Earlier this week, the Chicago Teachers Union leadership gleefully announced they may strike as a protest to Mayor Rahm Emanuel's reform efforts.
This does not mean they will actually strike, but if the Mayor doesn't give them what they want, they are giving advanced notice to city residents that they intend to hold every Chicago Public School child's future hostage.
A teachers strike is particularly sinister because it does the most damage to the youngest students. Middle school children and high schoolers will be deprived of classroom time, but at their age they can catch up and not be permanently harmed by a few missed days. It's the very young kindergarten and first graders, who are often the most excited to go to school, who suffer life long damage from a teacher walk out.
The youngest students are the most eager to learn and are at an age where education is still fun. Their whole tiny life revolves around school, classwork, teachers and their classmates. When those excited students have no classroom to attend after spending weeks looking forward to the first day back, it will not take long for them to lose interest.
In a matter of just days, a kindergartener's attitude about school can go from excited to disinterested in a flash. If a 5 year-old's first impression of school is a place that you look forward to going only to be disappointed that the first day is being delayed indefinitely, it can set up a life long disinterest in school.
Beyond the psychological impact of missing out on school days, there is the very real risk associated with the loss of instruction days. A young child's mind is a virtual sponge for information. They have insatiable curiosities and are learning something almost every minute of the day. Such a rapid pace of learning needs to be gently guided by teachers so their leaning follows a step by step building process toward more complex concepts. If the learning is taking place completely without structure, a child may create bad learning habits early that become hard to break.
For all the unsafe, failure factory schools we have in the Chicago Public School System, the lone bright spot has been the elementary schools. Many CPS elementary schools do a fairly good job of educating students up to the 4th-5th grade level. After that, scores start to trail off. CPS needs to do a better job building on this early foundation; but, at least they tend to get kids out of the blocks on the right track.
Five and six-year-old children are totally at the mercy of adults. They depend on their parents for love, shelter, food and protection. They depend on crossing guards to help them across the street and on teachers to educate them. They have no defense of their own if an adult in their life is delinquent in their duties to children. These children get hurt without any ability to defend themselves.
We all agree that parents who fail to provide a clean home for their children or fail to feed them are acting in a morally corrupt manner. Societies pass laws to protect children from such irresponsibility.
If we all agree that failing to uphold your role in a defenseless child's life is morally wrong, why would we not also call teachers walking out on students morally wrong?
If CPS kindergarten - 5th grade teachers walk out of their classrooms this Autumn and refuse to teach those whom they swore to educate, they will be acting immorally. Students whose education process gets interrupted will be less likely to get a fulfilling educational experience which will have negative life long consequences for them. Not only will their grades and interest in learning suffer, but with it will go their chances of graduating high school and moving on to college and a career.
In other words, teachers who wish to protect their own generous salaries, pensions and benefits are willing to sacrifice the future salaries of their students in exchange for their own. Harming children to advance yourself is selfish and cruel.
There are many ways to negotiate and bargain for a new contract. However, morally bankrupt options should never be on the table. There should not have to be laws against such an act, organizations are simply expected to have the decency not to do it.
If the Chicago Teachers Union strike, it will be an immoral act of aggression against children who have done nothing to deserve it. There are better ways for professionals to bargain. Striking in this circumstance is amateurish and must be avoided.
In the end, the children must come out of this negotiation as the winners. A strike will make them losers regardless of how the final contract shakes out.