From the Farm to the Melting Pot

Francis Wardle's life, experiences and views concentrate and intertwine several of the most important developments of the last half century. Born into the Bruderhof community, related to the Amish, Hutterites and Moravian Brethren, he had been steeped in traditionalist Christian beliefs. These beliefs caused the group's flight from Nazi Germany to Britain, where its German members were threatened with being interned as suspect aliens on the Isle of Man. Most members then went to Paraguay, the only country that would accept German citizens during the war. A few stayed at the Cotswold community in England.


Anti-foreign feeling drove the Bruderhof group from their initial Cotswold’s settlement to a farm in Shropshire. They formed an agricultural collective there, which eventually grew to about 200 men, women and children, and Francis was born into it. He spent the first 11 years of his life in the settlement, before moving to another of the communities just outside Gerrards Cross. The Bruderhof grew potatoes, sugar-beet, kale, corn, and strawberries, some for sale and some for consumption by the community. They also kept sheep, chickens, pigs and a variety of cattle. Children often helped with various aspects of the farm, such as harvesting sugar beets and picking strawberries. Contact with outsiders was discouraged and mainline electricity never installed. Money was rarely necessary. Leisure activities included hiking, reading, teaching the next generation and folk dancing, all suffused with religious feeling. Bonds were supportive but also constraining. A common social ethos acted as a unifying force. Individual families were integrated into the extended one. This softened the sharp edges within and between families. Francis attended the Orchard School, Slough, shortly before moving to the US with his family to join one of the communities there. At 18 he left the Bruderhof to go to college. His parents still live one of the Bruderhof communities  in New York State and he visits them frequently. There are two communities in the UK, one at Nonington near Dover in Kent and one at Robertsbridge, Sussex. Their specialist wooden materials and equipment for young children have been the subject of colour supplement journalism. They have a web-site but do not have televisions or radios in their homes. Francis described leaving the Bruderhof as 'a wrench' but necessary.


The outside world particularly as manifested in New Mexico, Kansas City and Denver came as a shock. Francis had no idea about either money or dating customs. Women behaved very differentlyfrom their sisters in the community. However he adapted and did well academically, obtaining his BS in Art Education from the Pennsylvania State University. He went on to add an MA from the University of Wisconsin, and a PhD in Education (major in Curriculum and Instruction, and minor in Child Development) from the University of Kansas. Cumulatively his qualifications fitted him well to construct courses in the rapidly expanding field of racial issues.


His array of experiences proved useful in the short term when Francis became involved in issues and education regarding evolving attitudes towards diversity, both public and private. The legal system in the United States was changing to redress the historical bias against non-whites. For example, it became illegal, when matching children and potential adoptive parents, to advertise for applicants from specific racial groups (although it is still common practice). Regarding the acceptance of people of mixed race heritage, Francis commented, 'It depends where you live'. InDenver, where his family lives, their lives were easier than in some other places. There is now in the United States considerable pressure on people to declare a single racial identity to qualify for anti-discrimination funding, jobs preferences and college affirmative action, and to satisfy those who teach minorities to develop a sense of racial pride. Further, all government forms, including those used in all the schools, only have single-race categories on them. The real distinction in the US, however, continues to be income. Francis currently teaches at Red Rocks Community College in Denver, and the University of Phoenix (an online private university with students worldwide). Community colleges are vocational colleges that admit anyone over 18 years old, and for some are stepping stones to entry into four year universities. For other students they provide terminal certificates in areas such as nursing, EMTs and childcare. Francis teaches early childhood education, child psychology, curriculum, policymaking, leadership and research.


Another set of insights was provided by family contacts. Francis's brother, Christopher, also left the Bruderhof and went far a field. He has worked in almost all of the African counties, and now does work in many of the old soviet states that are now independent. Francis's wife was from Kansas City and is quite dark [skinned]. This brought him up against 'colourism' within the African American population in the US. At this time the designation 'European-Americans' had evolved to describe people descended from original European immigrants. For the US census categories and federal forms, European American means whites. Many in the US, even to this day, believe that all Europeans are so to speak, European Europeans (white). And certainly few know how many mixed-race children there were in schools in Europe. (Indecently, they do not know how many there are in US schools, either, because they are not officially counted).  Francis's interest in mixed-race issues was heightened when the eldest of his four children (three daughters and a son) started asking questions when she was 4 years old. In college classes in the US that address issues of diversity, distinct racial groups are studied but little people of mixed-race are totally ignored. Regarding this issue, the academic viewpoint differs markedly from the lived experiences of the average person. 


