Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Real Story Behind the Chicago Teachers Strike ... It's Not About the Kids ... They Lose

Now that the Chicago teachers strike is very near its end, at least as I see it, let's review the winners and losers.

First, the losers --- The kids currently in school and the ones to come in future years will be the losers, even though both sides say what they're doing is for the kids. Of course, the reality isn't that way at all.

Next, the winners --- There aren't any. That's just the way all strikes end.

Striking Teachers, Divided Antipathies is subtitled 'Both sides say they only have the interest of schoolchildren at heart' and summarizes the situation as follows:

"Whichever way the Chicago teachers strike ends, one may be fairly certain that the children of Chicago will not win. This may seem an odd prediction, since both sides in the strike, the 29,000-member Chicago Teachers Union vs. Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Chicago School Board, contend that this dispute is at bottom about the children, with each, of course, having only the interest of the children at heart.

No chance here of the adversaries declaring their true concerns. If they did, the union would announce its desire for more money and less outside interference by way of enforced teacher evaluations, pay raises based on merit, the imposition of a longer school day, the disposition of the fate of teachers whose schools have been closed, and job security generally. The city would announce that in addition to being concerned about an expected $3 billion budget shortfall in education over the next three years, there is also the public-relations worry about an educational system producing such pathetic results. Something like 40% of the 350,000 kids who go to public schools here do not graduate from high school, which makes Chicago and those who run it look very bad indeed.

With rare exceptions, anyone in Chicago who can afford it avoids sending his kids to public school. (Mayor Emanuel, in the best limousine-liberal tradition, sends his children to the University of Chicago Lab School. In his position, let me add, I would do the same.) Apart from a handful of magnet and charter schools, most Chicago public schools are mediocre, and many are frightening....

If simple sociology in Chicago—crushing poverty in black neighborhoods, single-parent homes run by working mothers, pervasive delinquency—isn't enough to militate against education, the matter of finding enough good teachers is an even greater part of the problem. Nobody likes to mention it, but grammar and high-school teaching took a terrific hit from feminism. So many of the superior grammar and high-school teachers of the past were women—women, to be sure, who had little else open to them in the way of occupational choice. Now, with feminism having led the way, women are free to join the wider workforce....

The teachers union opposes evaluation based on standardized-test scores for the sound reason that those who teach in poor neighborhoods, where there is less in the way of family support for education, oughtn't be penalized for problems not of their own making. Although no one says so, teacher evaluation generally is a tricky business. For all the various studies, quick-shot panaceas and exotic reforms, nobody really knows how education works—knows, that is, why some children are inspired to learn and others left untouched by everything that goes on in a classroom. After having taught at a university for 30 years, I have come to believe that teaching is magical: What goes on in the transaction between teacher and student remains a mystery because it is different for every student. A very small number of teachers are gifted and bring out the best in students; most, at the same pay, would be as happy at the post office.

As a wholly uninterested grammar and high-school student, I was nonetheless able, as were all my classmates, to grasp the fundamentals of reading and arithmetic. I did so out of the simple motives of fear and shame: frightened of outright failure, ashamed to look entirely stupid in front of classmates. Lots of time in the grammar school of my day was spent on spelling and handwriting. . . .

Nor were there any social workers, psychologists or guidance counselors hanging around. Perhaps the French are once again wrong: The more things change, not the more they stay the same but the worse they get.

Surely I am not alone in viewing the Chicago teachers strike with divided antipathies. The Chicago teachers—who have an average of 13.7 years of experience and earn an average of $71,200 annual salary—are, as are all contemporary unions . . . clearly in business for themselves. Mayor Emanuel wants to seem a leader in educational reform but has only a crude grasp of what is entailed in serious education. For example, his notion of an extended school day—that is, more of the same, but longer—can only mean more torture for kids not really receiving a good education to begin with.
Unions, politicians, school boards: a plague on all their condominiums."

Summing Up

As the city, school board and the Chicago teachers union settle their dispute and agree to keep the lousy Chicago public school system operating largely as is, it's important to acknowledge that this is not happening just in Chicago. The failing public education system is going on uninterrupted across America's largest cities. Maybe the teachers aren't striking, but the schools are failing our kids --- especially our urban kids.

As a nation, we're failing millions of our children and don't seem to have the seriousness of purpose required to make a meaningful and even dramatic change for the better.

The alliance of public sector unions, politicians, school districts, local, state and national governments and their Democratic Party allies make for a most formidable foe for the kids and We the People.

However, and if only out of self interest, we must find a way to confront and deal with this very real and very sad situation --- and very soon, too.

So don't celebrate or even smile when the Chicago combatants announce the strike's settlement within the next 24 hours or so. 

Think about what we're doing to the kids in our city schools instead. That's what I'll do as well.

Thanks. Bob.

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