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On the Line in Chicago

On Monday, September 10, 2012, the Chicago Teachers Union went on strike. The next day Linda and I drove up to Chicago, parked our car on the North Side, rode the “red line” mass transit downtown and arrived after the speeches were over and just as the big march began.

We joined in as the procession moved in front of the Chicago School Board Headquarters, rounded the Loop, and ended at Buckingham Fountain.  It was a bright, clear day, and exuberant chants filled the air, none louder than “Hey Hey, Ho Ho, Rahm Emanuel has got to go.”

Most everyone was wearing red, and many were wearing the red Chicago Teacher Union t-shirts.  A teacher walking next to me explained, “This is all about the Mayor.  And of course, he was President Obama’s right hand man.  It’s not good for the Democrats to have Teachers demonstrating against them so near to the Presidential Election.  I think the ‘bat phone’ is going to be ringing; I think Obama is going to be calling Rahm and telling him to resolve this pretty soon.”

The next morning, Linda and I walked to Senn High School and marched the picket line. The striking teachers were thrilled at our participation and very happy to talk with us.  A counselor explained that, “We want to be taken seriously.  It is obvious that they are trying to destroy Public Education and we are fighting back with our last resort, a strike.”

A Social Studies teacher explained how classroom size had increased due to the closing of many schools, and explained how this was a national issue.  “Every American will be affected by how this is resolved.  At issue is whether our society will allow education to be corporatized.”

Every teacher we talked to mentioned how the curriculum was being set by adherence to standardized tests.  An English teacher exclaimed, “The students have to take so many tests!  So much time for is being used for certification, what about time for instruction?” She also explained that the love of reading literature cannot be taught through standardized testing.

Linda saw a poster that referenced something called TIFs and asked a Teacher what that meant.  He explained that Tax Increment Financing in theory was meant to be used for community improvement but that in practice was funneling money from poor neighborhoods to rich areas.  “They say they have no money for public education, but at the same time they have used money from TIFs to build the Hyatt downtown.”

When Linda and I said that we enjoyed having these conversations, a teacher told us:   “It is because we are Teachers. We know how to articulate things!”

On Wednesday, we car-pooled with two teachers to the afternoon rally at Marshall High School.  In the van, the young women explained that they used to teach at Charter Schools on a one year contract. “Every Teacher goes into the profession with a desire to help their students, but without any job security it becomes very difficult.  Plus, when the teachers are interchangeable, the students don’t have any continuity in their education.”

On Thursday, the Chicago Teachers Union rally began at the Hyatt near the Chicago River. Soon a sea of red was parading down Michigan Avenue.  Students, and families, had come out to be in solidarity with their Teachers.

I stood on the steps of the Art Museum and looked back.  As far as I could see, there were people marching in support of the Chicago Teacher’s Union goals, chanting “Education under attack, what do we do?  Stand up!  Fight Back!”

David Stewart lives in Bloomington, Indiana.

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