Chicago Teacher on Why He’s Striking Against Rahm Emanuel’s Pro-Business Education Agenda
As Firedoglake has been covering all day, twenty-six thousand educators went on strike in Chicago. The strike by the Chicago Teachers Union is the first strike in twenty-five years. It is happening in a city governed by a Democratic mayor, former chief of staff Rahm Emanuel. Therefore, it has different dynamics than the fight that happened between Gov. Scott Walker and unions in Wisconsin. However, similar issues still exist. Key to the strike is whether educators who are part of a union should strike even if they have a right to strike and make demands for more dignity and respect for teachers and students in Chicago public schools.
What the Chicago teachers are doing is a profound act of resistance. The elites say people should not even dare to protest because there will be no “results.” They are told to act more like adults and get back to negotiating and play the game. The Chicago Teachers Union does not want to play the game anymore and have gone on strike to force key changes in education on a city level and possibly inspire a larger movement for real non-corporate education reform on a national level.
Xian Barrett, 34, is a history and social studies teacher at Chicago’s Gage Park High School. The school is located on the southwest side of Chicago. Barrett gave Firedoglake permission to republish his op-ed on why he is striking. It appears below:
CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard is on record saying both that CTU leadership is deciding whether or not to strike, and that “everyone knows that a strike would only hurt our kids.”
I just wanted to educate my boss a little on the history of Chicago, as he is relatively new to the area. Chicago is founded on the hard daily struggle of working people. It is the birthplace of the labor movement—not a movement just for wages and benefits, but a movement that stopped child labor so that each of the kids in CPS schools could attend school instead of working. It was a movement that stopped the practice of working conditions so unsafe that consumers were eating the actual workers who fell into the mix while they were making hot dogs. It was a movement that fought so that workers could have some tiny measure of time with our families rather than spending all waking hours working for the enrichment of their bosses.
But even more importantly, I wanted to educate Mr. Brizard about what it means to “help or hurt our kids”.
When you make me cram 30-50 kids in my classroom with no air conditioning so that temperatures hit 96 degrees, that hurts our kids.
When you lock down our schools with metal detectors and arrest brothers for play fighting in the halls, that hurts our kids.
When you take 18-25 days out of the school year for high stakes testing that is not even scientifically applicable for many of our students, that hurts our kids.
When you spend millions on your pet programs, but there’s no money for school level repairs, so the roof leaks on my students at their desks when it rains, that hurts our kids.
When you unilaterally institute a longer school day, insult us by calling it a “full school day” and then provide no implementation support, throwing our schools into chaos, that hurts our kids.
When you support Mayor Emanuel’s TIF program in diverting hundreds of millions of dollars of school funds into to the pockets of wealthy developers like billionaire member of your school board, Penny Pritzker so she can build more hotels, that not only hurts kids, but somebody should be going to jail.
When you close and turnaround schools disrupting thousands of kids’ lives and educations and often plunging them into violence and have no data to support your practice, that hurts our kids.
When you leave thousands of kids in classrooms with no teacher for weeks and months on end due to central office bureaucracy trumping basic needs of students, that not only hurts our kids, it basically ruins the whole idea of why we have a district at all.
When you, rather than bargain on any of this stuff set up fake school centers staffed by positively motived Central Office staff, many of whom are terribly pissed to be pressed into veritable scabitude when they know you are wrong, and you equip them with a manual that tells them things like, “communicate with words”, that not only hurts our kids, but it suggests you have no idea how to run a system with their welfare in mind.
When you do enough of this, it makes me wonder if you really see our students as “our kids” or “other people’s children”.
And at that moment, I am willing to sacrifice an awful lot to protect the students I serve every day. I am not hurting our kids by striking, I’m striking to restore some semblance of reasonable care for students to this system. I’m doing to tell you, “No, YOU are the one hurting our children, and you need to STOP because what you are doing is wrong, and you are robbing students of their educational opportunities.
I ask anyone who does remotely care about the kids we teach and learn from and triumph and cheer and cry and grow with, to stand with us and fight for a better future for our kids.
See you on the picket line, my friend.
I am based in Chicago. I will be following the resistance of Chicago teachers to the corporate policies of education reform Mayor Rahm Emanuel has pushed while teachers are striking.
This evening, I was at the rally and march in and around city hall. There were at least four to five thousand educators, parents, students and local residents there to demonstrate.
Here is a video from the action: