George Isidore Sánchez, Mexican-American leader and professor, son of Telesfor and Juliana Sánchez, was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on October 4, 1906. Both of his parents' families had been in New Mexico since early colonial days. Most of Sánchez's early education took place in Jerome, Arizona, a thriving mining town, now a ghost town. The family lived there from 1913 to 1921, then moved back to Albuquerque, where George graduated from high school. Shortly before his seventeenth birthday, he accepted a position as a teacher at the ranchería of Yrrisarri, about fifty miles from Albuquerque. Until 1930 he worked as a teacher, principal, and administrator in Bernalillo County, New Mexico, while pursuing his bachelor's degree in education and Spanish at the University of New Mexico. General Education Board grants made possible his graduate study at the University of Texas, where he received an M.S. in educational psychology and Spanish in 1931, and at the University of California at Berkeley, where he received an Ed.D. in 1934. His master's thesis at the University of Texas was one of the earliest studies to question the use of standardized tests for Spanish-speaking children. From 1931 to 1935 he directed the Division of Information and Statistics of the New Mexico State Department of Education, which was funded by a General Education Board Grant. In 1935–36 he conducted field study of rural education in Mexico, which led to his book Mexico: A Revolution by Education. In 1936–37, as an associate with the Julius Rosenwald Fund, he did similar fieldwork on rural and black education in the South. In 1937–38 he was in the Venezuelan Ministry of Education and served as the Director of the Instituto Pedagógica Nacional, a normal school. From 1938 to 1940 he taught at the University of New Mexico, and in 1938–39 he directed a Carnegie Foundation survey of Taos County, which later resulted in his book Forgotten People: A Study of New Mexicans.
During the thirties Sánchez had fought a heroic battle for equalization of school funding and had won major battles in this area. However, opposing forces used their influence to withhold a promised tenured position at the University of New Mexico, which was reduced to a nontenured research associateship at the same time that Sánchez received an invitation from the University of Texas to be a professor of Latin American studies. In 1940, as he began his work at UT, he accepted the office of president elect of the League of United Latin American Citizens and published Forgotten People. In Texas he continued his fight for equal educational opportunities for Mexican-American children through organizations and the courts. Throughout his life Sánchez fought against standardized tests, segregation based on nonproficiency in English, and other discrimination against Hispanic schoolchildren. He is recognized as a leader in laws affecting Mexican Americans, as is demonstrated by a retrospective honoring him in 1984 at the University of California at Berkeley School of Law. At the University of Texas he served as chairman of the Department of History and Philosophy of Education (1951–59), as director of the Center for International Affairs, and on the executive committee of the Institute of Latin American Studies.
Sánchez was a prolific writer as well as a member of the editorial board of The Nations Schools. He served as a consultant to the United States Bureau of Indian Affairs, the National Manpower Council, the United States Office of Education, the Navajo Tribal Council, and the United States Department of the Interior. He was a member of John F. Kennedy's Committee of Fifty on New Frontier Policy in the Americas and of the National Advisory Committee for the Peace Corps. He was on the boards of the Migrant Children's Fund and the National Council on Agricultural Life and Labor. He was a member of Sigma Delta Kappa, Phi Delta Kappa, Phi Kappa Phi, the Southwestern Philosophy of Education Society, the American Educational Studies Association, Kappa Delta Pi, and the Society of Professors of Education and Philosophy of Education Society. Civic organizations to which he belonged included the Alianzo Hispano-Americana, the American Civil Liberties Union, LULAC, the American G.I. Forum, and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. He founded the American Council of Spanish Speaking People, which funded many Texas court cases involving Mexican Americans through national foundation grants that Sánchez wrote and administered. Sánchez was an independent in political matters. He was more concerned about the platform and the record than party affiliation. During World War II he was a Latin-American consultant to the United States Office of Civilian Defense and Education Specialist-Consultant to the Inter-American Educational Foundation. He received the Certificate of Merit from the Office of Civilian Defense in 1944.
He married Virginia Romero on June 15, 1925, and they had two children. They were later divorced. On August 30, 1947, Sánchez married Luisa Garza Guerrero, with whom he co-authored Education in Southern Peru: A Report for USAID in 1962. He died in Austin on April 5, 1972. The United States Office of Education named a work section for him in 1978 and a room in the new United States Office of Education Building in 1985. In 1984 Ruben E. Hinojosa, a member of the Foundation Advisory Council of the College of Education at the University of Texas at Austin, endowed the George I. Sánchez Centennial Professorship in Liberal Arts through the College of Education, the first such honor accorded a Mexican-American professor in the United States.