June 7, 2020

Chicago teachers are not putting kids first

The teachers’ union continues to strike in Chicago. Like many Americans, I’m torn between the “rights” of workers to organize for the dignity of labor, and the “needs” of children that are abandoned as Mayor Rahm Emmanuel and CTU President Karen Lewis conduct a pee-pee war. We can’t allow workers – especially mind workers – to be treated like disposable meat puppets. At the same time, as moral people in an advanced civilization, we must – finally – correct the racialized predictability of student achievement, and by extension, social inequality. School failure is a tragedy of lost human potential and ending the school-to-prison pipeline must be a fierce priority.

That begins with having functional, efficacious, and well-supported schools.

I fear my liberal friends lining up behind Chicago teachers are focusing on one part of the story, the romantic “solidarity” story of the perfect good guys (unionists) who can do no wrong; and the cartoonish bad guys (corporate bazillionaires) who can do no right.

Missing from the picture?

As always, the marginalized communities that are caught in the crossfire between a “reform” Mayor and teacher-first union leader . The kids that will have their currently substandard education interrupted, and their parents that work in jobs where they could never demand a 29% raise during bad economic times. This week those parents that rely on well-timed public transportation to get to unsympathetic employment situations will face increased stress as they worry about finding a safe place for their children. These are the real underdogs, the real victims, the truly neglected. More than anything else they are the people without champion.

For that reason I refuse to buy the obsequious displays of blind comradeship and  won’t be wearing red anytime soon.

It’s sad that children are little more than power pieces, chattel, and cash cows in urban public education. I agree with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel that this is a “strike of choice” and that the CTU has gone nuclear. On saturday of last week the two sides were closer than they were apart, yet, the next morning the teachers walked out on students, families, and the jobs they claim to love.

If that is love, please let us never see hatred.

While all the usual liberal suspects wave their flags of smarmy support for the teacher unionists, the truth of their actions is veiled behind the phony rhetoric about workers rights. The tactical objective of this strike is to cause pain and distress, mostly to children, so that the city will cry uncle.

There is a word for that: terror.

You may think that is over the top, but consider…

“Chicago is offering some 350,000 children whose classes were suspended by the strike free meals and half day of supervision at facilities around the city. The union had predicted chaos but there were few signs of problems at the centers other than frustrated parents.”

If the union “predicted chaos,” why would they move forward?

Chaos in the lives of deeply impoverished kids is now a campaign tactic for middle-class teachers with above average wages, full benefits, and more time off than anyone else in America?

Oh, but you say they underpaid and shortchanged? Not so….

“The average teacher salary is $71,236 in the Chicago Public School district, which includes elementary schools and high schools, according to the Illinois Interactive Report Card of Northern Illinois University. The average in the state is $64,978.”

Those of us that are not confused about what a teachers’ union is, and what it does, are not surprised. These unions are not about students, they are about teacher compensation. Each negotiating cycle they have the same goal: more money, less accountability.

In his article “Chicago teachers strike hurts our children,” Terry Moe explains….

“Collective bargaining is not fundamentally about children. It is about the power and special interests of adults. In Chicago and elsewhere, the teachers unions are in the business of winning better salaries and benefits, protecting job security, pressuring for restrictive work rules and in other ways advancing the occupational interests of their members. These interests are simply not the same as the interests of children.”

When adults are so intoxicated with their own needs that they rob children of their need for stability, there is only one moral thing to do. We must call it out. We must admit that that sometimes the oppressed become the oppressors, and in this drama students and families are the real losers in a high stakes contest between two groups of well-paid adults.

Chicago teacher Marilyn Rhames does a great job of locating the real danger beneath the test of wills between Emmanuel and Lewis:

“I imagine the street gangs in Chicago are taking full advantage of the strike. While teachers take to the picket line and Emanuel holds his daily press conference about how far negotiations have come, somebody’s child is being recruited and schooled by the streets.
This summer in Chicago has been one of the bloodiest summers on record. After all, gangs have waged war in parts of the city, killing more people in Chicago this year than the number of U.S. soldiers killed in Afghanistan during the same time frame.

Telling the truth means we can’t put on the convenient red t-shirts and puff ourselves up with just how proletariat we are.

This week, in Chicago, the teachers of traditional public schools walked out on children. Interestingly, this proves the need for aggressive school reform because only the teachers to uphold a “do no harm” standard of teacher professionalism are those serving the 50,000 kids in charter schools.

Shame on the others.


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