Columns

Lattanzi-Silveus ’14: What the Chicago teachers have taught us

By
Opinions Columnist
Sunday, September 23, 2012

Last week, an editorial in The Herald criticized Chicago’s teachers for putting their own interests in front of those of students by striking (“Have your apple and eat it, too?” Sept. 18). The editorial portrays Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, on the other hand, as “trying to end something that clearly isn’t working.” Versions of these same arguments are being used across the country to justify the privatization of our public schools, cuts in public education spending and concentration of decision-making power into the hands of school management.
These are decisions that, far from improving the public education system, will very much exacerbate its problems. So while I am arguing against the authors of this piece, I believe that our argument is much broader. It is between the working class and the ruling class. Between the right to a job and a livelihood and the drive for profit. Between giving adequate funding our schools and other public institutions and keeping taxes on the rich low and military spending high.
The first problem with their argument is that it calls on teachers to be totally “selfless.” In other words, the teachers who are looking to improve their living conditions really shouldn’t because the students will miss a week of school.
But it is not reasonable to ask this pure and total “selflessness” of teachers. They are not volunteer workers. They are making a living off their salaries, putting their own children through high school and hopefully through college, if they can scrape together enough to afford it. Teachers, just like every other worker, are struggling to make ends meet. Just like every other worker, a teacher deserves a well-paid and secure job. And just like for every other worker, this right is under heavy attack in the name of a crisis that none of them were in any way responsible for.
But really, the teachers are being pretty “selfless,” even in the strike. Though they are not allowed to strike on issues other than pay and procedural ones, the Chicago teachers were quite explicitly striking for a lot more than that. Their stipulation about wages, in fact, only asked for wage increases that will barely keep up with inflation. Their demands also include more money for school supplies, the hiring of more African-Americans teachers and the hiring of more nurses, counselors and other support staff for students, to name just a few. But conveniently, the editorial essentially ignored all demands of the strike other than job security and fair compensation.
In fact, even the demands for job security and compensation are about much more than teachers allowing themselves to live this so-called easy life. They fought measures that tie their job security and compensation to test scores, which would force them to teach for a test instead of trying to help a student learn, understand and expand their horizons. Not to mention that a teacher who is secure in his or her job can afford to try out unconventional things that best suit their teaching styles or their students’ learning styles. The best teachers I’ve had by far were those who were ready to try out different things and fit their teaching method to their personalities and their students instead of doing things by the book. Teachers are in the classroom every day and know a lot better than administrators how to teach their students.
Emanuel, a Democrat, is not looking to improve the system – he’s the one cutting money from services that students need and trying to make education about testing. As history has shown time and time again, positive change comes not from above, but from below.
And it has come! The strike has won all of the demands above and more. The teachers struck a blow against job precarity, poor pay, cuts to education funding and high-stakes testing. They are an example to be emulated, not shunned.
The students and parents know this. That is why 66 percent of parents of public school children in Chicago supported the strike. The Herald’s editorial board may think that teachers are setting a bad role model for these children, but their parents don’t.
The Chicago teachers are not poor role models – they are the best role models out there. They are standing up for themselves and the children they teach. They are resisting cuts to education and fighting for a school system that benefits the students, parents and teachers – not the administrators and private school owners. But even more than that, they are fighting for all of us who want the needs of the many to outweigh the profit of the few. It’s about time we stopped criticizing and blaming them and instead joined them in the fight against austerity, privatization and exploitation.

Luke Lattanzi-Silveus ’14  wonders what the editors’ high school teachers would say if they read their editorial and can be reached at luke_lattanzi-silveus@brown.edu.

3 Comments

  1. I was against the teachers strike, but reading the argument above makes me wonder.

  2. Reality Check says:

    Something like 75% of Chicago public school students can’t read. Only a public employee union would expect more money and job security for results like that!

  3. Reality Check says:

    Something like 75% of Chicago public school students can’t read. Only a public employee union would expect more money and job security for results like that!

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