Diana D’Amico Pawlewicz’s book traces history of ‘Blaming Teachers’

Professionalization elevated doctors and lawyers, but landed teachers on only the bottom rung of a K-12 bureaucracy ladder. D’Amico Pawlewicz’s book asks and answers, ‘Why?’

Diana D’Amico Pawlewicz

When newspaper editors look for University faculty to write about politics, policy and public health, they typically don’t have historians of education top-of-mind. Yet in just the past year-and-a-half, Diana D’Amico Pawlewicz, historian of education and social policy at UND, has had three of her commentaries published in The Washington Post.

That’s probably because in her writing, D’Amico Pawlewicz makes vividly clear how the history of schools and teachers exerts profound influence over America’s vast educational landscape today. And now for the first time, D’Amico Pawlewicz’s insight is available at book length. Her new book, “Blaming Teachers: Professionalization Policies and the Failure of Reform in American History,” was published last week (Aug. 14) by Rutgers University Press.

As happened with her previous work, which has been published in the San Francisco Chronicle, Harvard Educational Review and History of Education Quarterly, among other places, the ideas behind “Blaming Teachers” already are making national waves. D’Amico Pawlewicz’s most recent Washington Post column, “The school reopening debate reveals that we don’t listen to teachers about schools” (July 10), draws upon the themes the UND assistant professor explores in detail in her book.

National live stream

And D’Amico Pawlewicz will be given a unique national platform on Aug. 31. That’s when she’ll appear with Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, in an online conversation that’s part of the P&P Live! series. The series is hosted by Politics and Prose Bookstore, a nationally prominent bookstore in Washington, D.C.

In “Blaming Teachers,” D’Amico Pawlewicz explores how professionalization reforms, from the 1800s to the present day, subverted rather than enhanced public school teachers’ professional legitimacy. It’s “a Sisyphean irony,” as the book describes: “Superficially, professionalism connotes authority, expertise and status, but public school teachers never gained from the so-called professionalization initiatives that surrounded them.”

Meanwhile, the reforms did strengthen one longstanding trend: the tendency of social commentators, reformers and many in the public to blame teachers for the failures in public schools. That left teachers with the worst of both worlds, in that they’re held responsible as professionals for the problems of public schools, while being denied the professional and managerial authority that they’d need to solve those problems.

“This book tracks the history of the creation and maintenance of those policy stories rooted in blame, the professionalization reforms they generated, and their consequences,” D’Amico Pawlewicz writes.

Jackie Blount is the author of “Fit to Teach: Same-Sex Desire, Gender, and School Work in the Twentieth Century.” She has this to say about “Blaming Teachers”: “Why has teaching remained such stubbornly difficult, fraught work despite a long record of policy and reform? D’Amico Pawlewicz’s brilliant new historical analysis lays bare the powerful reasons.”

Kate Rousmaniere, author of “The Principal’s Office: A Social History of the American School Principal,” agrees. “There is a lot of life to this book, which is full of many terrific narratives that are engaging, often astounding, and some almost comical,” she writes. “It’s easy to ‘blame teachers,’ and this excellently researched book offers a way to work through that problem.”

About D’Amico Pawlewicz

D’Amico Pawlewicz earned her Ph.D. from 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.

Before arriving at UND, D’Amico Pawlewicz was assistant professor at George Mason University, where she served as Professor-in-Charge of the Education Policy Doctoral Specialization and was named a University Teacher of Distinction.