Had Irving (Isaac) Adler not lived during the fervent era of the rise and decline of Communism, his personal story might have been the simple life of a mathematician dedicated to the education of American youth. But for Adler, who was born in Harlem, New York, on April 27, 1913, the impassioned public attitude toward Communism greatly impacted his life.

Adler was an exceptional student who entered high school at the age of 11 and New York’s City College at 14. He went immediately into teaching after he graduated in 1931, and became part of New York’s Teachers Union shortly thereafter. In 1935, Adler joined the American Communist Party, although it does not appear that he was particularly active or that he assumed any sort of leadership role.

The trouble began in 1949, when New York State passed the Feinberg Law, allowing the Board of Regents (overseeing the public school system) to deny a person teaching privileges due to any “subversive” behavior. The Board of Regents began interviewing its teachers, who were asked directly whether they were members of the Communist Party. Adler stated his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself, as did many others, and was suspended and later dismissed.

Because his family name began with “A,” Adler became the lead name on a class action suit that was filed shortly thereafter. Adler vs. Board of Education moved quickly through the courts and was heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in March 1952. In a 6 – 3 decision, the Court supported the state. (This ruling was overturned in 1967 – Keyishian v. Board of Regents, and Adler later received his pension.) Adler renounced his Communist membership a few years later when the Soviets invaded Hungary.

Adler’s love for teaching math was quickly rechannelled to writing, and, in 1952, his first of many science books for children, “The Secret of Light,” was published. In 1961, shortly after moving to Vermont, Adler completed a doctorate from Columbia University. In addition to his children’s books, Adler published in professional journals, became a civil rights and anti-war activist, and became an advocate for “New Math.”

He passed away on September 22, 2012.

This Treat was originally posted on April 17, 2017.

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