Monday, December 17, 2012

Chicago Teachers Tell the Rich to Back Off

The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) is calling for a march and protest on December 18 to “Tell the Fat Cats:  Get Your Paws Off Our Public Schools.

While I could make many of the same criticisms of this that I have of the Occupy Movement (see here and here), I would rather call this a step in the right direction. (Plus, I really like their graphic for the protest).
(From the CTU website)
Certainly this is a reformist demand that lacks a meaningful critique of capitalism or public education’s role in bolstering it. Yet a mainstream craft union is unlikely to ever do this anyway. At least the CTU is placing some of the responsibility for their district’s crumbling infrastructure and their members’ declining working conditions directly on the backs of the rich—who have been tripping all over themselves and Chicago’s children in the race to convert CPS school sites into charter schools—rather than the usual vague union complaints about poor funding and belt-tightening by everyone.

The biggest problems with public education are not due to any defect in the schools or teachers. Rather, poverty and the wealth gap are the primary causes of the achievement gap. No reform that is currently on the table even attempts to address this. Certain social reforms, like those of the New Deal and the Great Society served to reduce poverty and close the wealth gap, and graduation rates climbed to their highest levels in response. But these economic gains have largely been reversed over the past 40 years, with an accompanying decline in wages and living standards for the majority of Americans.

Much of this decline has been due to a restructuring of the tax code, allowing the wealthy to keep a greater percentage of their wealth, causing a net decline in the revenue available for social services, like public education.

We are not likely to see the unions demanding an end to capitalism or even a reduction in poverty (though this reform would likely do far more to solve public education’s myriad problems than all the other current pseudo-reforms combined). However, it is not unreasonable to think that other teachers unions might start following the CTU’s lead and at least push back against the corporate-led “reforms” that are weakening the unions, deskilling the teaching profession and undermining the quality of education just so they can make a quick buck.

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