I have a lot of reasons for supporting the Chicago Teachers Union in their strike this week. First of all, I believe in public education, and I am opposed to the increased privatization of Chicago’s schools (often characterized by closing ‘failing’ public schools and replacing them with privately-run, publicly-funded charter schools.) I believe our city has starved these schools into failure by refusing to fund them properly. Secondly, because the teachers are fighting for more art, music and enrichment during the school day — and fighting against the increased importance of high-stakes testing. Third, because I believe unions — although flawed institutions to be sure — are one of the last weapons that working people have to exert some kind of control over their work environment, and this is deeply important to democratic society.
This struggle is extremely important, and in my eyes, it has everything to do with our society’s failure to tax the rich. It has everything to do with our society’s wrong priorities, in which we spend endlessly on wars and bank bailouts but become tight-fisted when it comes to servies for the working class. It has to do with institutionalized racism, which allows poor black children to go to school in awful conditions. And unfortunately, this isn’t just Chicago policy — it’s a national one.
AND — in addition to all of the above —
AND — I know this is really selfish —
I don’t want to move to the damn suburbs when I have my first kid. And my friends, musicians, artists, thinkers: I don’t want you to move to the suburbs either.
The quality of Chicago Public Schools is, from what I can gather, the absolute number one reason that my peers (mostly educated, middle-class white people) leave the city. You can picture it as well as I can: a thirty-three year old mom with a four-year-old kid, saying sadly to friends: We really love it here, but we can’t afford to live in XYZ neighborhood where the schools are decent. Or, we really love it here, but we visited our neighborhood schools and the class sizes are just way too big.
I’m twenty-seven years old and the biological clock is staring to sound a tiny bit louder. I’m not in any hurry, but I know it’s on the horizon for me and my friends. Meanwhile, we’re participating in an amazing music scene that is vibrant, innovative, and inspiring. We’re walking to the bank, the post office, and the grocery store. We’re taking the Red Line to one amazing concert after another. We can afford apartments with space for our instruments and our recording equipment, but we’re living in a world-class cultural city. We’re developing deep, local community ties which, in my eyes, is ideal for raising a family.
I’ve faced the facts. I’m not going to have enough money to send my kids to private school. I’m not going to own a townhome in Lincoln Park. I’m going to be a parent that needs to send her children to public schools. And I need them not to suck.
I need public schools that don’t suck — and so do you. And so does our city, if it hopes to hold on to all the amazing performers, artists, and minds that are approaching the precipice of parenthood.
Schools that don’t suck: that’s precisely what the teachers are fighting for. See you tomorrow at noon for the rally where we all demonstrate how important that is for our city, its cultural life, and its families — current and future.