Watching the documentary "Waiting For Superman" soon after its release in 2010, I clearly recall being incensed at one scene. A room full of tenured New York City school teachers are playing cards, watching TV, sleeping. The voiceover describes how this idle group has been deemed unsuitable for the classroom but instead of being fired, they are hidden away, collecting a full salary. That scene - along with an unflattering portrayal of AFT President Randi Weingarten later in the film - persuaded me at the time to accept the filmmaker's point of view, i.e. unionism run amok is poisoning the public school system. Shame on me for being so gullible.
More significantly, thank goodness my retired schoolteacher sister suggested "The Teacher Wars: A History Of America's Most Embattled Profession" (2014). Dana Goldstein's compelling, balanced account was needed ballast for the agitprop of "Waiting For Superman". Although never out of the spell, "The Teacher Wars" was most educational for me when Goldstein covered some of the turmoil in the 19th century. Without books like this, where would I learn how the 14th amendment divided some early feminists and how that is connected to teaching? Without authors this insightful guiding me, would I understand the differing educational visions of Booker T Washington & W.E.B. Dubois and the legacies each created in the African-American culture? I doubt it.
And, in the second half of her excellent book, in a fair and factual way, Goldstein does address some of the problems teachers unions have either created or exacerbated. In a perfect world, "The Teacher Wars" would be required reading for every public school principal and administrator in the country. But I'll settle for those folks internalizing only the final message of the epilogue - "Be Real About The Limitations Of Our System". Everyone else: If you swallowed the Kool-Aid that 2010 documentary was serving, you owe it to yourself to read this book as an antidote.
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