I’m the daughter of two public school teachers, who take their profession seriously. My father taught middle school and high school social studies for over 25 years before “retiring” as an adjunct college professor in a secondary education, my mother still teaches at a year-round Elementary school in Minnesota. Public education was paramount when I was growing up—extra emphasis on public. In our house public schools, public libraries, and Church were the holy trinity, literally.
When I was in second grade I walked my first picket line. The teachers in our district went on strike over Halloween, and while other kids went trick-or-treating my Mom dragged my sister and I up and down the picket line handing out hot cider to our teachers, while reminding us to “never cross a picket line.” It stuck.
When I was in high school I desperately (and embarrassingly) wanted to go to a private school–so much so that I looked up ‘scholarships’ for students of color. Proud of myself, I presented the brochure and idea to my parents. I’ll never forget the look on my father’s face as I pleaded my case. It wasn’t anger, it was absolute disappointment. All I remember is how he told me that public schools put food on the table and a roof over our head—and that no one in our house would “erode the value of the public commons by abandoning it.” This stuck too.
Both of these memories came back to me today, at the Chicago Teacher’s Strike rally.
Education for the masses and not just for the ruling classes.
Across the country—irrespective of sector—we face a devaluing of public institutions as reform advocates herald private enterprise and its ability to be more efficient, reduce costs and maximize production. The teachers in Chicago are not just taking on a neoliberal mayor who wants to shift public resources into private hands through business-like management of public schools (CEO’s not Superintendents)—they’re also challenging a powerful education reform movement that is transforming public schools across the United States.
As with other sectors, the privatization that characterizes the ‘education reform movement’ is intentionally designed. It’s purposely and deliberately implemented–through charter schools and voucher programs aimed at creating a “private market” in publicly-financed education– demonizing traditional public schools and the teachers that staff them in the process, and destabilizing and disorienting whole communities.
To successfully create a national market, the reform movement must reduce the public education system to a shell of what it’s been, and in the process, eliminate the expectation of quality public education as a civil right. Why are they doing this? Because its big business! The K-12 market is huge– the U.S. spends more than $500 billion a year to educate kids from ages five through 18. Even now, investors are putting private equity and venture capital into ‘education’ companies whose goal is to profit by taking over broad aspects of public education. Just as corporations are milking the digital divide, corporate profiteers are invading public schools.
So what can we do?
We need to claim a central role for public schools. Public education requires everyone– we all have a role! As a community, we need to respect teachers, honor their professionalism, and support the development of their skills. And, we need to support the strike.