Monday, September 17, 2012

Strike week 2: Democracy takes time, but it's the opposite of what's hurting our kids

Last week, I outlined some of the many reasons why we as Chicago teachers were fed up and ready to go on strike. More than just the strike, I wanted to highlight how students are injured by the daily conditions that our district inflicts upon them.

When students experience horrible conditions in school, it inflicts more than an initial hurt, it undermines their faith in the educational system. Why should students continue to come to school each day and give their best when the institution itself regularly attacks their basic human dignity?

 Beyond raising consciousness of these issues, I had hoped it would also send a message to our district and city leadership that instead of accusing teachers of hurting students by striking, they could simply address the issues most vitally threatening our students’ educations, and we could see a quick resolution to the strike.
Instead, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has laughed off the classroom conditions saying, “It’s 71 degrees outside, we don’t go on strike for air conditioning.” Of course, the Mayor doesn’t have to go on strike for AC, his office has it, and it wasn’t 71 degrees when summer school was getting canceled this year. More than that, it wasn’t his kids who were getting picked up by ambulance after succumbing to heat exhaustion, as happened in a neighboring classroom to mine on Tuesday, September 4.  If it had been one of his kids, I sure wouldn’t have mocked the situation; I would have fought to get it addressed. I’m a teacher, not a mayor, so I see what they view as “other people’s children” as my own.

Yesterday, the Mayor added insult to injury by announcing his intentions to file an injunction on the strike yesterday on two criteria: that the strike is illegal, and that the strike endangers children. So Emanuel has not only failed to address our initial concerns for our students, but has made the claim that we are hurting our students into a court case.

Make no mistake—the Mayor’s own poor policies are what are endangering Chicago students not just during the strike but every single day in our city. I empathize deeply with students and parents who are dealing with the challenge of missing school temporarily until the days are made up. However, the quality of the 180 days they will be in school and their safety commuting to and from school and in their neighborhoods is even more important. I’ve lost 5 students straight from my classrooms to city violence. They were killed commuting to and from school, standing on their porches, or walking home from a friends’ house.  The mayor wouldn’t stand for this for his own children.

I worry some that through this strike, it will take some time to rebuild trust. Our students don’t trust the school system, and the fact that we chose to strike, many of them understand, but some will be upset. I only hope that when they see why we stood up and what we were fighting for, they will understand.
I think it may be harder today as many expected us to return to school this morning. The issue is that it doesn’t ever get this bad in a democratic system. Chicago’s top-down educational system run by people who don’t send their kids to the schools they govern is what helps create these inhumane conditions. While it will take longer for the educators of the city to review the proposed contract we’ve fought for, we cannot simply accept what is being handed to us by our strong, capable leadership.

Democracy takes time. It is messy. But it is just and it creates freedom for those who inhabit it. As epic blogger Fred Klonsky writes here, we don’t live in a democracy and it may confuse and confound those running Chicago when they run into one, but we can at least create one in our union. I am eager to get back to school, but I unceasingly yearn for a democratic, empowering education system for our students, and I’m thankful that we are modeling those principles within our union. 


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