It is becoming commonplace these days to quote Al Shanker to support some position or other. The author of a recent biography of Al says Al would have opposed the Khalil Gibran school, as does Diane Ravitch, a foundation quotes Shanker to defend their position …
Al was a prolific writer … his weekly column in the Sunday New York Times (space paid for by the union) had a nationwide readership.
I am not so sure that those speaking for Al are correct. I found Al a nimble and evolving thinker … always challenging, always tweaking, he enjoyed controversy, he enjoyed being at the center of the action, and, he especially relished vigorous and civil debate. He would have loved the blogosphere.
As a very young Executive Board member I suggested changing the UFT Constitution to make Chapter Chairs (the term at that time) delegates to the Delegate Assembly. The “old timers” shot me down … it was like being chastised by my parents!! Months later Al created a committee to study changing representation issues in the UFT Constitution … and Chapter Chairs became automatic delegates.
After tens of thousands of layoffs in September, 1975, Al took us out on a very popular strike, and five days later, dragged us back … and loaned the city hundreds of millions to avert bankruptcy. Members screamed and vilified Al and the union. Had the City gone belly up, bankrupt, our contract would extinguish and a bankruptcy judge could abrogate the contract.
Al had vision … he forced us to look at strongly held beliefs, and rethink and refocus. Many thought that organizing paraprofessionals only months after a bitter, racially divisive strike was bringing “spies” into the union. Al felt if we didn’t the union might not survive.
Al taught me that very little is sacred, that examining, exploring, thinking deeply, is at the core of being a teacher, and, a trade unionist.