Rochester Parents and Teachers Protest Campbell Brown’s Right-Wing Lawsuit

Rochester Parents and Teachers Protest Campbell Brown’s Right-Wing Lawsuit

July 30, 2014 Rochester New York

David Hursh, Professor, Warner School of Education, University of Rochester;

Contact info: 585-406-1258, email

Prepared text for today’s event:

As a faculty member, I research the history of education policy in the US. Therefore, I would like to provide a little historical context to the current debate over teacher tenure and unions. It has been a long, ongoing struggle for teachers to be treated with respect and to gain professional status. Unfortunately, the two lawsuits undermine professionalism.

Until the rise of teacher unions and tenure, in many communities teachers were hired based on political, familial, or personal connections. Sometimes, to make room for those new hires, other teachers were fired. Teachers could be fired because of their race, ethnicity, and religion. Teachers were removed because board members or administrators did not like what they taught. Women were fired if they got married, or became pregnant. In fact, in one school district, the contract forbids women from “loitering downtown in an ice cream store.” Let me read from a 1923 teachers’ contract. While 1923 is a while ago, it is within the past century.

I (the teacher) agree:

  1. Not to get married. This contract becomes null and void immediately if the teacher marries.
  2. Not to keep company with men.
  3. To be home between the hours of 8:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. unless in attendance at a school function.
  4. Not to loiter downtown in ice cream stores.
  5. Not to leave town at any time without the permission of the chairman of the Board of Trustees.
  6. Not to smoke cigarettes. The contract becomes null and void immediately if the teacher is found smoking.
  7. No to drink beer, wine, or whisky. The contract becomes null and void immediately if the teacher is found drinking beer, wine, or whisky.
  8. Not to ride in a carriage or automobile with any man except her brother or father.
  9. Not to dress in bright colors.
  10. Not to dye her hair.
  11. To wear at least two petticoats.
  12. Not to wear dresses more than two inches above the ankles.
  13. To keep the schoolroom clean. To sweep the classroom floor at least once daily. To scrub the classroom floor at least once weekly with hot water and soap.
  14. Not to use face powder, mascara, or paint the lips. (from M. Apple, Teachers and Texts, 1989)

Clearly, in 1923, teachers were not treated as professionals. However, teachers have fought and continue to fight to be treated so. Rather than seeking to eliminate the right to due process, we should work to improve teaching as a profession. In fact, we know that countries and states that support teachers as professionals attain better educational results. In Finland, for example, teachers are given tenure on their first day. Pasi Sahlberg, a central figure in reforming their education system, responds to the question asking what they do with teachers who are ineffective by stating: “we work with them to improve.” When asked what happens if that doesn’t work, he says, “we work with them some more.” Of course, the educational system in Finland is set up to attract the best and brightest university students through high pay and respect.

We know from looking at comparisons between countries and US states, that on average those that have the best results support teaching as a profession, ensuring that teachers receive decent salaries, protection against arbitrary dismissals, and play the main role in designing and implementing their curriculum and assessments. These lawsuits, pitting students against teachers, are moving us in the wrong direction.

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