The book, titled “Blaming Teachers,” tracks the history of education policies and how they affect teachers and how the public perceives educators.
Throughout history, there has been a narrative that if teachers were better, then society would be better. The book examines that argument and explores what that type of language means for the teachers in society. It also leaves teachers trying to navigate the bureaucracy of having their voices heard.
But it has a particular impact now as teachers and society deal with educating students in the middle of a pandemic.
“In a lot of ways the book really is about this moment, about how we turn to our schools to fix weighty social problems, about how we expect teachers to fix the problems that policymakers and politicians haven’t been able to, and ultimately how we blame teachers along the way when things don’t work out how we wish or hope that they would,” she said.
D’Amico Pawlewicz was featured in national live stream conversation with Randi Weingarten, head of the American Federation of Teachers, on Monday, Aug. 31.
In the spring, teachers were praised for being “self-sacrificing martyrs” who deserve “all the pay and all the coffee and all the wine in the world.” Now, people are judging teachers, viewing them as self-interested, she said.
The debate isn’t exactly new, D’Amico Pawlewicz said. Since the beginning of the 19th century, public schools were on two sides of the same coin: on one side was the teacher as a savior and on the other was the teacher as a problem.
It’s a fine line, D’Amico Pawlewicz said, and equally problematic.
“Teachers don’t want to be martyred and teachers don’t want to be blamed as a problem,” she said. “Teachers want to be professionals who are respected for their expertise. In neither equation were we really listening to teachers. I think the key thing is that it’s not that teachers haven’t been speaking up; I think teachers are telling us about their concerns. They are telling us about the resources that they need. It just doesn’t seem that we’re really listening to that, unless it gets to the point that teachers are threatening a strike.”
The book is more than 10 years in the works and began as part of D’Amico Pawlewicz’s dissertation at New York University, where she was a Spencer Dissertation Fellow and received the Politics of Education Association’s Outstanding Dissertation Award. After earning her degree, she spent a post-doctoral year as a visiting assistant professor at Brown University.
She said she was originally drawn to the topic because of the impact public schools in particular have on society as a whole.
“There’s no better window to look through to understand the values, the concerns, the fears (in American society) than by looking at the public schools,” she said. “The kinds of debates that we have in public schools, and the kinds of reforms, all of that really tell us something essential about where we are as a society.”
The book also discusses gender and equity issues. Teaching is a female-dominated profession and has been throughout history, D’Amico Pawlewicz said.