Albert Shanker (1928-1997)
As head of the American Federation of Teachers, Albert Shanker became the most widely known educational figure in the history of organized labor. The son of Russian Jewish immigrants, Shanker was raised in New York City where he attended Stuyvesant High School. He once remarked that in his home unions were just below God.
As a student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, he developed an interest in socialism. In the 1950s Shanker taught mathematics and in 1959 he went to work for the Teachers Guild as a labor organizer. He soon developed an interest in union activities. In 1964 he was elected president of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) and three years later led a strike that shocked New Yorkers unaccustomed to white-collar walkouts.
In 1974 he became president of the American Federation of Teachers, but also remained president of the UFT for another twelve years. Shanker left the UFT in 1986 to devote all of his efforts to the national union and presided as its president until his death. Late in his life his hard-line stance on labor issues softened and he became a leader in the standards movement, arguing that social promotion offered no incentives for children to excel.