By Contributor on September 12, 2012

By Theresa Morgan

Chicago teachers aren’t striking because of pay. They are walking picket lines because they’re sick of so-called education reforms that don’t address the real problems in the schools and instead emphasize privatization and rote testing.

Teachers point out shocking disparities in Chicago’s education system, particularly the lack of resources in schools serving low-income black and Latino students. About 80 percent of Chicago students receive free and reduced lunch.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel sends his kids to a private school with three libraries and seven art teachers. But half of Chicago public schools don’t have full-time art and music teachers, 98 don’t have playgrounds, and 160 don’t have libraries. Crumbling facilities sometimes have asbestos insulation poking through the ceilings. One teacher told me her South Side school shares a psychologist with four others. Students traumatized by a string of shootings this year join a growing waitlist to receive the healing they need.

Class size matters, too. Kindergarten and first-grade classrooms in Chicago are bigger than those in 95 percent of all Illinois schools. Emanuel says the city can’t afford the smaller classes the teachers are demanding. But Chicago finds $250 million a year in tax breaks for politically connected developers.

Emanuel and his appointed school board say the best way to deal with struggling public schools is to close them or turn them over to private charter operators. Hedge fund managers seeking new investment opportunities love privatization. Charter schools can be lucrative investments, despite a spotty record. They do no better than traditional schools despite cherry-picking their students.

Emanuel didn’t start this fire. The push to privatize began in the late 1990s. Arne Duncan, former Chicago schools chief and now President Obama’s secretary of education, turbocharged it. He closed more than 100 schools, replacing them with charters. He and Emanuel say the solution is to use students’ standardized test scores to get rid of faltering schools and teachers. Teachers say the evaluations place too much emphasis on bubble-sheet tests, which are an unreliable and narrow measure of a student’s progress. A “drill-and-kill” curriculum has dulled learning.

Emanuel and many in the media are trying to demonize teachers as not caring about students or not working hard. In fact, a University of Illinois study says Chicago teachers work 58 hours a week, grading papers at home, tutoring students before and after school and meeting with parents. Teachers also often provide snacks and supplies to pupils who arrive hungry and ill equipped for class.

If you care about public education, you should stand with the Chicago teachers. They’re fighting for an education system that works for kids in every ZIP code — not just a few.

Theresa Moran is in Chicago covering the strike for Labor Notes, a media and organizing project that supports unions. She can be reached at pmproj@progressive.org.

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).


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