For three weeks in 1970 and for eleven weeks in 1971, the schools in Newark, New Jersey, were paralyzed as the teachers went on strike. In the wake of the 1971 strike, almost two hundred were arrested and jailed. The Newark Teachers Union said their members wanted improved education for students. The Board of Education claimed the teachers primarily desired more money. After interviewing more than fifty teachers who were on the front lines during these strikes, historian Steve Golin concludes that another, equally important agenda was on the table, and has been ignored until now. These professionals wanted power, to be allowed a voice in the educational agenda.
Through these oral histories, Golin examines the hopes of the teachers as they picketed, risking arrest and imprisonment. Why did they strike? How did the union represent them? How did their action—and incarceration—change them? Did they continue to teach in impoverished schools? Golin also discusses the tensions arising during that period. These include differences in attitudes toward unions among black, Jewish, and Italian teachers; different organizing strategies of men and women; and conflict between teachers’ professional and working-class identities.
The first part of the book sets the stage by exploring the experience of teachers in Newark from World War II to the 1970 strike. After covering both strikes, Golin brings the story up to 1995 in the epilogue, which traces the connection between educational reform and union democracy. Teacher Power enhances our understanding of what has worked and what hasn’t worked in attempts at reforming urban schools. Equally importantly, the teachers’ vivid words and the author’s perceptive analysis enables us to view the struggles of not just Newark, but the entire United States during a turbulent time.