Recently, a cavalcade of aldermen and pastors have come out saying, while they support the aims of the teachers that went on strike in Chicago, or that while they are not siding with the Rahm Emanuel administration, they are with and for the kids (you know, like Helen Lovejoy) and, ergo, against the strike. They argue that striking now is just not the right move. That if the teachers were just a bit more patient and went through the proper channels, they would see the changes they need in due time. That now is not the time for protests, rallies, marches, unrest…
I find it ridiculous and somewhat telling that many of the same civic and religious leaders in Chicago that ostensibly support the Civil Rights struggles of the 1960’s (or at least say they do), who hold them up as models of participating in civic democracy and empowerment, currently begrudge workers of what little non-violent tools they have for their own empowerment.
As parents, educators, and citizens, we must realize that educational power has been wrestled from the classrooms by millionaires, allowing those millionaires – untrained in and oblivious to the ways of education – to set the agenda, aims, and measurements of the classrooms, teachers and students. Despite the claims of “educational reform”, however, the objectives have been the same since the halcyon days of the anti-Dewey “educational reformers” of the industrial age: Continuing to line the pockets of millionaires and keeping the lineage within their families.
And the rest of us are supposed to believe that we stand a chance to also be millionaires.
Are we supposed to expect to get that educational and economic power back to the educators through, what, a political system that is stacked up against them? Through, what, the good-hearted nature of Chicago’s bosses? Because employers always desire the best for their employees? Because the rich are fair and good people by nature (is it because the influx of money has given them moral character or did they deserve their wealth because they are such good, moral folks)?
Liberals and progressives have decried teachers and social staff for desiring change. My daughter’s entire elementary school has one nurse, who comes in once a week. In a school system filled to the brim with children with allergies, asthma, chronic health problems, trauma, diet-based obesity and related health problems – and they share nurses! What is that, one medically-trained nurse per thousand students? Counselors and therapists help, but the counselors are mostly academic/collegiate (though they, like the teachers themselves, stretch way beyond their designated, official roles and become de facto therapists and care-givers for the students). Teachers have the odds stacked up against them because the students have the odds stacked up against them. In this scenario, students lose – no matter how Superman you think the teachers can ever be, they can never be the extra necessary mother/father figures and grief counselors and therapists to thirty students at a time. Let alone do that plus their academic and basic social jobs they’re expected to do. They sure aren’t paid for that.
I know many Chicago Public School teachers – none of them are fat cats.
Not a singular one.
So why do progressives and civil servants begrudge hard-working professionals from getting a decent living wage? Do teachers really make too much? I thought, being good capitalists, progressives believed in a strong middle class? And this being a period when the middle class is dwindling and the economy and tax base is struggling as a result – I’d much rather that we have ten well-paid, professional teachers than one more executive pocketing another $760,000 (base salary for average teachers plus benefits allotted in monetary value times ten) and bemoaning the lazy poor. Because at least I know the teachers will spend their money and pay their taxes – rather than hiding it like a moocher.
But, secondly, teachers know that things have changed for the worse since the Testing Industrial Complex got a great foothold through the exasperatingly misguided (if not plain evil) No Child Left Behind and, in Chicago, the Renaissance 2010 Project – which is tied to our former school head (and Never Educator) Arne Duncan’s Race to the Top initiative.
They are being forced to teach to the tests, while the tests are geared for a limited scope of the educational imagination. As a result of the high-stakes of these exams, nearly two months of each school year are spent teaching poor and underserved* students how to take tests better and more efficiently. They do not need to worry about such things in wealthier districts. Partly because the students do not have so much trauma and hunger to concern themselves with as high-poverty students do. They can concentrate much more easily on their academic studies.
But not being able to concentrate on studies, not being as focused, being diagnosed with learning disabilities are real, live, frustratingly detrimental problems among students in poverty and particularly students of color.
There were a million reasons to strike. There are a million reasons to shut down our work and demand what belongs to us and our children. Do not tell us that the time is not right for direct action or democracy, cowards.
*The word “underserved” has a strange connotation. As if somehow, through no fault of anyone, passively some children just happen to land into this strange netherworld where they can receive adequate benefits, but they won’t