Sunday, September 16, 2012

Issue #79 September 16, 2012- Chicago to Madison, A United Fight

What This Is…
Issue #79- September 16, 2012
In this issue: The Struggle Continues

Defending Freedom
People involved in the struggles here in Wisconsin have been justifiably proud of their efforts and feel that we are at the forefront of the fight to defend the freedoms and liberties that have been earned by our predecessors.  However, I often hear that we can't compare the struggles in Wisconsin to those going on around the world because of the difference in levels of physical danger that we face here compared to places like Egypt for example.  In other words, the validity of the struggle is based on the likelihood of death, incarceration or other trauma being inflicted on those involved. 

What these naysayers are forgetting is that we are seeing an erosion of rights that people have fought, bled and died for in the not so distant past.  There are a litany of heroes who have struggled for the rights of workers, voting rights and other freedoms that American citizens now enjoy.  We can't ignore the fact that any step backwards returns us to the conditions that caused the strife and violence that moved us forward.  We can't afford to simply accept what is happening here in Wisconsin and elsewhere in America without resisting the push to centralize power and to eliminate the rights of common people to express their opinions in ways that are protected by our Constitution (state and national).

Do people really need to see Americans physically harmed, illegally arrested, or even killed on our own streets to accept the fight as a valid and important one?  Are we willing to simply tolerate the efforts of the Walker administration to eliminate opposition by administrative decree and intimidation?  We see our society regressing toward a day when only an elite few had power and the remaining masses were subject to their control.  These abuses of power are exactly what those heroes of history fought against and it is up to us to continue the fight.

Here in Wisconsin we continue the fight on the streets, in the political arena, in our daily lives and also in the legal world.  With all the legal maneuvering and stalling tactics one thing remains clear, if you have enough money and political capital you fare much better in the courts.  However, we can all hope that justice will eventually be done.

There is an obvious disconnect between our political elite and the rest of the citizens of this nation.

CTU + MTI  + All Of Us= Their Fight IS Our Fight…
Human events and issues are complex, interconnected and rooted in social and historical contexts.  Because of this, most are rarely as simple as they seem, or as easy to explain as our political leaders and the media would like us to believe.  Finding the perfect slogan may work for a political campaign, but that slogan can rarely be turned into a coherent, positive policy without some adaptations and compromises.  We are seeing this quite clearly as our government stalls and is held hostage by a group of single-minded, uncompromising elected officials who refuse to give any ground from there extreme positions.  Positions which have led to significant strife in the past and which don't appear to have changed much over the years. 

The efforts to simplify complex issues lead to a narrowing of perspective that limits our ability to find solutions to the problems that we face.  In fact many of us are uncomfortable with the complexity that human activities bring and there is security and comfort in the "quick fix" or in following a "strong leader".  It seems like most citizens are willing to rely on small pieces of information from sources that they find agreeable to their own beliefs and rarely look at the bigger picture or try to uncover a larger truth that may exist outside their comfort zone.      

If you look carefully at the issues that surround recent events in Wisconsin, and that are also at the forefront of the labor conflict involving public educators in Chicago it becomes clear that we are looking at a struggle that is at a deep, fundamental level of our society.  These are battles that have been waged throughout time and that get at the core questions about what American society should look like. 

Conservatives, their supporters and those who don't recognize the real issues that Chicago's educators are raising would have us believe that the strike is just about money and a desire to avoid accountability for the struggles of some public school students.  You can see this in nearly all the mainstream media coverage of the strike.  It is nearly impossible to find an article that doesn't give the average annual salary of a Chicago teacher, or the fact that they have a shorter work day than many school systems do.  Ignored are the too often abysmal conditions, highly challenging environments and the fact that many of Chicago's students are facing significant challenges outside of school.

In a struggle like the one facing Chicago educators many different issues combine to form an intricate and confusing web of tangled historical, political, economic and social strands.  It is all too easy for any individual to simply throw up their hands and walk away from the struggle.  We all have personal needs that make a prolonged battle difficult to maintain and it is also difficult to maintain a positive outlook as we wage a conflict over territory that has been fought over many times before. 

It is difficult to maintain morale in the face of seemingly unending challenges that are posed by groups and individuals who have more resources and connections than we do.  However, it is important that the citizens of Wisconsin continue the fight and lend their support to the educators of Chicago as well.  If we simply "mind our own business" then we allow ourselves to be divided and defeated, and a defeat will cost us, as well as future generations dearly. 

What are the issues that make the struggle in Wisconsin, Chicago, Michigan, Ohio and all across America so important?  They are many and they are connected, but all point towards conflicting views of what America can and should be.

Class Warfare
I heard a conservative Madison radio talk show host attacking Obama because the gap between the rich and the poor was at some of the highest levels in American history.  The fact that this was used by a conservative made almost made me laugh out loud, until I realized that this is a powerful political strategy that conservatives use effectively.  They attack areas of their opponent's strength to try and neutralize their own weakness. 

It is clear that conservative economic policies benefit the wealthy more than anyone else.  The evidence here in Wisconsin is clear. 

What does that have to do with events in Chicago and public education in general?  Maybe because public schools are the place that most of the poorest and most at-risk students reside.  By cutting public education and safety nets that support our poorest families, conservatives place more pressure on school systems and create a crisis in education that they can exploit.

Educators are being portrayed as part of the economic elite and being painted as villains who are holding poor children hostage.  Articles that emphasize the average wage of a Chicago teacher clearly are designed to drive this point home.  Yet, $75,000 a year isn't a number that is in the same economic class as those who stand to profit from privatizing schools.  Why compare a teacher's salary to the wages that student's families make and not compare what educators compensation is to an education CEO?

