Newark Teacher Strikes: Hopes on the Line

Newark Teacher Strikes: Hopes on the Line

Newark Teacher Strikes: Hopes on the Line

Newark Teacher Strikes: Hopes on the Line

Synopsis

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.

Excerpt

A complexity clings to teachers. We are working people. And we care, or want to care, about our students. Social workers and nurses are also torn between their need to defend their interests and their need to connect. But I’m a teacher. Since 1973, I’ve been teaching at Bloomfield College, a mile from the Newark border; many of my students come from Newark schools. Writing about teachers, I was able to use what I’ve learned from teaching, and to learn more.

I decided to write a story, because movies and novels and my favorite histories tell stories. We remember and imagine in stories; we become ourselves through the stories we tell. I wanted to write a story about teachers making sense of their work and of themselves as workers—a story about teachers in the process of self-transformation.

I found my story in the New Jersey Room of the Newark Public Library: the strikes of 1970 and 1971. Reading the Newark News and Star-Ledger, I discovered a terrific story about teachers who went on strike for more than three weeks in 1970, and eleven weeks in 1971. Many went to jail. What, I wondered, did they learn about the system and themselves by acting together? What were their hopes when they joined the Newark Teachers Union, when they went out, picketed, were arrested, jailed? Did they want money? Job security? A chance to really teach? What happened to their hopes?

I needed to know not only what teachers did but why they did it. I contacted a strike leader, the brother-in-law of the cousin of a friend of mine. I contacted a teacher who went to jail, the friend of a friend of my mother-in-law. What did . . .

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