November 3, 2006

Teachers and their publics (conference liveblogging!)

I'm in Minneapolis this weekend at the Social Science History Association annual meeting, currently at an early-morning session on teachers and crafting professional identities.

(Session details in the full entry.)

First up is Diana D'Amico (an NYU grad student), with Orchids or Activists: New York City Teachers Unions and the Gendering of a Profession, 1935-1941. In her presentation, she's started with AFT Local 5's growth and struggles in the 1930s (the focus on younger, unmarried, and more radical teachers), and the splitting of AFT Local 5 and the creation of the New York Teachers Guild. In contrast to what she describes as the standard historiography of this local picture as a political and ideological struggle or political and generational struggle, D'Amico says gender is important here. She says that gender creates a much more interesting picture of the NYC teachers split. She says gender plays an important role in the crafting of professional, union identities. It looks like the direction she'll go in is that this dynamic led to a split and gendered identity in the early years of the UFT several decades later (with different actors). I can't do justice to the whole paper, of course.

Jonna Perillo's paper, From Militant to Mainstream: Albert Shanker, Teacher Power, and the New York Times, is in a new direction for her.  (Her dissertation at NYU was on teacher journalism; she's now at University of Texas El Paso.) Shanker's weekly ad (it looked like an op-ed column) came out of the Ocean Hill-Brownsville controversy, and Perillo is interested in the uses of the press and the "battle over visibility and the media" after the various adversaries became aware of and responded to negative images in print and broadcast media.  Where We Stand was occupied with his rivals and local adversaries, promoting an alternative version of civil rights rhetoric. Apparently the Amsterdam News considered publishing Shanker's column until irate readers objected.  (That's new to me and fascinating!) I'll leave the rest of her analysis of Where We Stand (including the national controversies which are fairly well known) for when she publishes the paper formally.

It's now time for Karen Benjamin's Curriculum Experimentation at the Grassroots Level: Teacher Initiative in the Segregated Schools of Raleigh and Wheeling. This is one chunk of her dissertation project (Benjamin is a grad student in Wisconsin's Educational Policy Studies and History program), with Houston as the third case she didn't discuss today. Pointing out the patterns of the more humanistic progressive education in a segregated environment is an important tack, it strikes me. In this case, Benjamin sees teachers as critical agents here. She notes the parental opposition to local building programs but not to teachers' initiatives of child-centered education. Definitely an interesting set of case studies.

Chris Ogren's commentary focuses on the umbrella concept of teachers' voices and the identity of the public (intended audience, at least), in addition to comments on the individual papers. Towards the end of discussion, session chair Paul Mattingly points out that the interwar era for two of the papers was a time of increasing bureaucratization, including the bureaucratic context of many of the concepts the authors were working with. Fun conversation!

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Posted in History on November 3, 2006 9:23 AM |