The next author in our series of guest posts commemorating the 20th anniversary of Al Shanker's death is Richard Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at The Century Foundation, and author of Tough Liberal: Albert Shanker and the Battles Over Schools, Unions, Race and Democracy (Columbia University Press, 2007). You can find the other posts in this series here.
I met Albert Shanker in September 1995, just a year and a half before his untimely death. I made an appointment to interview him for a book I was writing on affirmative action policies in college admissions. My father, who taught high school, used to clip Shanker’s columns in the Sunday New York Times and share them with me. So I was excited to meet the man whose writing on education, labor, civil rights and democracy spoke to me so profoundly.
Shanker cut an imposing figure. He was 6’4” with a deep voice and his office at the American Federation of Teachers had an impressive view of the Capitol. He wasn’t one for small talk so we got right down to business. On the issue of affirmative action, I strongly identified with Shanker’s position – wanting to find a way to remedy our nation’s egregious history of racial discrimination but simultaneously wanting to avoid a backlash from working-class whites, who also had a rightful claim to special consideration that racial preferences failed to acknowledge.