It's About Truly Supporting Public Education
Public education is a vital resource for our nation's long term health.  Very few of the  political elite understand this and even fewer truly support public education in a way that allows for it to thrive and provide for our neediest students.  Most politicians have fallen for the conservative talking points and support the reforms that actually damage our public education system.  

Rahm Emanuel has been a part of Obama's administration and reflects the views that have been expressed by both Democrats and Republicans alike.  In fact this quote about Emanuel could easily be said about Governor Walker or other conservative leaders.  "Emanuel will tell you that he knew what was wrong with Chicago's public schools and was determined to change it, because that's what strong leaders do."

The greatest strength of labor, the middle and working class lies in our solidarity and support for each other.  Divided, we have little power, but together we are strong.  Chicago's educators supported Wisconsin's fight and we need to return the favor.    

The Labor Movement is at a Pivotal Point
All the recent attacks on worker's rights have left labor reeling and on the defensive.  We can't continue to defend ourselves and face a losing battle unless we take the offensive.  We need to change the prevailing opinion of the general public and make them understand what the struggle is about.  Educators are probably the most potent force the labor movement has (based on unionized membership and the attacks from the right) and must step up their efforts to publicize the positive aspects of organized labor.  

Educator unions are unfairly portrayed as obstacles to reform when the reality is quite different.  Conservatives are using proxies like Juan Rangel, CEO of a profitable charter school chain- United Neighborhood Organization, to attack public educators.  

Education Reform as Weapon
The movement to "reform" public education is in reality a "back-door" method of destroying the system is supposedly "saves".  Chicago's educators are standing up for a view of education that goes beyond testing and other "reforms".  Class size, providing access to the arts, diversifying curriculum, providing services like nursing and social work in the schools are all issues that the CTU is promoting.  Without these services and programming it is difficult to see how students can receive an education that will serve them in their future lives.     

The director of the school where Rahm Emanuel sends his own children agrees with the Chicago public educators.  A couple of quotes from the following article…

"Physical education, world languages, libraries and the arts are not frills. They are an essential piece of a well-rounded education,” wrote University of Chicago Lab School Director David Magill on the school's website in February 2009.

Writing on the University of Chicago’s Lab School website two years ago, Magill noted, “Measuring outcomes through standardized testing and referring to those results as the evidence of learning and the bottom line is, in my opinion, misguided and, unfortunately, continues to be advocated under a new name and supported by the current [Obama] administration.”

Meanwhile, Here in Wisconsin…
While we turn our attention towards supporting educators in Chicago we face our own struggles at home.  A recent development gives us significant hope, but of course we know that the legal battles aren't over with this single ruling (on appeal we can probably assume what our state's Supreme Court will rule).  We have learned that it is only through our vigilance and action that we can maintain our rights.  We can celebrate now, but can't afford to think the struggle is over. 

There has been significant damage done to public school systems across the state that will be difficult to undo in the near future.  Restoring collective bargaining won't restore the cuts to education funding.  It is also tough to see exactly how to return different district's contracts to pre-Act 10 status.  Undoing a law that shouldn't have been done in the first place forces everyone (except for the guilty parties, Walker and the Republican legislators) to scramble and try to sort out the mess that they created.  I repeat the quote from a favorite author, Robin Hobb, who wrote, "Don't do what you can't undo until you've considered what you can't do once you've done it."  By creating an unfair law, and forcing school districts to implement it, Walker has set the stage for turmoil.  Turmoil that he will use a justification for keeping the law in place and to criticize the ruling.

Here in Madison, our school board is beginning to take on the issue of developing an employee handbook.  While the recent court ruling may impact the need for a handbook, the whole process has been enlightening for many union members.  We are beginning to see just how important our collective bargaining rights and the agreements that come from them really are.  Only public educators can effectively represent public educators and our students.  We can't allow others, even friendly others, to be our voice.     

Attacks on Education are Attacks on Educators…
No matter what the results of our struggles are, there has been significant damage done to the morale of public educators.  We have been blamed for our state's economic woes, called lazy and incompetent and seen a job that is an integral part of our identities devalued and maligned.  We have been told that we don't care about our students and that we don't want to be accountable for the work that we do.  Our economic survival has been threatened and many of us find ourselves struggling to make ends meet.  These attacks have been carried out on a personal level as well as on a larger scale and have impacted educators in countless ways.  We are left questioning ourselves and our profession.   

All of this has been done for a variety of reasons, not all of them out of malice.  Some "reformers" believe that they are actually improving public education.  Unfortunately, the results are often the same as the "for profit" reforms pushed by corporate interests. 

"TFA goals derive, in theory, from laudable—if misguided—impulses. But each, in practice, has demonstrated to be deeply problematic. TFA, suitably representative of the liberal education reform more generally, underwrites, intentionally or not, the conservative assumptions of the education reform movement: that teacher’s unions serve as barriers to quality education; that testing is the best way to assess quality education; that educating poor children is best done by institutionalizing them; that meritocracy is an end-in-itself; that social class is an unimportant variable in education reform; that education policy is best made by evading politics proper; and that faith in public school teachers is misplaced."

What we see is a continuing pattern where those in power attempt to "help" those who are not part of the decision making, powerful elite.  Instead of forming partnerships with each other groups those who have power force others to fit their "mold".  Educators often find themselves stuck between the different tiers of society and not a real part of either.  

It is so difficult to find products to purchase that come from companies that have policies that support human rights for all.  Yet, by asking companies to become more transparent in their interactions around the world we can at least see more of the connections that will allow us to make informed purchases that promote our values.  

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