The following is a guest post by Priscilla Dee Dixon, a mother of three current and former Chicago Public School students, a Chicago Local School Council member, an attorney, a professor and the founder of Parenting 4 Academic Success, a parent advocacy group.
I am in complete support of the Chicago Teachers Union in their strike against Chicago Public Schools. My solidarity with Chicago Teachers Union stems from the fundamental belief that the educational system can only be corrected with tremendous input from the foot soldiers who are on the frontline. Those who understand what is needed to give every child a quality education and create the schools that every student deserves.
The foundation for this premise requires and understanding of several simple facts.
- Public education was not designed to educate, but to train workers from farm to factory. It is not equipped in this incarnation for a technological age.
- Public education in the US is built on an antiquated (1850) Prussian model that does not address the needs of children, but facilitates the desires of adults.
- The educational power and privilege elite do not believe that the average middle or working class child requires a quality education that they would demand for their own child. In light of that, one could perhaps appreciate the move by Mayor Emanuel and other people of privilege and power to move to privatize public education. However I believe that this move is being misinterpreted under the misguided assumption that the charter schools being created for profit operate under the same educational guidelines, premises and standards of the elite private schools that the Emanuels and Pritzkers send their own children to.
Don’t get me wrong, the teachers want more money and deserve it, and much more even under the best working conditions. But that is not the only reason that they deserve our gratitude and support.
One of the things that comes across in the Chicago Teachers Union’s blueprint for better education is that there is no secret on how to educate children and what their curriculum should be. Please be advised that I am not talking about training good workers, nor am I speaking about creating fodder for the prison industrial complex. I am talking about giving each child the education that he/she truly deserves, because education is a right not a privilege.
To begin, there should be no more than 22 children in a classroom. Some may balk at such a small number, but keep in mind at the private schools where the elite send their children there are no classes except gym that would contain 22 children, the balance have far less. In order to do their best work everyday teachers need a certain amount of supplies and support, access to appropriate, non-antiquated text books, in good condition. The teachers need time to meet within the instructional grade level, and within the subject matter, to develop a thematic and differentiated presentation of materials and thereby laying the foundation for the development of critical thinking skills in the student. The teachers need a private work space within the school where they can plan, think and collaborate on lessons. They need time to go to professional development outside of the school. They need to not be burdened with medical/healthcare, social work/psychological issues of students just because those positions have been eliminated. They need a clean, comfortable, safe work environment. When teachers have a clean, comfortable, safe work environment then students have a clean, comfortable, safe learning environment. They need the students to come to them prepared to learn. Which in a school system that has 80% of its school population below the poverty level isn’t within the power of the teacher to guarantee. The students need to feel safe and valued. They need to believe that they have a right to be educated. They should be excited about the opportunity as opposed to feeling that they have to be there. Some of that comes down through curriculum because students need the fine arts, they need physical education and they need recess too. They need to learn past how to fill out a job application in order to be happy, productive citizens.
Many people who are opposed to this strike have kids who are attending schools that have most of what I have laid out. Perhaps there are 32 kids in the classroom, but they have everything else. These CPS parents need to understand that they are in the minority, that their students will have the opportunity to read A Tale of Two Cities and extrapolate that story to what is happening in the city of Chicago. But unlike in the classic novel, this tale is about one City, Chicago, and two CPS’s born of the very disparate treatment of public schools and public school students within it. There is the CPS of selective admission and magnet schools program, with parental involvement and diversity and resources. Then there is the other CPS where there are 166 schools that don’t have libraries and twice that that don’t have as many books as I have in my bedroom let alone what should be in a school library. 148 of these library-less schools are located in poor Southside and west side neighborhoods. Only 18 library-less schools are north of North Avenue. This other CPS where funds are drained off and programs are unavailable because the funds and programs go to the ‘specialty’ and charter schools. The other CPS has dilapidated school buildings and no air conditioning in the summer and uneven heat in the winter. The other CPS is where schools don’t have the books to give to the students or not enough books.The other CPS has a curriculum that is little more than teaching the test with NO critical thinking, NO fine arts, NO learning to play or playing to learn. When asked what type of education Chicago Public School students were entitled CPS appointed Board member Penny Pritzker, who sends her children to University of Chicago Lab Schools, answered they should “get the skills in math, in reading, and in science so that they can be productive members of today’s workforce.”
If you are a parent reading this perhaps you can recall the first moment you held your child in your arms. Perhaps like me you were filled with a sense of awe and wonder. You were amazed that anyone would entrust anything so precious and limitless to your human care. You promised yourself and that infant that they would get the very best of everything that you could provide out of life. If you can recall that moment, imagine if Rahm Emanuel or Jean-Claude Brizard overheard your thought and tapped you on the shoulder and said, “but they really don’t need a quality education, they just need to be good workers. I know you think your little angel is precious now, but there is no problem with her being a classroom with 39 other second graders and one adult teacher. And your child doesn’t deserve or need the type of quality education that I will give my child.” In fact that is just what they have said and done, they just didn’t say it to you directly in the hospital with your newborn. But if they had said it you in the hospital with your newborn would you have said okay and gone along with it?
As Mayor of the City of Chicago Rahm Emanuel has the power to appoint the president of the school board and he has approval power over the members that are appointed to the school board. Yet, with all of this input he has made the choice to send his own children to private school. As a human being, a citizen of the United States of America, he is entitled to enroll his children anywhere he sees fit. But Rahm Emanuel is also an elected official. By making the choice not to send his own children to the public school system that he oversees, he has drawn a distinction between the average CPS school and the University of Chicago Laboratory School by proxy. The Mayor of Chicago appoints a Chicago Board of Education President and exerts approval power over board member appointments, a board for which there is no evidence that, other than through protest, social media or school board meetings, they get any input from teachers about how to better educate the students of CPS. Yet this board wants to evaluate teachers. The Chicago Teachers Union has no objection to being evaluated, they object to the evaluation process being totally based upon standardized test scores. There are other more effective means of evaluating teachers. CPS resists these because it is for privatization of the schools in Chicago’s poor Black and Latino neighborhoods. Charter school statistics are not included in CPS data. How great will CPS look if the only data comes from selective admission, specialty and magnet schools and upscale neighborhood schools. But what would the influx of charter schools bring to these neighborhoods already in need? They would bring less political and legal oversight, and fewer opportunities for parental input or redress.
There are many reasons to support the Chicago Teachers Union in this strike. The most compelling is that this strike lifts the rock of political and financial interests that corrupts the Chicago Public Schools System. Corruption that is hardly rare or new to Chicago and its’ schools. Once lifted then perhaps we can discuss the simple fact that poverty, race and disparate opportunity are inextricably tied to social mobility and economic opportunity.
In May of 1963, President Lyndon Baines Johnson stated,
“Until justice is blind to color, until education is unaware of race, until opportunity is unconcerned with the color of men’s skins, emancipation will be a proclamation but not a fact. To the extent that the proclamation of emancipation is not fulfilled in fact, to that extent we shall have fallen short of assuring freedom to the free.”
For the very opportunity to improve the quality of education for any student, I stand with CTU.
Priscilla Dee Dixon
If you like this post read more Miss Lori’s own views in her recent post on TheChicagoMoms.com
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