Karen Lewis, head of the Chicago’s Teacher’s Union, said that a poll of teachers at 150 schools revealed widespread support for a strike. Chicago is ground zero of the education reform movement, the home base of Uncle Arne Duncan.
Jean-Claude Brizard, head of Chicago’s schools, claimed “It’s unfortunate that the CTU will be talking about a strike when we know we have so much work we have to do within our schools.”
The teachers of Chicago have seen the “work” to which Brizard refers: school closings, teacher firings, more charters and mayoral control.
The Congress of Rank-and-File Educators, the caucus largely in control of the CTU, has shown urban teacher unions across the country the way. We have tried corporate unionism of the Randi Weingarten variety and it is has led to the erosion of the teaching profession. No matter how many times the likes of Randi have cooperated and negotiated with the corporate reformers, she manages to get bashed in the media and teachers manage to lose more and more of their rights. It is the students who pay the ultimate price as they see their schools closed and their most experienced teachers fired.
58 years ago, the Supreme Court made schools the testing ground for racial integration across the south. Children were put on the front lines in a wider battle for social justice. The powerless had nothing but their bodies with which to fight. They used it to conduct acts of civil disobedience: marches, sit-ins, Freedom Rides, etc.
We have come full circle by 2012. The corporate reform movement seeks to, once again, put children on the front lines of a massive social experiment. This time it is the corporatizing of the last great civic institution left in the United States. If some students have to get kicked out of their schools, or have their classrooms starved of resources, or attend charters that make corporal punishment a matter of policy, then so be it. If inner-city schools become hyper-segregated in the process, then that is the price that must be paid. If black teachers disappear because they have been part of the communities they have served for decades and, therefore, cost too much money, then that is the price we pay for progress.
The grand social experiment of education reform is really just a way to turn back the school system to its pre-1954 status. The poorest communities get the most inexperienced teachers and the oldest resources. Many students in NYC are having classes in trailers, much like black students in the sharecropping south had their classes in wooden shacks, if they had classes at all.
So Karen Lewis’ CTU is threatening to use the only weapon available to her teachers: their bodies. They can refuse to show up for work. Despite the laws and heavy penalties for public worker strikes, the CTU is considering something the UFT here in NYC is scared to consider.
But this is the only appropriate response to the crusade to hyper-segregate our schools. Just like the civil rights activists of the 50s and 60s threw their bodies into the machinery in order to grind it to a halt, the teachers and activists who care about public schools are starting to do the same.
This is also the philosophy behind parents opting their children out of standardized exams. As the testing regime continues to spread its tentacles across the country, expect more pushback from parents.
Even if the CTU does not strike, the fact that they are talking about it is a major step in the right direction. Schools districts like Chicago are notorious for getting the press to run nasty stories about teachers during negotiations. Now, Brizard is running scared about talk of a teacher strike. The CTU is only using the tactics available to them.
Hopefully, Chicago proves to be ground zero of the pushback against education deform.