The Teacher Wars

A History of America's Most Embattled Profession

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 1989, 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.

The Teacher Wars upends the conversation about American education by bringing the lessons of history to bear on the dilemmas we confront today. By asking “How did we get here?” Dana Goldstein brilliantly illuminates the path forward.

Reviews

"Ms. Goldstein’s book is meticulously fair and disarmingly balanced, serving up historical commentary instead of a searing philippic ... The book skips nimbly from history to on-the-ground reporting to policy prescription, never falling on its face. If I were still teaching, I’d leave my tattered copy by the sputtering Xerox machine. I’d also recommend it to the average citizen who wants to know why Robert can’t read, and Allison can’t add."
— New York Times

"[A] lively account of the history of teaching ... The Teacher Wars suggests that to improve our schools, we have to help teachers do their job the way higher-achieving nations do: by providing ­better preservice instruction, offering newcomers more support from well-trained mentors and opening up the “black box” classroom so teachers can observe one another without fear and share ideas. Stressing accountability, with no ideas for improving teaching, Goldstein says, is 'like the hope that buying a scale will result in losing weight.' Such books may be sounding the closing bell on an era when the big ideas in school reform came from economists and solutions were sought in spreadsheets of test data."
— New York Times Book Review

"[An] immersive and well-researched history ... Attacking a veritable hydra of issues, Goldstein does an admirable job, all while remaining optimistic about the future of this vital profession."
— Publishers Weekly

"Think teachers are overpaid? Or are they dishonored and overworked? Both positions, this useful book suggests, are very old—and very tired ... Goldstein delivers a smart, evenhanded source of counterargument."
— Kirkus Reviews

“I wanted to yell ‘Yes! Yes! Thank you for finally talking sense’ on page after page. Anyone who wants to be a combatant in or commentator on the teacher wars has to read The Teacher Wars.”
— Chris Hayes, host of MSNBC’s All In with Chris Hayes and author of Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy

Author:

Dana Goldstein