Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Teacher Wars: A History of America's Most Embattled Profession

The Teacher Wars, by Dana Goldstein
Publisher: Doubleday
Publication date: September 2, 2014
Category: Nonfiction, Education
Source: I received this e-galley from the publisher, via Edelweiss, in exchange for my honest review.

I am a teacher, so reviewing The Teacher Wars: A History of America's Most Embattled Profession, by Dana Goldstein, was inevitable, self assigned, summer reading homework. I made so many highlights on my e-galley to help write a good summary and then read Amazon's perfect sum-up and thought, "Why reinvent the wheel?" The summary of The Teacher Wars, from Amazon:

"Teaching is a wildly contentious profession in America, one attacked and admired in equal measure. In The Teacher Wars, a rich, lively, and unprecedented history of public school teaching, Dana Goldstein reveals that teachers have been similarly embattled for nearly two centuries. From the genteel founding of the common schools movement in the nineteenth century to the violent inner-city teacher strikes of the 1960s and '70s, from the dispatching of Northeastern women to frontier schoolhouses to the founding of Teach for America on the Princeton University campus in 1990, Goldstein shows that the same issues have continued to bedevil us: Who should teach? What should be taught? Who should be held accountable for how our children learn? 

She uncovers the surprising roots of hot button issues, from teacher tenure to charter schools, and finds that recent popular ideas to improve schools—instituting merit pay, evaluating teachers by student test scores, ranking and firing veteran teachers, and recruiting “elite” graduates to teach—are all approaches that have been tried in the past without producing widespread change. And she also discovers an emerging effort that stands a real chance of transforming our schools for the better: drawing on the best practices of the three million public school teachers we already have in order to improve learning throughout our nation’s classrooms."

Okay, so it looks like I've cheated, using Amazon to make up most of my review, but before you give me detention, the hallmark of a good teacher is seeking out and using good materials wherever possible! This summary is good material.

To be quite honest, it took me a good amount of time to read The Teacher Wars and I read many other books alongside it. The Teacher Wars provides the details of the historical figures and accounts that moved education forward, which sometimes gets dry or just needs broken up to keep the reader's focus. If your interest doesn't lie in education, this is obviously not the book for you. Even if you have some interest, this still may not be the book for you. This book is for those who are really interested in educational policy, where it's been and where it's headed; specifically, how these two things are connected.

I found the last three chapters the most interesting because they deal with the past thirty years, which are the policies I have dealt with as I've earned my degrees and started my career. The epilogue was also useful, with a rundown of what would help education the most, based on the accumulated research, along with brief explanations.

As a young teacher with many years left in my career, the panicked talk of Common Core and new teacher evaluation systems stirs more feelings than many people realize, so it was crazy that this book connects today's issues facing education to those that have been around for almost the entire 175 years of American public education. It seems appropriate the words of F. Scott Fitzgerald would come to me here: "So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."


  1. Jennine, to be in this profession seems like going to war at times doesn't it? I have many friends who are teachers, and although I don't speak to them personally about the trials and tribulations of teaching in today's environment, I get a glimpse of it on FB and of course, by reading the local paper. OMG. Teacher pay here in NC is ranked like 46th in the nation I think. No wonder teachers want to quit. But many don't. Because they love it. On Common seemed like a good idea - I guess - but it seems many don't like it. I thought it was created to make students more competitive and to bring them in line with other nations, who seem to be way ahead of the U.S. when it comes to testing and outcomes - and ultimately JOBS. It seems parents in the U.S. are worried about the length of time kids are in school, from the time they have to be there, to the homework they are given, etc. etc. Yet in other countries (China), students are in class nine hours a day... and that doesn't include going home to do homework.

    Anyway...I would imagine the book was a bit of a dry read, and the conclusion of the review, plus your input...well it sounds like trying to solve conflict in the Middle East.

    1. Teacher pay varies's not even consistent from county to county within a state! Where I'm at in PA I feel we are fairly paid, but not so much where I live in Ohio...two very similar towns, five minutes away, right in the state border.

      I think there's lots of unspoken intentions behind common core and that's what worries me. Politicians compare our students to other countries and yet fail to try what other countries are doing. Why is that? Many academically successful countries have no standardized testing. I think the culture plays the biggest part and there's no way to overcome it that anyone can think of.

      Good comparison, by the way. I'd say if we're 175 years in and still getting nowhere, it's here to stay :(