The Education Wars

A Citizen’s Guide and Defense Manual

A perfectly timed book for the educational resistance—those of us who believe in public schools

“The book that everyone you know who’s even remotely interested in education policy needs to read.” —Forbes, on Berkshire and Schneider’s A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door

Culture wars have engulfed our schools. Extremist groups are seeking to ban books, limit what educators can teach, and threaten the very foundations of public education. What’s behind these efforts? Why are our schools suddenly so vulnerable? And how can the millions of Americans who love their public schools fight back? In this concise, hard-hitting guide, journalist Jennifer C. Berkshire and education scholar Jack Schneider answer these questions and chart a way forward.

The Education Wars explains the sudden obsession with race and gender in schools, as well as the ascendancy of book-banning efforts. It offers a clear analysis of school vouchers and the impact they’ll have on school finances. It deciphers the movement for “parents’ rights,” explaining the rights that students and taxpayers also have. And it reveals how the ostensible pursuit of “religious freedom” opens the door to discrimination against vulnerable children.

Berkshire and Schneider outline the core issues driving the education wars, offering essential information about issues, actors, and potential outcomes. In so doing, they lay out what is at stake for parents, teachers, and students and provide a road map for ensuring that public education survives this present assault.

A book that will enrage and enlighten the millions of citizens who believe in their public schools, here is a long-overdue handbook and guide to action.


“Essential reading for anyone who cares about the future of public education in the United States. Berkshire and Schneider provide an important context for the assault on our children’s freedom to learn, along with a blueprint for how to survive these antidemocratic attacks and win the education wars.”
—Heather McGhee, bestselling author of The Sum of Us
The Education Wars is a must-read for all who care about the fate of our children, public education, and American democracy. We’ve argued about our schools from the earliest days of public education. But never before have our public schools been threatened with a well-financed strategy to bring the system down, replace education with indoctrination, shred our social fabric, undermine opportunity for millions of kids, and consign them to second-class citizenship. Here’s a brief, well-written book that offers a clear and concise analysis of a complex issue. Equally important, it offers case studies of grassroots efforts that have led to nonpartisan victories for the common good. This is a vital handbook for all who want to enlist in the never-ending struggle for a ‘more perfect union.’”
—Parker J. Palmer, author of The Courage to Teach
“If you are befuddled by the cruel and mean-spirited attack on your neighborhood public schools, this is a must-read for you. You will be alerted, angered, and alarmed. You will not finish this book before you, too, join the fight to save your schools.”
—Rev. Charles Foster Johnson, founder and executive director, Pastors for Texas Children
The Education Wars could not come at a more needed time. The attacks on public schools, teachers, and children have become mainstream on the right, and the push for ‘parents’ rights’ is just the tip of the iceberg. As a former teacher in a rural school and a proud public education advocate, I fear for the future of our schools. They are the bedrock of our democracy, which is why we all need to be in the fight. The Education Wars is the book we need at just the time that we need it.”
—Jess Piper, executive director, Blue Missouri
“A history of the nation’s cultural conflicts over public education and a call to action in our current one. . . . Readers will come away inspired and, hopefully, energized.”
Kirkus Reviews
“Berkshire and Schneider do a fabulous job highlighting hypocrisy . . . while concisely cataloging the billionaires and think tanks funding this fight. It’s an invaluable primer on what’s motivating the public education culture wars.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“In The Education Wars: A Citizen’s Guide and Defense Manual, education journalist Jennifer C. Berkshire and education historian Jack Schneider lay out, in compact and accessible terms, the deadly threats posed to our nation’s public schools by deep-pocketed networks of right-wing privatizers.”
“Mainstream moms are on the front lines of protecting our kids from the chaos and harm extremist politicians and outside groups are stoking in our schools. Berkshire and Schneider see us—and they pull back the lens to show that these fights are also about something even bigger: the survival of public education and democracy itself.”
—Katie Paris, founder, Red Wine & Blue
“Berkshire and Schneider are true champions of public education. Sobering and thought-provoking, The Education Wars delivers a powerful perspective on recurring and novel challenges confronting public education in the United States. The Education Wars calls upon everyone—including educators, families, community members, and beyond—to actively participate in reaffirming, revitalizing, and reconceptualizing our support for and expectations of our nation’s public schools. In this moment, there is little more important than building a movement to promote, protect, and strengthen public education.”
—Becky Pringle, president, National Education Association
The Education Wars is about so much more than schools. It is about democracy and the very real threat to it as demonstrated by the attempts to destroy public education. Thomas Jefferson, Horace Mann, W.E.B. Du Bois, Anna Julia Cooper, John Dewey, and Septima Clark are but a few luminaries who understood our democracy cannot survive without public schools. This volume underscores the urgent need to save them.”
—Gloria Ladson-Billings, professor emerita, University of Wisconsin-Madison
“When the future of public education feels so bleak, it’s easy to lose faith in schools. The Education Wars offers a clear and comprehensive guide to understanding how we got here and what we can do about it. Far from being a forecast of doom-and-gloom, however, this book instead provides ample reminders of just how incredible an achievement the institution of public schooling is. While acknowledging the fraught history of public education, Berkshire and Schneider make a powerful case for public schools, and offer a sobering view of what we stand to lose if they fall under the weight of the culture war.”
—Zoe Bee, teacher, poet, writer, and YouTube content creator
“The public school is the most democratic institution the United States has ever created. For generations it has forged social mobility, increased equality, and the educational dreams of millions. Berkshire and Schneider’s work demonstrates with powerful detail and moving testimonies how the Republican party is hellbent to privatize and destroy public schools, and thereby tear asunder the nation’s pluralistic future. The authors quite appropriately do not take prisoners. This book is both a revealing exposé of and a practical guide to the most significant of our culture wars. If you love your public schools, you will have to fight to save them; and the war has only just begun.”
—David Blight, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Frederick Douglass and the graduate of four public schools and two public universities
“[Berkshire and Schneider] show a path for protecting the fundamentals of what makes public schools so important. This is a good addition to a growing body of protest.”
“[Berkshire and Schneider] show a path for protecting the fundamentals of what make public schools so important. This is a good addition to a growing body of protest.”
“Who would want to ‘take down the education system as we know it’—and why? Read this fast-paced, lucid, and gripping account to understand who is behind the escalating attacks on public education and what, exactly, they seek. And if you care about the future, share the stories here of how concerned communities are rising to protect our schools. They need help.”
—Nancy MacLean, author of Democracy in Chains

News and Reviews

The Nation

Read an excerpt from The Education Wars in The Nation.

Publishers Weekly

Read a starred review of The Education Wars in Publishers Weekly.

Books by these authors

A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door
The Dismantling of Public Education and the Future of School

Jennifer C. Berkshire, Jack Schneider

Goodreads Reviews