More than 30,000 Los Angeles public schoolteachers went on strike on Monday after months of unfruitful negotiations with the Los Angeles Unified School District. The teachers are asking for higher wages, smaller class sizes and more support staff in schools, including nurses, librarians and guidance counselors. Here are three books on teachers’ historical battle for improved working conditions and one mother’s year navigating the public school system in Los Angeles.
THE TEACHER WARS
A History of America’s Most Embattled Profession
By Dana Goldstein
349 pp. Doubleday. (2014)
Goldstein begins her “lively account of the history of teaching” (our reviewer’s words) in the 1820s, when early iterations of public schooling — “common schools” — were beginning to take form. She writes about how the field became dominated by women who received lower pay and explains that many of the solutions that have been put in place over the years, such as evaluating teachers based on student test scores or programs like Teach For America, have historical precedents.
Albert Shanker and the Battles Over Schools, Unions, Race and Democracy
By Richard D. Kahlenberg
552 pp. Columbia University Press. (2007)
This book highlights Albert Shanker, a union president who led teachers’ strikes in late 1960s New York City after 18 unionized white educators were fired as part of an initiative to create a black local school district in the Ocean Hill-Brownsville sector of Brooklyn. Though Shanker agreed that the teaching force needed to be diversified, he took a different approach, working to unionize teacher aides, who tended to be people of color, and negotiating a stipend for them to get their college degrees and become teachers. Shanker has since been viewed as a pioneer in teachers’ unions and educational reform.
MOTHER ON FIRE
By Sandra Tsing Loh
298 pp. Crown Publishers. (2008)
After Loh lost her job at a local NPR station, she realized she can no longer afford to send her daughter to private school. In this memoir, she recounts the year of motherhood in which she navigated public school bureaucracy in Los Angeles. Our reviewer wrote that Loh’s ability to upgrade such a book into a “galvanizing treatise on somber topics like public school education, class and midlife consumerism, all the while eliciting at least one snort of laughter per page, is no less than a feat of genius.”