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Floodwood's Past Culture Wars
Today's culture wars were foretold in tiny Floodwood, Minn., more than 70 years ago

How a book about an education experiment in Minnesota decades ago foretold today's culture wars. 

By John Reinan Star Tribune  OCTOBER 18, 2017 — 2:46PM

Government health care. Racial equality. Income disparity.

They’re familiar battles in 2017. But not so familiar seven decades ago.

Yet many seeds of today’s culture wars were sown in an unlikely place and time: a Finnish farming community in rural Minnesota at the height of World War II.

Though the global conflict still raged, it was becoming clear by 1944 that the United States and its allies would win. But what kind of world would we live in when the cataclysm ended?

The question was on many minds, including that of Theodore Brameld, an energetic, idealistic — many would say left-wing — education professor at the University of Minnesota.

Forty miles west of Duluth, in the town of Floodwood (pop. 570), Brameld conducted an experiment that one academic called “the first example of educational futurism.”

Brameld challenged the entire junior and senior classes at Floodwood High School — 51 students in all — to create a blueprint for the future, to envision the postwar world they’d lead.

For four months in the spring of 1944, for two hours a day, they studied an intensive curriculum that pushed them to draw conclusions about government, society and how America could make its way in the new world.

These rural Minnesota kids, many of them from immigrant homes, came out in favor of radical ideas like national health care and supported a national public works program, public ownership of natural resources, eliminating the poll tax and lowering the voting age.

Brameld published the conclusions of the Floodwood project in a book, “Design for America” — a thin, rather dry academic summary. After its publication — years before the red-baiting Sen. Joe McCarthy burst on the scene — Brameld’s book would become the center of a controversy stirred by the National Council for American Education, a right-wing lobbying organization.

Calling the project an attempt to “indoctrin[ate] high school students with collectivist and anti-American ideology,” the council launched a national campaign against the book, its author and the students.

One of those students was my mother.

The Finns were on board

Brameld chose fertile ground for his experiment. Floodwood was largely settled by Finns, who were widely known for their liberal views.

Many were poor farmers who had formed cooperative organizations to market their produce. Mayor Sanfrid Ruohoniemi — my grandfather — was calling for government ownership of the town’s utilities. And the weekly Floodwood Forum editorialized strongly in favor of international cooperation in the postwar world.

“Brameld was using Floodwood to show that issues and social ideology could be dealt with through a level of discourse that would allow students to explore and decide for themselves,” said Craig Kridel, an emeritus professor of education at the University of South Carolina who has studied Brameld’s work.

Brameld was a rising star in the academic world, and the Floodwood project would give him an important calling card. He didn’t rig the results of his experiment, Kridel said, but he definitely picked a favorable laboratory.

“He knew that there was a very strong Finnish socialist tradition in Floodwood,” Kridel said. “He felt it was a community that would resonate with the ideas.”

Brameld also pioneered a philosophy of education he called “reconstructionism” — the idea that schools could lead the way in reconstructing society with reasoned self-examination.

“Brameld believed that was the point of schools — to be a meeting ground to explore ideas in an open way,” Kridel said.

My mother, Ann Ruohoniemi, grew up in a Finnish immigrant household and didn’t speak English until she went to school. She was a junior at the time of Brameld’s experiment; her name appears in the book’s acknowledgments, along with the other 50 students who took part — names like Matalamaki, Perkkio and Karkiainen.

Yet I never heard her mention “Design for America” or her part in it. She died young, at 46, when I was about the same age she was during Brameld’s experiment. I only happened to learn about the Floodwood project when I found articles about it in some old clipping files the Star Tribune was disposing of after digitizing its news archive.

‘Collectivist, anti-American’

The letter to the editor of the Minneapolis Star got straight to the point:

“I wonder how many of us know that our state university, supported by taxes, is engaged in teaching socialism and communism to our youth?”

That note from a Minneapolis reader kicked off a commotion that kept university officials scrambling to defend themselves for years afterward, generating what U of M President J.L. Morrill called “nasty and damaging publicity.”

