Three days ago, over 25,000 Chicago Public Schools (CPS) teachers walked out of their classrooms to go on strike for the first time in 25 years. As a recent graduate of the CPS system, I spent the last few months of high school watching my fantastic teachers get pushed around by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard’s union-busting agenda. And I’m 100 percent behind my teachers.
Walking around the Yale campus, you would be hard-pressed to find a student from an inner-city public neighborhood school. Most of us are products of private schools or wealthy suburban school districts. But education is meant to be the great equalizer, and it is important that a free, high-quality education be available to all.
But public schools are falling apart all over the country, particularly in Chicago. With budgets squeezed tighter, hundreds of thousands of teachers have been laid off, increasing the burden on those who remain. Neighborhood schools deteriorate as magnet schools and selective-enrollment schools draw away all the top students who are not already in the private school system. Private funders are building for-profit charter schools that drain away public money, wrongly claiming they produce better students.
Instead of supporting public schools when they need it the most, politicians have chosen to demonize the teachers who staff them. These teachers are some of the most under-appreciated, underpaid people in the country. They work long hours past the end of the school day, deal with overcrowded classrooms and make an effort to educate students who sometimes have little capacity to learn, for reasons completely outside the teachers’ control.
Chicago’s teachers are striking to demand fair compensation for the extra ninety minutes they are going to be working every day this year. They are striking for more funding for arts programs, libraries and recess. They are striking for smaller class sizes and air conditioning during the sweltering summers. Far from seeking to line their own pockets, they are striking for their students.
The Chicago Teachers Union’s decision to go on strike and the public support it has received may represent a halt in the recent assault on public sector unions spearheaded by politicians like Scott Walker and Rahm Emanuel. It is possible that the Chicago teachers will pave the way for working people and unions everywhere to regain the power they deserve.
I wish the Chicago teachers, many of whom I credit with getting me where I am today, the best of luck in the upcoming struggles they face. I also hope their actions can alert the rest of the country to the war being waged against working people everywhere. It is time for the working and middle classes to stop allowing politicians and their corporate sponsors to push them around.
I received a phone call from Chicago on Monday from my father, who was marching in solidarity with the teachers downtown. He held up his phone in the air so I could hear the people shouting. Thousands of teachers, parents, students and friends had gathered to march through downtown, shutting down the entire Loop. Teachers in Chicago are angry. Parents in Chicago are angry. And they should be.
This strike is not just about teachers in Chicago. It is about unions and working people across the country. For far too long, their hard work has gone without fair returns. Seeing familiar faces in the television and newspaper coverage of the strike gives me an overwhelming sense of pride for the school system that got me where I am today. I am proud to be a product of the public school teachers who are out walking the picket line.
Diana Rosen is a freshman in Pierson College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.