Al Shanker died, after a long battle with cancer, on February 22, 1997. Al's first Where We Stand column appeared over 25 years ago on December 13, 1970. His final one is taken from an autobiographical essay, "Forty Years in the Profession," which originally appeared in Reflections: Personal Essays by 33 Distinguished Educators (Phi Delta Kappa, 1990). In the essay, Al talks about his lifelong dedication to "gaining collective bargaining rights for teachers and using the collective bargaining process to improve teachers' salaries and working conditions." He also makes it clear that the teacher union movement always had an equally important aim: making schools work better for kids. His tireless efforts, during the past 15 years or so, on behalf of high standards of conduct and achievement and against the fads and follies that threaten to destroy public education were not an "about face" but a logical extension of his trade unionism.

Archived Where We Stand Articles

July Jul16, 2024

A History Lesson

History is an exciting story about the real adventures of heroes, villains and people who are a little bit of both. But most children never find that out.

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July Jul3, 2024

Students as Customers

Do colleges and universities give a better quality education than public elementary and That's what supporters of vouchers frequently claim. But where is the evidence that competition will produce quality? Student customers in colleges and universities are often glad to get as little as possible for their money as a letter in the Chemical and Engineering News (July 12, 1993) from Nenad Kostic of Iowa State University points out: 

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March Mar3, 1997

Keeping Public Education Together

Al Shanker died, after a long battle with cancer, on February 22, 1997. Al's first Where We Stand column appeared over 25 years ago on December 13, 1970. His final one is taken from an autobiographical essay, "Forty Years in the Profession," which originally appeared in Reflections: Personal Essays by 33 Distinguished Educators (Phi Delta Kappa, 1990). In the essay, Al talks about his lifelong dedication to "gaining collective bargaining rights for teachers and using the collective bargaining process to improve teachers' salaries and working conditions." He also makes it clear that the teacher union movement always had an equally important aim: making schools work better for kids. His tireless efforts, during the past 15 years or so, on behalf of high standards of conduct and achievement and against the fads and follies that threaten to destroy public education were not an "about face" but a logical extension of his trade unionism.

The essay closes with Al's reflections on the reasons for his long fight to preserve and strengthen public education.

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February Feb23, 1997

Love Ya!

For years, promoters of the self-esteem movement have been asserting that low self-esteem is responsible for many of our students' social and academic problems. Their prescription? Give students big doses of praise and assure them that they are "special" and doing very well, even if their performance is mediocre or poor. You hear less about self-esteem these days--perhaps because the movement has not brought about the social transformation that advocates promised. Nevertheless, the latest Public Agenda report, "Getting By," suggests that the self-esteem movement has taken firm root among students, teachers, and the public. This is alarming for a number of reasons.

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February Feb16, 1997

Getting Their Two Cents In

What must we do to fix our education system? Members of the general public, parents, and teachers agree that we need higher academic standards and high standards of conduct for all our students. They believe that, until we have these things, no other reform can succeed. But what about the students, and particularly teenagers? If we institute tougher standards, will students simply laugh and ignore them--as many ignore the work they are given now? The usual picture of teenagers is not encouraging. We hear that they are uninterested in education and contemptuous of students who do work hard. They come to school mainly to see their friends, can hardly wait for the school day to be over, and get through their classes doing as little as possible.

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February Feb9, 1997

What Melony Learned

With his State of the Union speech, President Clinton demonstrated that he is indeed the education president. The American public has been demanding higher academic standards. They are right, and, with the President's leadership, we are now far closer to reaching that goal.

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February Feb2, 1997

Where's the Evidence?

One of the hottest ideas in school reform right now is decentralization. Its supporters blame school district bureaucracies and the rules they spawn for much of what is wrong with our schools. They are convinced that if we decentralize school districts, we will get responsive, high-achieving schools.

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January Jan26, 1997

Zero Tolerance

In 1993, the Texas Federation of Teachers (TFT) sent a questionnaire to its members, asking them about their experiences with disruption and violence in their schools. The results were alarming. Undoubtedly, the disorder that teachers reported was the work of a few students, but TFT knew that these kids were harming the learning of all the rest. Without tough codes of conduct that were consistently enforced, they would continue doing so the union also knew that parents and members of the community agreed overwhelmingly on the importance of establishing order in the schools, so TFT launched a campaign calling for zero tolerance for certain kinds of violent and disruptive behavior.

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January Jan19, 1997

Bayard Rustin

Tomorrow we celebrate the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., an American hero who devoted his life to making this country a place where everybody could enjoy the rights promised by our constitution. As we honor Dr. King, it is fitting to remember other fighters in the cause of justice who worked side by side with him. I'm thinking particularly of a dear friend,Bayard Rustin, the tenth anniversary of whose death will come this year.

