It's always Chicago, isn't it?
You've probably heard by now that 25,000 school teachers walked off the job in Chicago this morning. That is undeniably true -- but probably close to everything else you've heard in the last 24 hours about what's going down in the Windy City is complete and utter baloney.
This should be a "tell": The speed with which both Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan were willing to jump into to bed with Mayor Rahm Emanuel (whom I thought was "the Godfather" of "Chicagoland" -- at least that's what Matt Drudge told me). By that I mean it's a "tell" that they are desperate to change the conversation about their fast-sinking campaign, and what better boogeyman than "greedy teachers" -- in President Obama's hometown, no less!
And you know, as recently as a few years ago I might have might have been an easy mark for that argument. Look, like any institution, large teacher unions have flaws. Occasionally, like pretty much every labor union ever, they can defend folks who aren't that easily defensible (see, "Police, Fraternal Order of" for a similar example). But the 21st-Century hating on teacher unions is a national disgrace, and today I'm sick of it.
Teachers are generally the folks who get the same education, at the same ridiculous tuition, as the "job creators" on Wall Street, but they use their sheepskin not to think up Ponzi schemes but to educate young people, for less pay, sometimes in dangerous neighborhoods. They shouldn't get everything they ask for -- and they won't, not in 2012. But for the most part, when they demand better working conditions, that means they want better schools -- which would be better for the kids. It's not rocket science.
The misconceptions about what's happening in Chicago are growing more absurd. It's definitely not about greed. Of course, pay is on the table, but the reality is that the Emanuel administration is proposing to give teachers a fairly paltry increase to work a much-longer school day, which sounds to me like a pay cut. As a wise man once said...arithmetic!
But that's not even what this strike is about, anyway. At its core, the teachers in Chicago are fighting the same bullcrap we're fighting in Philadelphia and in New York and in most other big cities -- the corporatization of American schools by the same geniuses who brought us the housing bubble and the student loan bubble.. We're talking about the hedge-fund know-it-alls and charter school charlatans and campaign-cash-craving politicians who for a variety of reasons -- some perhaps naive, others intentionally corrupt -- want to blow up the thing that made America the envy of the world back in the 20th Century, our system of public education for all.
When you support Mayor Emanuel's TIF program in diverting hundreds of millions of dollars of school funds into to the pockets of wealthy developers like billionaire member of your school board, Penny Pritzker so she can build more hotels, that not only hurts kids, but somebody should be going to jail.
When you close and turnaround schools disrupting thousands of kids' lives and educations and often plunging them into violence and have no data to support your practice, that hurts our kids.
When you leave thousands of kids in classrooms with no teacher for weeks and months on end due to central office bureaucracy trumping basic needs of students, that not only hurts our kids, it basically ruins the whole idea of why we have a district at all.
So I stand with Xian Barrett when he says, "I'm striking to restore some semblance of reasonable care for students to this system. I'm doing it to tell you, 'No, YOU are the one hurting our children.' As a union member myself, I hope that not just every union, but everyone who supports progressive ideals in this country will stand with all of the Chicago teachers. It was Ronald Reagan, of all people, who first spoke of a time for choosing.
In Chicago, it's time to choose.
And while this is about schools, it's also about something bigger. There's a reason why 2011 was the year of the protest, not just around the world but here in the United States -- because everyday people had been so let down by our corrupt institutions, and had nowhere to go but the streets. People are finally starting to realize that not only do the Republicans want to trash public education , but so do hedge-fund, cash-addled Democrats like Cory Booker, Michael Nutter, Rahm Emanuel, and, yes, Barack Obama. When you fight for Chicago's teachers, you're fighting a system that needs to be fixed, the system of the 1 Percent.
UPDATE: Several folks wanted more background: Here's a great analysis from Reuters:
She urged them to use aggressive tactics to resist a reform agenda that pins much of the blame for poor student achievement on bad teachers. In Chicago and elsewhere, teachers respond that the main problem is poverty; they say their students do poorly because they're hungry, because their lives are chaotic, because they don't have the eyeglasses they need or quiet places to do their homework.
"We say no, teachers are not the root of the problem," Pope told the group gathered in the bar. "The root of the problem is the way capitalism is destroying public schools."
It was 42 years ago that Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young asked everyone to please come to Chicago. Today, it's as good a place as any to change the world.