Micro Review of “Teacher Unions” from Ross and Mathieson, 2008, Battleground Schools.

“Teacher Unions” from Ross and Mathieson, 2008, Battleground Schools.

One of the most useful pieces I’ve had the pleasure of reading all summer. I don’t know why I didn’t think about it earlier, but after briefly reconnecting with the author and editor of this piece last week, I was pleasantly surprised to discover the article within this interesting handbook of various school controversies that have been fought out over the past century or so in the United States. I had been looking for a pithy summary of teachers unionism in America. And here I’ve found one, practically right under my nose!

The timeline in this entry and elsewhere in Battleground Schools are a boon for a newcomer to union history like me. Major figures, their biographies and their contributions to the arguments at hand appear frequently in these pages to make this an engaging survey. The story begins with a Texas school board member and former US Secretary of the Department of Education, Rod Paige, who in 2004 called teachers’ unions terrorist organizations. Then it flashes back to Ella Flagg Young, the first woman president of the NEA; and finally to Albert Shanker, President of the United Federation of Teachers and harbinger, for Ross, of the new “company unionism” that has begun to dominate all corners of American education sector labor.

A very interesting thread that I want to pick up on is what Ross identifies as Labor Imperialism, or the tendency for powerful labor unions to ally with national interests in government as well as industry in order to carry out imperialist projects on educational fronts. This idea would seem to converge with or reiterate in some respects Phillipson’s Linguistic Imperialism. And indeed, this is an idea that might be worth drawing out through further research. But I wonder how these conflicts that seemed to involve unions played out for instance, in Arizona where powerful economic interests were variously allied with or at odds with government in the formation of the schools there. What indeed was the role that teachers played in the early days of Arizona’s schools? Were there demonstrations in solidarity with the revolutionaries to the south in Mexico, who boasted of plans to liberate those lands stolen in the wake of America’s early devastating colonial war with Mexico?

Anyway, this is a great essay, which I easily imagine using in teacher ed., or as a yardstick for my own research into the history of education across the United States and beyond!

Jonathan Fisher

August 24, 2020