Mann depicted these cost-effective female educators as angelic public servants monitored by Christian faith: wholly unselfish, self-abnegating, and morally pure.” Women weren’t just cheaper to hire; they were also assumed to be naturally nurturing and pious enough to teach godly behavior. “Teaching,” Goldstein writes, “was promoted as the female equivalent of the ministry: a profession whose prestige would be rooted not in worldly rewards, such as money or political influence, but in the pursuit of satisfaction that came from serving others.” In other words, you can pay teachers in work.
One of the tensions that runs through The Teacher Wars, as well as the teaching profession in general, is that between the angelic volunteer and the hardened union negotiator. By original design, American teachers aren’t supposed to be in it for the money. The U.S. education system was built around a historically specific moment in the development of women’s relation to the workplace: Teaching was high-prestige and intellectually demanding, compared with other career options available to women in the 1830s. Our heavenly ideal teacher still resembles Mann’s vision:
How divinely does she come, her head encircled with a halo of heavenly light, her feet sweetening the earth on which she treads, and the celestial radiance of her benignity making vice begin its work of repentance through very envy of the beauty of virtue!
Compare this to the introduction of Miss Jennifer Honey in Roald Dahl’s Matilda:
Their teacher was called Miss Honey, and she could not have been more than 23 or 24. She had a lovely pale oval madonna face with blue eyes and her hair was light-brown. Her body was so slim and fragile one got the feeling that if she fell over she would smash into a thousand pieces, like a porcelain figure.”