The National Council for American Education had discovered “Design for America.” In 1948 — four years after the Floodwood project and three years after publication of Brameld’s book — the council sent a two-page flier denouncing the project to its national mailing list.

Soon, the university was getting letters from powerful figures across the country — corporate executives, legislators and politicians, including former Minnesota Gov. Harold Stassen, who was then president of the University of Pennsylvania.

They asked how the university had gotten itself involved with “teaching American youth that Communism and Socialism offer a way of life superior to our American system,” as the flier put it.

As the controversy roiled, Morrill strongly supported the university’s right to academic inquiry.

“The fact is that if we had the kind of university in which only our views, yours and mine, were held or expressed, it would be no good really as a university at all,” Morrill wrote to Richard Griggs, a member of the university’s Board of Regents.

But Morrill also was careful to distance himself from Brameld, who by then had left the U for New York University.

Brameld himself wrote a fiery response in the Minneapolis Star, denouncing the “smear-sheet” published by “a group of notorious native fascists of the kind who were driven into their holes during the war.”

The debate continues

In 1976, Kridel, then a young teaching associate, sent a survey to the Floodwood students who had taken part in “Design for America.” Nineteen of the 51 responded. (My mother wasn’t among them.) Their responses were mixed.

The project “gave me a more complete understanding of being involved,” one student wrote.

“I think the project stunk and was a complete waste of time and education,” said another.

“Taught us how to judge for ourselves — by studying facts as we saw them, rather than being told!” wrote a third.

Addressing perhaps the crucial question in the Floodwood controversy, Kridel asked the former students if they felt they had been “indoctrinated” by the project. Three said yes and two didn’t respond; 14 said no.

Some 70 years after the students of Floodwood created their blueprint for the future, debates over what America should look like still rage. And topics like government health care, racial equality and income disparity are just as polarizing.

The Floodwood project itself lives on only in dusty files at the U of M archives and in a copy of “Design for America” at the Minneapolis public library.

It hasn’t been checked out since 1962.

Floodwood History

A shameful past: Indian insane asylum [Tom Floodwood]

 

8/12/15:  Update: Victim of Fatal Floodwood Crash Identified

 

April 28, 2008:  Floodwood River floods back yards in Floodwood due to recent snowmelt and rainfall

 

August 7, 1969:  Victims of Storm Hunted - 1969 Floodwood Tornado

 

August 7, 1969:  Minnesota Tornadoes Kill at Least Twelve

 

November 19, 1953:  Youth Slays Family of 3; Gives Self Up 

 

October 29, 1951:  Tin Can Blast Kills 2 Young Hunters

 

May 11, 1950:  Midwest Flood Deaths Hit 26; Water Peril Spreads

 

February 12, 1948:  Rain, Wind, Blizzard Rages in Wide Area - Stranding Floodwood Basketball Fans

 

January 14, 1946:  Ex-Cop Hunted in Love Killing

 

June 14, 1928 - Indian Dances Head Vineland Session

 

April 3, 1916:  Federal Officers Arrest Four on Liquor Charges

 

May 18, 1905:  Man Sues Mayor $250 for Damage done to Beard

 

January 4, 1904:  Lumberjack Sought Revenge & Was Mortally Wounded

 

The Floodwood City Hall now has a drop box where residents can safely and anonymously dispose of any form of medication, both prescription and over-the-counter. The City Hall is located at 111 8th Avenue W and is open 8:30 a.m. to 4:30, M-F.  City of Floodwood website...

 

What makes Floodwood Unique?

 

The number one reason Floodwood is a great place to live is the sense of community.  No matter how long you've been away, you can visit your hometown and find old friends.  Individuals who grew up in a large or mid-sized city will never have this...nor understand the feeling it gives you.  In a small town you have a name, a history, and a legacy.

