer curriculum workshop administered jointly by the New Bedford School Department and Boston University; the teachers spent the summer translating their basic texts into a simplified English.

At the same time, the Abraham Lincoln School, an adult school in the South End, was continuing its work; the school had a halfday immersion program running in the daytime and evenings and had graduated some 200,000 students by the early 1960s. The variety of teachers included Ed McFadd, a returned Peace Corps volunteer, Madeleine Reilly, the former chairperson of the Boston School Committee and Charlie Kalangis, a graduate of the school. Charlie’s classroom was filled with people solving problems; he said he was not teaching language but content, this well before Paolo Freire’s pedagogy of the oppressed (1970) and Virgil Strohmeyer with his “language as a carrier of information” in TESOL publications of the 1970s.

In addition, as noted above, the universities were running foreign-student programs that attracted faculty and made use of faculty they already had on hand. Francine Stieglitz joined Boston University, Dick Newman added to his du- ties at Boston State College, Ann Hilferty, another Peace Corps veteran, worked at Northeastern and Wellesley. State and city entities became involved: Ernie Mazzone and Juan Rodriguez from the State Department of Education; Celia Soriano-Bresnahan and Raffael De Gruttola from the Office of Cultural Affairs in Boston. And Sister Frances Georgia was an institution in herself. Businesses were interested; the John Hancock Life Insurance Company established an ESL pro- gram for its employees during working hours. The federal government and foundations were also productive. The Commonwealth Service Corps developed a Migrant Education Project which provided teachers and materials for Spanish-speaking migrants in Massachusetts. The Ford Foundation sponsored a unique program, the BASIS (Boston Area Seminar for International Students) program which was run cooperatively by Harvard, MIT, Boston University, Boston College and Brandeis to give students who would be attending these colleges in the fall a summer of language and culture experience. And in response to all of this activity, a publishing company, Newbury House,devoted itself to the production of ESL-related materials.

Such activities were happening nation-wide and on a much larger scale than Massachusetts in places such as the southwest and Florida with their large Spanish-speaking populations, New York with its substantial Puerto Rican influx and the areas where there were significant numbers of American Indians. The involvement of hundreds of teachers, administrators, state and local officials, the federal government, foundations, etc. led to the idea of a national organization to provide a focus, and TESOL was born, holding its first convention in 1967, in Miami. 

Almost immediately after the creation of TESOL, its officers, and Harold Allen in particular, called for the establishment of affiliates. The first to join TESOL was New Mexico in 1969, followed by New Jersey, Puerto Rico and Texas, also in 1969. California, Illinois, Florida, New York State and the Washington, D.C. area joined in 1970. Encouraged by the TESOL president (James Alatis, a native of Massachusetts teaching at Georgetown at the time), a group of people involved in ESL met in 1971 at Boston University. Represented were universities, public and private schools, the state department of education, churches and social agencies.

An organization was formed and a slate of officers elected in 1972:

President: Robert Saitz, Boston University
1st Vice President: John Corcoran, Worcester Public Schools
2nd Vice President: Mary Walsh, Boston State College
Secretary/Treasurer: Barbara Lawler, New Bedford Public Schools

Maria Geddes, Boston Public Schools

Ann Hilferty, Northeastern, Wellesley
Ernest Mazzone , State Dept. of Education
Juan Rodriguez, State Dept. of Education
John Schumann, Waltham Public Schools
Mary Shannon, Lawrence Public Schools

It should be noted that MATSOL is the only affiliate without an E in its acronym and that was largely due to the insistence of Sister Frances Georgia. Appalled by the large numbers of children she observed on the streets of Boston who were not in school, she launched a campaign to make sure the school system could provide for them. This coincided with the movement toward bilingual education, which embodied the notion of teaching content in the native language while the students were learning English. Concerned with their total education, Sister Frances lobbied successfully for an organization that would retain that idea in its title. Thus in Massachusetts the organization became the Massachusetts Association of Teachers of Speakers of Other Languages.