What's motivating the massive support behind the Chicago teacher's strike? (A theory.)

What's motivating the massive support behind the Chicago teacher's strike?  (A theory.)

I must admit that I have been astonished at the level of support given to the Chicago Teacher’s Union.    The most noble of debates usually have constituencies on both sides of the issue yet it would appear  that those who find themselves siding against the teacher’s and the union find themselves to be in a substantial minority.

This has intrigued and fascinated me simply because I’m always suspicious when collective action actually works.

First and foremost, let me say that my support of teachers is unequivocal.  I spent three months in an elementary classroom after I graduated from college.  Most of my time was spent breaking up fights and combating parents rather than providing any organized instruction.  That experience showed me that I loved kids far too much to fake like I wanted to be around them for six hours a day.  In my estimation, it’s fair to say that those who don’t leave the profession after a month have a level of love and commitment for molding young minds that my finite amount of patience will never be able to comprehend.

Yet, when you peel back the layers of what’s at the root of this strike, it’s very difficult to not see valid points on both sides.  Should teacher’s evaluations be based heavily on student’s standardized test scores?  Of course not.   To do so would place an unfair expectation on many teachers to bear the brunt of years of educational neglect and retardation that could be argued has impacted many students.  Then you have some students who simply don’t test well.  Then you have students who simply don’t care about tests.   For some teachers in challenging schools (which probably could classify 50 percent of schools in the Chicago Public School system) standardized test scores are  crapshoots at best and poor gambles at worst.   I think it’s hard to argue that most people in any other profession, faced with similar circumstances would place great value on their performance based on such extremely varied inputs.

On the other head, should principals be able to hire and fire their own teachers?  Most definitely.  Should fired teachers always get first consideration in new job openings?  Not necessarily.

Logically considering the issues at hand, it quickly becomes apparent that this is not a fight between good guys and bad guys or a battle between good and evil.  So why is public  support so heavily skewed in favor of the union?

My theories:  1.) This is a referendum on Mayor Emanuel 2.) This is the beginning of a wide sweeping referendum on those who hold the balance of power in our country.

Funny enough, it is rare that I will come to the defense of Rahm Emanuel but I think it's fair to say that this was not a fight that he started.  This fight was decades in the making, borne out of issues that aren’t up for negotiation but are still on the periphery of the minds of teachers in the system.  This fight, and the massive national support that it has garnered, is bigger than evaluations and hiring practices.  This fight, though escalated by Rahm’s award-winning pitbull-like personality, was going to happen regardless of who was the Mayor of Chicago simply because people are angry and tired (and angry that they are so tired).

For decades working class residents in this City have bore the burden of patronage and corruption which led to increasing tax burdens to make up for governmental inefficiencies.    Time and time again there appeared to be no recourse for our woes, no recourse for many who felt like they were paying a premium to live with subpar public resources.   Many people, those impacted directly and those who are merely observers, see this as a form of retribution, an opportunity for the average hard-working resident to finally come out ahead.

This is the Occupy Movement for people with jobs.

In the coming months, I suspect that we will continue to see numerous standoffs between institutions of established power and critical masses of people.   I can only speculate how this will change the landscape for many working class and middle class individuals in the country.


Image courtesy of newyorker.com

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    Kay S

    Kay Smith is a Chicago-based freelance writer and blogger who focuses on race, politics and urban culture. Having worked on public policy at the state, regional, city and community level, her opinions have been featured in the Chicago SunTimes and a host of news websites (under very mysterious sounding pseudonyms). Follow her on Twitter @kaywillsmith or contact her at kaywilliamsmith@gmail.com.

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