Today, I gave my Chicago Public Schools journalism students (juniors and seniors) an opportunity to understand and evaluate a few of the contradicting perspectives about the Chicago Teachers Union strike tomorrow, April 1. As I've learned, when dealing with controversial topics in the classroom, it's important to ground the conversation in texts.
I selected these four texts:
- The CTU FAQs about the strike (Text 1)
- The CPS letter from CEO Forrest Claypool and Janice Jackson (Text 2)
- An editorial by a teacher in favor of the strike (Text 3)
- An editorial by two teachers against the strike (Text 4)
I started the discussion by asking for their perspectives before we read anything. I purposely avoided giving them my perspective; I didn't want to sway them. After they read, wrote reactions and questions on each individual text, I asked again for their perspectives.
Before class ended, I gave them an opportunity to answer the prompt: What's your view of the April 1 strike? I challenged them to use the sentence structures we've been practicing in class and pushed them to cite sources in their rationales. This was actually a good way to prepare them for the new format of the ACT writing test.
You can see my students' reactions from both classes in the gallery below (it was a quick writing exercise so excuse any mistakes). One thing this exercise reinforced--the letter from Claypool and Jackson was just a bad letter. Students--no matter what side they were on--found it offensive and confrontational. Maybe the CPS communications department can rethink their rhetorical approaches next time.
I told my students right before they left how I saw this. I told them I agree with the concept of the strike, but I disagreed with the tactic. Many were surprised. That's why I made sure they expressed their views first. Still, I told them, I'll be on the picket line tomorrow.
More than anything, I hope my students learned today to make sure they gather information about issues they support. Most had not heard of the 7% pension debate. Many couldn't give specific reasons in favor or in opposition of the strike before this.
What I hope they took away from our experience today is this: we can disagree ideologically and still have peace. No one walked out angry at anyone. We didn't yell. We didn't fight. Everyone got an opportunity to say what he or she thinks is right. As in many controversial situations, there is more than one right answer.
When the bell rang, we wished each other a good, safe weekend. And said, "See you Monday."
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