The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: An honest look at union hero Albert Shanker

Glazer, Nathan. "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: An honest look at union hero Albert Shanker." Education Next 8 no. 2 (2008).

Excerpt: “Madman or Visionary?” reads the publicity material that accompanies this biography of Albert Shanker. The dust jacket describes the paradigmatic moment in Woody Allen’s 1973 movie, Sleeper, in which a future Rip Van Winkle awakens to learn that civilization was destroyed when “a man by the name of Albert Shanker got hold of a nuclear warhead.” Five years earlier, Shanker, leader of the New York City teachers union, shook the city with a series of strikes to defend the rights of teachers who had been dismissed from Brooklyn schools. The schools were part of an experiment in “community control,” an approach to school reform then favored by liberals and black activists. The community in this case was black, and those governing the schools under the experimental program demanded black teachers and black principals. There were few in the New York City public schools at the time. Many teachers and principals were Jews, and members of that religious group, as schoolteachers, social workers, shopkeepers, and small landlords, were seen by black militants as the exploiters of African Americans. These Jewish occupational specialties were hardly at the heights of the economy, or the power structure, but from the perspective of the black ghetto, they were the power structure. Among whites with whom poor blacks came into contact, the book notes one observer saying, only the policeman was not Jewish. Community control over city schools pitted blacks against Jews. When, during one of these disruptive strikes, an anti-Semitic leaflet appeared, Shanker did not hesitate to reproduce it in the hundreds of thousands to paint his black opponents as Jew-haters. He was denounced for exacerbating group tensions in a difficult time.


Education Next