 

Floodwood offers a lot more in a small town than almost any other.  With a population of about 550, Floodwood has two financial institutions, the Floodwood Credit Union and Northview Bank.  It has three gas stations, Larry's Bait & Service, Little Store, and SuperAmerica.  Floodwood has a grocery stop, The Grocery Store, as well as a Hardware Store.  Two newspapers operate from Floodwood, the long-term home established Floodwood Forum and the newer Portage News.  To top it off, it has a larger modern school with some of the best teacher to student ratios anywhere.  Your security is established by a local police department and volunteer fire department.

 

Mat Inc., the local peat plant in Floodwood, is among its largest employers, and the brainchild of the late and great Joe Karpik.  Joe took what used to be the old Ford plant that closed down, and converted it into an enterprise that is now a strong cornerstone of the community.

 

Floodwood, unlike most small communities, has a medical clinic (Scenic Rivers Health Clinic) and dentistry (Scenic Rivers Dental).

 

The arts thrive in the Floodwood region, as evidenced by Grandma's Treasure Chest and the Hingeley Quilt Shop.  There are numerous artists (Kellie Rae Theiss, Al Moline Sr.) and writers (K. Farrell St. Germain) in the area.

 

If you need a place to eat, you've got many choices:  Subway, Burger House, Main Line Station, and Savanna Portage.

Floodwood started as a logging and farming community, but has evolved into a larger service sector.  Roughly 38% of those employed work out of town in the areas of Hibbing, Grand Rapids, Cloquet, and Duluth.  Several contractors reside in Floodwood and ready to serve its local citizens.  Lindquist Lumber is the local lumberyard meeting the communities building supplies needs.


The city of Floodwood is simply unmatched in terms of size for its services, school, and sense of community. 
Crime & Police

Floodwood Police Department - Mandated or Optional?

 

Daniel T. Cabot, D.O. #47396 (Formerly worked in Floodwood)

Duluth Clinic

1402 East Superior Street

Duluth, MN 55805

 

Year of Birth: 1969

Date of Action: September 28, 2015

 

Nature of Misconduct: Conviction of a felony reasonably related to the practice of medicine; unethical conduct; aiding or abetting an unlicensed person in the practice of medicine; unprofessional conduct; inability to practice medicine with reasonable skill and safety to patients by reason of illness.

 

Action Taken: Dr. Cabot's license is temporarily suspended.

 

Boundary Waters Drug Task Force (BWDTF) Announces Nine Drug-Related Busts (4/21/15)

 

The investigations and arrests resulted in felony and misdemeanor charges being filed in the St. Louis County district courts on April 21, 2015.

 

The nine persons charged included Travis N. Pemble, 34, of Floodwood.  He was formally charged with one felony count of second degree possession of a controlled substance (methamphetamine) and one gross misdemeanor count of third degree driving under the influence on April 16 in St. Louis County District Court in Hibbing. The CPD assisted in the investigation. His next scheduled court appearance will be April 23 in Hibbing.

 

Among those charged were Amber L. Smith, 20, Jason A. Sanborn, 44, and Jeremy J. Rosnau, 33, all of Hibbing.  The remaining charged were Danny L. Lenore, 33, of Chisholm, Kenneth A. Pogorelc, 30, of Chisholm, Amanda J. Viney, 27, of Virginia, Bryan J. Hodapp, 28, of Eveleth, and Claire C. Lashmett, 23, of Embarrass.

 

Criminal Charges for the Alleged Sale of Marijuana

 

Criminal charges of the alleged Sale of Marijuana in the Fifth degree have been filed against a 28 year old Floodwood man, Daniel Richard Kemp, and criminal charges alleging conspiracy to possess a schedule I,II,III or IV controlled substance in the Fifth degree have been filed against a 27 year old Floodwood woman, Karla Jean Shaw. The charges are a result of an investigation conducted by the Floodwood Police along with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and the Boundary Waters Drug Task Force. The investigation revealed large amounts of marijuana were being purchased in Eveleth, delivered to Floodwood and resold to people in the Floodwood area. Two Eveleth men were also charged with conspiracy to possess a schedule I,II,III or IV controlled substance in the Fifth degree as a result of the investigation.