The Teacher Wars

“To an extent, anxiety about bad teaching is understandable. Teachers do work that is both personal and political. They care for and educate our children, for whom we feel a fierce and loyal love. And they prepare our nation’s citizens and workers, whose wisdom and level of skill will shape our collective future. Given that teachers shoulder such an awesome responsibility it makes sense that American politics is acutely attuned to their shortcomings” – Dana Goldstein

School supplies have been purchased.  Backpacks have been filled. Lunch boxes have been packed.  Class is officially back in session.  As a result, Dana Goldstein’s The Teacher Wars: A History of America’s Most Embattled Profession seems especially apt.  With tact and insight, Goldstein examines the history of one of the nation’s most popular careers, diving into the history of American teaching and tracing many contemporary problems to their origins in ages past.

Goldstein, who does a wonderful job of objectively reporting the facts and communicating many of the challenging aspects of today’s education system with a depth of knowledge and diverse resources explores a wide range of topics.  Gender, race, salaries, unions, poverty, data, and professional development are all examined in a fascinating and comprehensive writing style that is sure to appeal to anyone interested in the future of the American education system. While it is easy to choose sides in the education battle based on our experiences and what is commonly communicated in the media, Goldstein does a great job of getting to the heart of what it means to be a teacher without becoming political or preachy.  The Teacher Wars is a compelling read from start to finish and is enlightening, going a long way in exposing the history of teaching while also offering insight into what the future of education will hold.

NPR Interview with Dana Goldstein

Book Club Questions

1. “International assessments conducted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, or OECD, show American schools are producing young adults who are less able than our counterparts in other developed nations to write coherently, read with understanding, and use numbers in day-to-day life. Even our most educated citizens, those with graduate degrees, are below world averages in math and computer literacy (though above average in reading).”  Why is this especially problematic for future generations? What does this suggest about education trends?

2. “Education, such as it is, is ever going on. Our children are educated in the streets, by the influence of their associates…in the bosom of the family, by the love and gentleness or wrath and fretfulness of parents, by the passions or affections they see manifested, the conversations to which they listen, and above all by the general pursuits, habits and moral tone of the community.” Although this was written over a century ago, the topic of community as a force for educating students is still prevalent. Why is this more important now than ever?

3. Goldstein notes that certain groups have struggled to equalize the teaching profession throughout America’s history. How does this still appear in education today?

4. Do you believe that Goldstein’s notions of the future of education are attainable?

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