Albert Shanker was a thinker, a teacher, and an organizer.
He believed in democracy and took it seriously—intellectually, morally, and practically. The son of immigrants and a proud product of the streets and public schools of New York City, he believed in an inclusive America whose diverse citizenry is drawn together by common values, not driven apart by cultural differences. And he fought for his vision and values from the podiums to the picket lines, fearlessly challenging entrenched institutions and intellectual fashions.
Most of all, Al Shanker devoted his professional life to two institutions that he understood to be indispensable to democracy—public education and trade unionism. He saw public education as important not only because it imparts the skills people need to be productive workers but because it instills the knowledge, the values, and the experiences people need to be responsible citizens. Similarly, he understood that trade unions are essential to a democratic society—not only because they enable workers to share in the fruits of their labor, but also because they give workers voice and dignity, and empower them to improve the quality of the products they make and the services they provide.
As much as any public figure, Al Shanker was an activist intellectual. A doer as well as a thinker, he spent most of his professional life developing ideas that work and finding ways to turn his ideas into reality. Thus, his legacy is the remarkable growth, continuing strength, and increasing influence of the many domestic and international organizations he helped to build, most especially the American Federation of Teachers. His influence extends to countless individuals here in the United States and throughout the world whose thinking he helped to shape and whose commitments he helped to inspire.
To honor Al Shanker’s legacy, advance his ideals, and continue his work, this institute will:
- defend and extend democracy as the best guarantor of basic civil and human rights, at home, abroad, and in every facet of life;
- promote quality public education as a cornerstone of American democracy and advance Al Shanker’s unique insights: that society must encourage people to reach beyond their differences and that schools must uplift every student to meet the highest standards of achievement and ethical behavior;
- improve and strengthen the contributions of unions—and build public support for their essential role in a democratic society—as organizations that offer employees a voice, lift living standards, enhance the quality of the institutions they serve and provide the best mechanism for working people to improve the goods they make and the services they deliver;
- celebrate the power of ideas by expanding access to information, encouraging free and rigorous debate, and finding ways for intellectuals to test their ideas with practical action.
To pursue these purposes, the Albert Shanker Institute will conduct a broad program of activities that address and act upon major educational, social, political, and economic questions of our times.
In so doing, the institute’s agenda will consistently:
- reach for the best thinking, research, information, and practical experience on democratizing workplaces, empowering workers, and improving the quality of education, health care, and other public services;
- engage influential civic leaders including those from business, labor, government, and higher education, in discussions aimed at framing and advancing answers to key policy questions;
- participate in shaping public debate and informing public policy based on the outcome of inquiry and dialogue;
- develop future generations of leaders capable of engaging in productive debates, understanding others’ views, standing up for principles, and mobilizing action—all of which are crucial to the democratic process and characteristic of Al Shanker’s life and legacy.