10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
More Than a Bio,
This review is from: Tough Liberal: Albert Shanker and the Battles Over Schools, Unions, Race, and Democracy. (Hardcover)
In his film, Sleeper, Woody Allen immortalized Albert Shanker as the madman responsible for blowing up the world. That helped to get Shanker known outside of NY, but clearly it wasn't the real Shanker. In this highly readable and often exhilarating biography of Shanker, Richard Kahlenberg shows that while Shanker, the architect of the modern teacher union movement (and, it turns out, so much more) surely understood power and accumulated it, his only "madness" was to seek to empower the powerless and to hold this nation to the democratic ideals it espoused and he so cherished. Indeed, far from being "mad," Shanker was both intellectually and politically brilliant -- a rare combination -- an idealist with both a shrewd and compassionate understanding of human nature and a pragmatist who nonetheless stood firm on principles, a stance that sometimes incurred the enmity of allies as much as enemies. This was also a man who dealt with the high and mighty, but who in his writing and speaking could take the most complicated ideas and make them accessible to ordinary people without ever dumbing anything down. Had Kahlenberg just written a biography of this complex and far-ranging man, that probably would have been interesting enough. But Kahlenberg goes further and roots Shanker in the major political and cultural struggles over the soul of the Democratic party and the direction of this country. Regardless of one's view of those struggles and their outcomes, Kahlenberg's recounting of them cannot help but make you think of missed opportunities and "what ifs" to this day. Politics, race, education, the meaning and practice of democracy -- a heady and vitally critical brew. And Kahlenberg stirs and blends this pot well through Shanker, his meaty main ingredient.
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