I feel uncomfortable with the first-person plural in Mr. Herndon's title. The pithy excerpts of speeches on education and democracy which compose this small book were made over a ten-year period - when I was an actual classroom teacher, but he was not. He had stopped teaching to become first a teachers' union organizer in Michigan and then executive director of the National Education Association (NEA), the largest teachers' union in America. His ''We, the Teachers'' is thus a misnomer, if he presumes to speak for the entire profession.
He views with pride the unionization and politicization through NEA of 1.7 million teachers and 12,000 local and state affiliates. I, together with at least some of the 200,000 to 600,000 teachers who are not unionized (and undoubtedly some of those who are), view the collective bargaining and strikes for better pay and teaching conditions as the means by which an altruistic, nurturing profession was debased to the status of a trade.
Selected for teachers, about schools, the short, highly readable excerpts from Mr. Herndon's speeches are grouped under eight chapter headings including ''On Society and Schooling,'' ''On Today's Teacher,'' ''On Equity,'' ''On Bargaining,'' ''On Community Control and Federal Responsibility.'' No need to swallow it all in one gulp; by their brevity, these passages invite contemplation along with reading. Those who subscribe to the NEA point of view will be reminded by this book of why; those who do not can confirm or revise their impressions.
Some passages in the book do echo my sentiments: Mr. Herndon's statement, ''There is no such thing as an average teacher''; a quoted portion of the Ordinance of 1787, the historic document providing for the occupation and eventual statehood of the Northwest Territory (an area now comprising Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Ohio), ''knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged''; and Herndon's assertion that the ''maintenance of high-quality free public schools for all who will use them is not an altruistic fancy. In America, it is an absolutely practical imperative. It has preserved democracy for us, and it is the only means to preserve democracy for our posterity''.
And I like the inclusion in his design for an ideal teacher-education program: a ''general awareness of the recognized fields of academic endeavor that make up the whole school program and a high-level expertise in the disciplines to be taught''; ''bona fide expertise in sociology and cultural anthropology, with focus on the relationships between culture and personal behavior''; and ''thorough competence in the use of oral and written language.''
But that this otherwise thoughtful presentation of sound teacher preparation concludes with, ''The economics of the profession must change as rapidly as does teacher education or the entire development effort is doomed,'' is logical from his point of view but not mine.
This statement assumes that financial return determines whether people will choose teaching as a career. I know dedicated teachers to whom this is an insult. Many of them accept low salaries in private schools, not because they could not become automobile salesmen, plumbers, or members of whatever occupations pay more, but because they feel a calling for teaching, because of the hours and vacation schedules, and because they enjoy the congeniality of others who teach. Teaching was their first choice, not their last resort. It is hard for me to believe that increased pay will attract better and more dedicated individuals into teaching.
Some readers will find the final chapter, ''On Peace,'' congenial; others undoubtedly will view it as capitulation to the Vietnam war hangover with its attendant shortsightedness about the role of national defense as a safeguard for the very democratic system Mr. Herndon elsewhere professes.
The book contains an appendix with useful statistics about schools and young people and a good index.
After reading ''We, the Teachers,'' I would like to see a book which answers Mr. Herndon point by point - written by a classroom teacher, maybe.