Creating Cold War Role Models: The AFT’s and NEA’s Use of Cold War Discourses to represent K-12 Teachers as Professionals during the Baby Boom Era, 1946-1965
AuthorBoone, Paul Boone
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Teachers during the Baby Boom era (1946-1964) faced mounting pressures to be Cold War role models to the rapidly expanding population of students. Politicians, education scholars, school administrators, and community leaders considered teachers a central component to Cold War success. K-12 teachers were charged with producing new generations of cold warriors ready to defeat communism abroad and overcome social problems in America. Throughout the Baby Boom era, teachers were represented by others and presented themselves as indispensable agents for maintaining and furthering the United States’ Cold War goals and American ideals. As the rhetoric about the centrality of educators to winning the Cold War escalated, teachers gained access to powerful political and cultural discourses to redefine teaching as a serious professional career. American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and National Education Association (NEA) used the discursive space around Americanism, consumerism, democracy, and world leadership to represent teachers as worthy professionals. In an effort to gain public recognition for teachers as professionals, the AFT and NEA attached each of these discourses to specific elements of professionalism in American culture, including occupational autonomy, middle class compensation, public service, and technical expertise. The NEA from its origins in 1857 until the late 1950s adopted a top-down approach to professionalism. NEA leaders argued that the best way to elevate teaching was to advance public education. From its inception in 1916, the AFT adopted a bottom-up approach to teacher professionalism. AFT leaders argued that by advancing teachers’ employment status and developing their political voice then the union would increase the teaching profession’s status in the eyes of administrators, politicians, the media, and the American public. The AFT’s and NEA’s discursive efforts during the Baby Boom era were important factors in the claim and confirmation of teacher professionalism. Together, these organizations utilized prominent Cold War discourses to construct a recognized professional identity for teachers. By 1965, teaching attained specific professional traits including the ability to privilege teaching as a vital public service, to achieve a middle class standard of living for teachers, to regulate the conduct of its members, and to refine the technical expertise required of its practitioners.