How teachers advocating for their students could backfireRoundup
tags: teachers, strikes, education
Diana D'Amico, Ph.D. is a historian of education reform and policy at the University of North Dakota and author of the forthcoming book, "Blaming Teachers: Professionalization Policies and the Failure of Reform in American History."
Over the past few years, teachers have walked out of schools across the United States in the name of bargaining for the common good. Across state lines and political divisions, teachers have moved beyond traditional bread-and-butter concerns to call for smaller class sizes, more support personnel and improved housing options for students and families.
Alex Caputo-Pearl, president of the United Teachers of Los Angeles union, explained that although salaries and benefits are important, “our contract campaign is suffused with a lot of demands that benefit society much more broadly.” A news release from the Chicago Teachers Union about the recent 10-day strike echoed that sentiment: “Our contract fight was about the larger movement to shift values and priorities in Chicago.” For CTU President Jesse Sharkey, the strike was not for teachers, but for “real and lasting change for our students and the people of this city.”
On the surface, there is nothing not to love about teachers advocating for their students.
But this effort, though noble in intent, might backfire because this formulation — teacher compensation for the greater good — reinforces the image of teachers as self-sacrificing servants, rather than as professionals. And that might set the larger cause backward in the long run.
Perhaps more than any other social institution, public schooling has been a key lever for social justice throughout U.S. history. In 1848, Horace Mann made his case for the social value of public schooling by describing it as “the most effective and benignant of all the forces of civilization.” In his estimation, public education “beyond all other devices of human origin, is the great equalizer of the conditions of men — the balance wheel of the social machinery.”
But while these dreams often went unfulfilled, generations of Americans have turned to local schools seeking opportunity and access and rooted their calls for social change in the promise of education.
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