To the Editor:
Your article on Richard D. Kahlenberg’s recently published biography of Albert Shanker, Tough Liberal, gives short shrift to the effect that Ocean Hill-Brownsville had on Mr. Shanker and the largest local union in the AFL-CIO (“Shanker Biography Depicts Evolution of AFT Leader,” Oct. 3, 2007). In so doing, it leaves readers with an incomplete picture of Mr. Shanker’s place in public education.
Although remarkably street-savvy, Mr. Shanker was completely blindsided by the events that took place in 1967, when local residents demanded complete community control over their schools in a section of the borough of Brooklyn known as Ocean Hill-Brownsville. Always liberal, Mr. Shanker was particularly aghast to learn that community control meant that white teachers who were unacceptable to black leaders could be fired without cause with the complete support of the liberal New York City mayor, John V. Lindsay.
Mr. Shanker feared the implications for teachers and for the middle class. After leading his union in a series of crippling strikes despite the existence of the Taylor Law, which required two days of lost pay for every one day on strike, fines against the union, and jail sentences for union leaders, Mr. Shanker emerged as a powerful national figure. Eventually, a diluted form of school decentralization was adopted, albeit far different from what radicals advocated.
Los Angeles, Calif.
A version of this article appeared in the October 24, 2007 edition of Education Week