Renowned and prevalent retired Superintendent Dr. Robert E. Hirsch is well-known for his eclectic sense of humor and jovial nature, but there was a bashful and melancholy time in his life that actually helped shape his career choice as an educator.
“I was that invisible kid,” Hirsch said of his childhood. He was born in Pusan, Korea and in 1953 his mother sent him to live with his father, Peter Hirsch, in the United States. The Korean War was ending and all that remained of his homeland were wartime conditions of starvation, disease, and destruction. He credits his grandfather, Leo Hirsch, for chasing and cutting through governmental red tape for three years prior and helping to get him safely to America at age 5. His grandfather and grandmother, Tressie Hirsch, raised him until he was six on their Wisconsin dairy farm and he praises them as his “first champions in life.”
At age six, he was living with his military father at Ft. Benning, Ga., learning English and trying to figure out the world beyond the dairy farm. His father attempted to enroll him in a public elementary school in the nearby city of Columbus, but it didn’t go well.
“Being Asian and not speaking English, my father was informed ‘Your boy is colored,’” Hirsch said. “And they said he either has to go to the black school or he has to go to the Catholic school, and I was not allowed to enter a white public school.”
He ultimately became an American citizen at 13 and applauded his father as his second life champion. They remained as close as best friends could be until his father died at the age of 86.
During his adolescence, Dr. Hirsch attended 10 different schools across the country in 12 short years as a military dependent. And then his father received orders for France.
“I thought he was going to put me into an American school there,” Hirsch said. “Oh no, he said, ‘We’re living in France. You’re going to a French school.’”
Dr. Hirsch once again found himself in a foreign land, struggling to speak the language. He was placed in classes for students with learning disabilities, and eventually, learned to speak fluent French.
“That was a very humbling experience,” Hirsch said.
And it was those experiences he carried with him when he went to college and ultimately chose to teach as a profession. He graduated from Cameron University in Oklahoma and received a master’s degree in education from the University of Southern Mississippi. He gained a doctoral degree in education from Nova Southeastern University in Florida.
“Actually, all of these experiences humbled me so much that I hated school from first grade all the way through college. I hated getting my master’s degree and I hated getting my doctrine. I’m just not the guy that can sit there seven hours straight and I got into a lot of trouble when I was a kid, so I understood those kids and decided to teach.”
This is part two of a four-part series about the life and legacy of Dr. Robert E. Hirsch. Photos are courtesy of Dr. Hirsch.