You Can’t Decry Conflict and Seek Justice
Melissa Harris Perry has a new piece reflecting on the recently concluded successful Chicago Teachers Union strike. Her point – the battle between “reformers” and “teachers” was harming the school children caught in the middle. (This despite the rather substantial student-centered reforms* teachers were calling for – she adopts a standard conceit of corporate ed reformers that they seek reform while everyone else supports the status quo).
I couldn’t help but be reminded of Martin Luther King‘s words.
You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city’s white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative.
The reality is, whether intended or not, when liberals decry conflict, which is standard rhetorical position, they are supporting the position of the powerful. Rahm Emanuel, backed by billionaires (including Donald Trump) is powerful, and the status quo is for him and the other corporate reformers to get their way despite the opposition of teachers, parents, and students without significant resistance. Without resistance, they simply get their way to push their neoliberal reforms.
Those reforms are hurting children, hurting communities, undermining public sector unions, and they don’t work. Children aren’t served by a lack of air conditioning, music and art instruction, or libraries. Children don’t benefit from waiting for textbooks to arrive long after the semester begins. Children don’t benefit from increasing hours spent devoted to high stakes testing and preparing for these tests. Hopefully, we’re beginning to see real organized resistance based on the idea that teachers are valued professionals and that every child deserves the opportunity for a quality public education.
I don’t know if Karen Lewis or other key figures from the CTU will get a chance to be heard on MSNBC in the coming days. So I’ll close with Lewis’ words.
I do not understand why people think what we did was special. I do not understand why people think I’m a leader. I am a teacher who hates what’s happening to our children. We cannot go along with harm. Plain and simple. Sometimes I feel like we’re in that bad psych experiment where people give folks electric shocks because they were told to do so. I am embarrassed by all the attention and I would like to go somewhere and be quiet. I didn’t realize my life would be this nuts.
Respectfully, I understand why people know what they did was so special.
Thanks CTU. In solidarity.
* Seriously, if you haven’t yet, you should read what the teachers are still fighting for: The Schools Chicago’s Students Deserve.
[Update] Corey Robin gives a quick break down of some of the things the union won that supposedly hurt the kids.