Part of the problem is that professionals who work with mixed-race children in US school accept this single-race view as fact. At the top of the list of professional are psychiatrists and psychologists; a step down come teachers; and at the bottom of social status and power in US schools are social workers. However, they all tend to except the single-race view of mixed-race children that is taught in US colleges and universities.


However from 1991 Denver's (Colorado) Center for the Study of Biracial Children started to make some progress in the right direction. Francis and his family returned to Pennsylvania in the same year and lived at one of the Brudehofs, but still continued his programme of lecturing, speaking and writing.


Other influences contributing to the formation of Francis's outlook and theories, include his years teaching at a free school in Taos, New Mexico. In the 1960s and 1970s it was full of hippies and communes. Denver, of course, had been one of Jack Kerouac's stamping grounds. Each commune had a focus or specific preoccupation-vegetarianism, drugs, eastern religion, etc., but unlike the Bruderhof none had a solid core faith. They did not last. The counter-culture, although decreeing a thorough rejection of America’s past, in fact retained and strengthened some aspects of it. When Francis visited the New Buffalo commune he found some interesting examples of gender bias. One commune leader divorced his wife because she had six daughters. He wanted to marry someone who could give him a son. In many ways life in the Taos communes was seductive, which is why many of the hippies were known to have ‘dropped out” of the competitive, hardworking US culture.  There were hot springs, so dirt was not a problem. Women knew their place, perpetually subordinate. Food stamps prevented starvation. A fair number were offshoots of wealthy families, which sent them money. Cost of living was at that time extremely inexpensive. Boredom could be avoided through attending Indian ceremonies at the local Rio Grande Pueblo Indian reservations, selling junk to tourists, and expounding on things philosophical, political and sociological. Sociologically and anthropologically it was a marvelous practical education for an academic observer.


Another influence was time spent in Brazil. In News From Brazil, first published in Interracial Voice, Francis investigated and described mixed-race issues in what has always been regarded as one of the world's most heterogeneous populations. It was, and is, a very mixed society due to successive and at times simultaneous waves of different groups of immigrants, and because of a historical acceptance not only of mixed-race relationships (formal and informal), but also of designating the progeny of these relationships as mixed race. Because of this its constituent races and sub-groups have never been as sharply defined and legally significant as in the US. The 'one drop rule' was reversed. The child of a union between a free person and a slave was born free. The innumerable gradations of colour in the Brazilian Empire were less loaded than the fewer gradations of the US. According to one authority, 'Brazilians constitute a tri-hybrid population with European, African and Amerindian roots.' 'Pardos' is the descriptive-and non-pejorative-word for people of mixed race descent. Social stratification is rigid and placing decided by wealth. This is reinforced by the educational system. The correlation of colour and income is far from absolute.


Colourism, however, is a powerful force. In every mall, above the heads of shoppers ranging in shade from light brown to total black, blue-eyed blondes look out of hoardings advertising all products from soap to photocopiers and cell phones: an unattainable ideal oppresses the population. Yet socially people congregate without distinction of shade. It is different from South India, where the caste system ensures that the Parsee community keeps its relatively fair appearance over generations. The hierarchy is aesthetic only in Brazil but none-the-less inconsistent with equality. Cash not complexion is the dividing line. The more fluid-in some ways-nature of Brazilian society taught Francis that other patterns and scenarios were possible and lessons could be learnt from them.


His experiences and research have been organized into a book, Tomorrow's Children. This book has been highly recommended by Maria Root, a name familiar to PIH members. The foreword by Edith W King, Professor of Educational Sociology and Cross-Cultural Education at the University of Denver describes the author's impressive range of expertise, and the life experiences of two decades with his own biracial family provide the sources for his special knowledge. Readership includes single parent families, blended families, foster and adoptive parents as well as teachers and professionals working with interracial families. It is now being accepted as a basic textbook. A subsequent book, Meeting the Needs of Multiethnic and Multiracial Children in Schools (with Marta Cruz-Janzen) takes his ideas more directly to the professional communities of teachers, therapists and social workers.


A man who started out from a small enclosed homogeneous community and journeyed through a series of increasingly mixed cultures and races to a global kaleidoscope has a unique claim to personify change to date and to forecast what form future change will take.


We at PIH [People in Harmony] were lucky enough to meet Francis as he was returning via Britain to the US. He had just been to Paris where his wife was having a short holiday with one of their daughters who is currently working in France, and where his son was about to begin a stint, also. It is symbolic of his journey that the photo on the flier for Tomorrow's Children is of him in Bruderhof dress while his academic title is given as Executive Director of the Center for the Study of Biracial Children.


Margaret Brown.  October 2005