By Nick McDaniels – First, let me say that I am excited and honored to be invited back for another school year of blogging for the Marquette Educator.
I am in my fourth year as an English teacher at Baltimore City’s biggest high school and am enjoying the wisdom I have received from the bumps and bruises of the last three years. I am teaching 10th grade, a tested grade level, this year after three years with freshmen, have switched classrooms, am now expected to use the common core curriculum, and am in my second year as a co-teacher. All of this gives me plenty to write about, particularly for a first blog post of the year.
Fortunately, there are more pressing matters to attend to.
As many of you know, especially those readers in Wisconsin and Illinois with an ear to the ground for rumblings of government attacks against workers, the Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis and the membership have submitted their strike date, Sept. 10th. The CTU has been at a negotiating stand still with CEO Brizard and Mayor Rahm Emmanuel for quite some time, with Brizard trying to push forth new initiatives that will keep students in classrooms longer, continue the process of allowing private operators to run our public schools, and continue the national trend of teacher-blaming, union-busting, and over-testing the students who most badly need to learn instead of be tested.
As Brizard and Emmanuel attempt to force corporate education reform on teachers with contract elements that are either untested or failing in other parts of the country, the CTU membership, fortunately for the students, parents, and communities, has saved money, stocked the cabinets with non-perishable food items, and has readied themselves for a strike.
It is important to know why the CTU may strike. A fair contract is essential to any labor negotiation. After watching “landmark” contracts in urban areas around the country fizzle out because the districts do not have the infrastructure to implement them fully, the CTU is rightfully hesitant to ink a deal that would put teachers, who are already under considerable stress and scrutiny, in a test tube of education reform that would directly affect their livelihoods.
However, the pending strike is about more than a contract. The CTU is the first big teachers union to actively fight back against the ed reform movement, setting a precedent very different from the one set by the collaborationist fat cats at the parent union, the AFT, who have actively forced these types of contracts down the throats of teachers all across the country, including Baltimore. The CTU wants a few clear things for the schools. Smaller class sizes, fair compensation for paraprofessionals, and fair compensation and evaluation structures for teachers. What may be more precious, but is not receiving as much attention, is the CTU’s hope to reduce privatization in the schools, preventing corporate interests from skimming huge amounts of money off the top of our public education budgets.
The reasons we all should consider CTU’s fight as our fight are just as clear as the negotiating goals:
- We should consider preventing growth of the business model of education which allows CEOs like Brizard, and former CEOs Klein and Rhee to hand out huge contract to private vendors who are finally seizing an opportunity to tap one of the last untapped markets in the American financial system, our public schools.
- We should consider that CEOs like Brizard have a singular goal, to educate as many students as possible, as well as possible, and as cheaply and/or as profitably as possible. These types of reforms require the demonization of teachers and public relations campaigns that divert attention from the real problems facing our schools, widespread poverty. It makes sense that CEOs like Brizard would not want to take a stand on issues like the poverty of Chicago’s youth, 84% of which receive free and reduced lunch (all of whom Brizard will not feed in the case of a strike). There is a lot of money to be made as a result of this poverty by corporate ed reformers like Wendy Kopp, major textbook and testing companies, charter school vendors, and let’s face it, the bloated leadership of national unions like the AFT.
- We should consider that in no way can we support working-class children by allowing attacks on workers. Teachers, paraprofessionals, school nurses, office assistants, related service providers, custodians, and others are working people earning their living by helping students. We cannot accept that anyone who loves children as much as reformers like Brizard, Klein, and Rhee say they do, can dislike those that work with children so much.
If you are not convinced that attacks on organized labor, high-stakes testing, privatization of schools and pay for performance contracts are bad for students and bad for schools, I encourage you to do some more reading about it. Or, better yet, go to an inner city school, where great teachers are forced to teach less and less, test more and more, and worry every day about losing their jobs, getting bad evaluations causing them to eventually leave the students who need them the most. All of this solves the problem for corporate ed reformers of educating children as cheaply as possible and reduces the work-force of teachers who may be willing to take a stand on behalf of children, the experienced, tenured teachers.
If you are convinced, I encourage you to tell your friends and colleagues about CTU’s fight. Because if we don’t support CTU, the fight will come to our doorstep before we know it. Offer your pledges of support to the CTU and send them messages of solidarity. Their fight is our fight.