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January Jan12, 1997

A Large Wooden Horse

We are used to seeing conservatives go all out in support of vouchers. But what about a conservative who argues against providing public money to send students to religious and other private schools? Timothy Lamer, whose op-ed piece, "A Conservative Case Against School Choice," recently appeared in the Washington Post (November 6, 1996), is such a novelty. Lamer thinks that conservatives who push for vouchers are ignoring or distorting their principles. He intends his article as a wake-up call to conservatives, but it should suggest to members of the public generally that there is something fishy about the conservative crusade for vouchers. How come conservatives are pushing something so alien to their usual point of view?

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January Jan5, 1997

Ebonics

Most African-American parents in Oakland, California, were probably taken aback by a recent announcement. In December, the school board proclaimed that the native language of African-American children-and by extension that of their parents-was not English but Ebonics. In fact, there is a dispute among linguists, those who make a scientific study of languages, as to whether African-American speech patterns constitute a language, a dialect or a kind of American slang. This is not an issue nonlinguists are qualified to decide, but the Oakland board rushed boldly in to dub Ebonics a language. 

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December Dec29, 1996

Remembering Teachers

These teachers knew and loved what they taught, and they communicated that to their students. 

One thing school friends do when they get together after a long time is reminisce about their teachers. They groan about the teacher who made choral music or seventh-grade gym a misery, and they remember their favorite teachers, the ones who had a lasting influence on their lives. Undoubtedly these favorite teachers are as different as the former students who are recalling them, but I think that they often share an important quality - a passionate devotion to the subject they taught. 

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December Dec22, 1996

Dangerous Minds

Today's guest columnist is Michael Kelly, editor of The New Republic. The article originally appeared in the December 30, 1996, issue of The New Republic as the weekly column "TRB from Washington." It is reprinted with the magazine's permission.

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December Dec15, 1996

A Certificate of Failure

It is about as appealing as a bucket of cold water in the face. 

For many students, dropping out of school is a gradual and unintentional process. It is not so much a decision as something that just happens. A student might start staying away from school - a day here and two or three or four days there -- because he just doesn't feel like going. Then, before he knows it, he's missed so many days and so much work that he figures he'll fail the year anyway. Why not just pack it in? Students who drop out are not usually thinking about how this will affect their job prospects and their future lives. Their attention is on the here and now. 

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December Dec8, 1996

Marking Time

We will never achieve the national goals by continuing to do what we have always done. 

It is almost seven years since the nation's governors and President announced a set of national education goals for the year 2000. We are now three years away from the turn of the century. How are we doing? According to "Building a Nation of Learners, 1996," the National Education Goals Report, which came out a couple of weeks ago, we haven't made much progress. 

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December Dec1, 1996

A Commonsense Approach

The report calls into question a number of fashionable remedies for mediocre student achievement. 

Last week, the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) released its eagerly awaited results for eighth-grade students in 41 nations. TIMSS is important for a number of reasons. It tested more students than any comparable study -- over half a million randomly selected youngsters. And because it ironed out the technical problems that led to questions about earlier international comparisons, we can have real confidence in its findings. 

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November Nov24, 1996

Ivory-Tower Propositions

Today's guest columnist if Richard M Oldrieve. He teaches children with learning disabilities at Marion Sterling Elementary School in Cleveland, Ohio. An earlier version of this column appeared in the Washington Post on October 21, 1996, and this version is printed with the Post's permission. 

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November Nov17, 1996

What Price Local Control?

Shouldn't we expect students to learn the same math no matter where they live? 

The other day, I heard Congressman John Shadegg, a Republican from Arizona, talking about education on C-SP AN. Congressman Shadegg was solidly on the side of local control of education. He condemned big government as bad -- in education as elsewhere -- and said he believes that power over education should be taken out of the hands of bureaucrats in Washington, D.C., and returned to state and local governments. Shadegg was especially concerned about the control that he said the federal government exercises over school finances: "I'd like to see much more of the education dollars in America controlled by parents and by teachers and by local schools boards." 

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November Nov10, 1996

No Laughing Matter

Discipline codes need to be tough and carefully drawn. 

Recently we've seen a number of media stories about students being suspended or expelled for what look like silly, little infractions of school rules. Remember Brooke Olson, the 13-year-old honor student from Kingwood, Texas, who was sent home when a bottle of Advil was discovered in her backpack? And Erica Taylor, another 13-year-old honor student, who was caught with a Midol tablet? Erica was suspended from her Fairborn, Ohio, school for 9 days. Kimberly Smartt, the student who provided the Midol, got 14 days because, the school district said, "distribution" of drugs is a more serious crime than "possession." The latest story is of Jenna Fribley, a 15-year-old honor student from Indianapolis, Indiana, who was expelled when she brought a Swiss Army knife to school. 

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November Nov3, 1996

Building Brains

Many of our preschools have no academic program at all. 

Over the past several years, the Carnegie Corporation of New York has brought out a series of reports that discuss how we currently educate our children -- and how we ought to do it. The latest report, "Years of Promise: A Comprehensive Learning Strategy for America's Children," builds on an earlier report, "Starting Points," in emphasizing the critical importance of the early years in developing children's capacity for learning. 

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