Saturday, July 24, 2010

Save Our Schools Rally

I attended the Chicago Teacher's Union (CTU) Save Our Schools Rally today at the Ariel Academy in Kenwood. The rally is the first public event that I know of sponsored by the CTU since the new Caucus of Rank and File Educators (CORE) slate took office this month. I was especially interested in how the new leadership was approaching the Chicago Public Schools position regarding school finances, tenure, teacher evaluation, cuts, and so forth.

CPS and CTU have started talks, but based on what Karen Lewis reported at the meeting, a report on the CTU website, and an online report plus comments on the Catalyst blog, the Board is asking for everything and giving nothing. [Lewis also said that the union wanted, and received, the right to have 40 observers (including representatives from other caucuses) sit in on the negotiations, as part of CORE's promise to boost transparency in the union.]

I was especially interested to hear about CTU's strategy at this point. The union is launching several initiatives, all with a common theme: reaching out. Reaching out to CTU membership, to parents, to community organizations, to pastors and congregations, to aldermen and state representatives, to the general population at events like neighborhood festivals and the annual southside Bud Billiken parade. The union had sign-up sheets available for the various committees it has set up to undertake the reach-out campaign.

The union's strategy reminded me of a report on the two-week long 2005 British Columbia teacher's strike. Teachers in BC were not allowed to strike by law, but they did so anyway, over class size, student supports and pay. As I understand it, the Canadian teachers worked to win the public opinion battle first, through ... reaching out. The British Columbia Teacher's Federation (BCTF) worked hard to present teachers as human beings dedicated to the challenging job of educating the community's children under very difficult circumstances. As a result, the BCTF gained support from other unions, from parents, and from the community at large. That support enabled them effectively to win.

CPS's position, echoed by the major news media and self-appointed education experts, is that teachers are lazy, incompetent, overpaid and greedy. The CPS position is that the union shields the generally lazy, incompetent, etc. etc. from discipline. The union, effectively, is the reason for the CPS budget crisis, poor test scores, high dropout rates, etc. Only charter schools, privatization and more testing can save education in Chicago. This is the official CPS narrative. This is the CPS propaganda offensive that the union is finally, with new leadership, thankfully beginning to confront.

Getting out a counter-narrative, one that actually explains reality, really is the only way forward for the union: to win the propaganda war by speaking truth to power, forging necessary links with everyone else in the same boat (is that a mixed metaphor?), and getting over the understanding that what is wrong with education is not teachers (much less teachers organized), but something much deeper and more complex, something that will require a broad, mobilized network of community to overcome.


1 comment:

StellBell said...

Your posts are really motivating me to become more involved with the CTU. I have worked with the Nurturing Teacher Leadership program for Board Certification in the past but now I am really becoming interested in deeper involvement. I also have several friends and keep meeting more teachers who have lost their positions through budget cuts. I am constantly enraged by the picture that the board paints of teachers, and believe that CTU is doing the right thing to change the image of teachers in this city. Thank you so much for sharing this information and keeping us posted on FB as well!