LETTER: Why I strike — It's time to challenge apartheid and two nations, separate and unequal

“Let's concede that we have decided to let our children grow up in two separate nations, and lead two separate kinds of lives. If, on the other hand, we have the courage to rise to this challenge to name what's happening. . . . . then we also need the courage to be activist and go out and fight like hell to change it.”

Striking teachers picket outside Hefferan Elementary School on Chicago's West Side before seven in the morning on September 12, 2012, some carrying CTU signs, others with their own clear messages. Substance photo by Kati Gilson. The aforementioned quote was written by Jonathan Kozol, a long time writer about the inequalities of the American school system.

Today, as I stand as a Chicago Public School [CPS] teacher on the strike lines in front of my home school and while marching the streets of Chicago, his words ring more true than they did when I first read them at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign as an undergraduate preparing to become a public school teacher. Throughout my life, I have had the amazing opportunity of being able to grow up in a suburb that was fortunate enough to have more than enough money to provide me with everything that was needed so that I cold receive a “world class” education. I thank my parents and my community everyday that I was afforded that opportunity, because it has helped me to become the person that I am today. But, what has become more and more evident with each passing year, and even while I knew that this was true when I read Kozol for the first time, is that this is not the education that every child in this nation receives. It is also most definitely not the case of what every child receives here in the city of Chicago. This is why the Chicago’s teachers are taking to the streets of Chicago and going on strike.

Education, from the birth of this nation, was to a public good that was supposed to be provided to all the nation’s children. While it has been provided, it has certainly not been done so in an equitable fashion. With each passing year, and the latest reforms that have hit hard and fast in the city of Chicago, we see our education system become more and more intensely privatized, and children in the public school system continually losing out.

Many argue that our fight is strictly a labor dispute and that the children should not have to be taken out of school so that the teachers can ensure a fairer wage, and this is far from the truth. This fight, while it is about labor, it is first and foremost about Chicago students’ education. In the Chicago Public School system we see a continual disinterest and disinvestment of the public education system. On a micro level we’re seeing class sizes of thirty-five students which research has shown is not considered good learning conditions; schools go without enough or no school psychologists/social workers/nurses at all; there are schools without air conditioners that are in session during that hot summer months; there are classrooms without textbooks; school curriculum is seeing the removal of physical education and arts classes; etc.

The same things that Kozol wrote about in Savage Inequalities in 1991, we are still experiencing to some extent more than two decades later. If the system continues to go on as is, our students will have nothing left, except an overcrowded room with a teacher that is completely stressed out and unable to meet the needs of his or her students, let alone get them to pass a high-stakes test.

On a more macro level the disinvestment continues with the evolution of the school system into the business model, as neoliberals push through their agenda and make strides to privatize our system: CEOs instead of superintendants, competition to get into the very best schools in the city, big investment bankers and corporations giving money to the schools that claim they can obtain the very best test scores, etc. Charter schools are becoming the go to model, even though, in most cases they perform no better than public schools. More importantly, they are an entity that pushes children out of the education system, and are schools that while are public in name, they seem to more closely align themselves with the mandates of a private school.

One teacher outside Hefferan Elementary on September 12 carried a sign for her own special education students. Substance photo by Kati Gilson. We are beginning to see the start of an educational apartheid in the city of Chicago. Within the Chicago Public System there are schools that receive more money than others, and the schools with lower amounts of money seem to be our same schools that are dominated by minorities and students of lower socio-economic status. Tax Increment Financing [TIF] monies that could have been distributed to some of our most blighted schools and communities have instead been put elsewhere to build up the already well-to-do area, or areas that the city has deemed ready to be gentrified as they push families and historically rooted communities outside of the city’s limits. Meanwhile, it seems the only way to get what it is that you want is to take a serious stance as the teachers of Chicago Public Schools are doing now, or go as far as a host of Latina mothers did back in 2001 and go on a starvation run to receive a much needed school that they were told they would receive. The children of Chicago deserve to receive as good of and education as any other child in this nation without question, and that is what the Chicago Teacher’s Union [CTU] is fighting for.

I am a Social Studies teacher who teaches my children to stand up for themselves, their people, and their community. In my classroom my students learn about people who fight for their rights and what they deserve. The names of Mohandas Gandhi, Cesar Chavez, Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama, Paulo Freire and Martin Luther King Jr. are regular and ever-present faces and names in my classroom.

If I did not stand on the lines with my fellow teachers day in and day out, and march through the Loop and to Buckingham Fountain to laud the students of the Chicago Public School system and fight for what it is that they deserve, I would be a hypocrite and going against my craft and what it is that I fiercely believe in. History class is in most certainly in session right now. I see red everywhere, I see my students marching with me and beating drums, I see smiles and friendly acknowledgement and encouragement from my fellow brothers and sisters that what we are doing right now is not only the right thing to do, but what is just. You can yell at me to go back to work, but I am working. . . . .I’m working harder than I ever have. This is for every student I have had in my class, those that I have only met for a week and who I miss so badly it drives me to tears each night, and for every child that ever sits down in a Chicago Public School classroom. You are tomorrow’s future, and I will fight to make sure you get the best education that you deserve!

Amanda Brode

Chicago Public School Teacher

Chicago Teachers Union Member

National Board Certified Teacher

Curie Metro High School

Social Studies Department


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