Photo by Nathan Keirn
[Editor’s note: On April 1, the Chicago Teachers’ Union is on strike, along with an array of other unions and community groups, for a broad social justice agenda in defense of public schools and all public services. Check our Facebook page and follow Xian Franzinger Barrett on Twitter for updates throughout the day.]
Today I want to be teaching at my southwest side Chicago Brighton Park Elementary School in classroom 235. The vast majority of Chicago teachers and students would rather be in our classrooms teaching and learning together today. We don’t want to lose our paychecks and miss our students. We don’t want to burden parents and families with another missed day.
But we know. In this moment, we know our students and the dreams we share are worth fighting for. We dream of a city where we aren’t treated as second-class citizens by our leaders due to our address or skin color or legal status. We dream of a city where our students grow to be better leaders; leaders of, by and for our communities. We dream of a city where the district doesn’t just cancel days of instruction due to lack of money while siphoning money away from schools to developers or paying other city departments to lock up our students. On a smaller scale, we dream of a city where students don’t have to do without paper and dry erase markers so that CPS CEO Forrest Claypool can send home letters attacking teachers .
And as teachers, we know that students learn most deeply the lessons we inadvertently model rather than what we directly tell them. We know that each day we show up and “just teach” shows our students that we are complicit in a system that gives hundreds of millions of dollars to banks and political cronies while denying kids adequate food or a reasonable class size or access to books.
We know that the promise of “study hard and it will all work out” is a lie when the people trusted with our children’s futures are abruptly cutting off funding for college and forcing repayment of grants with money they don’t have.
We know that students can’t chase their dreams while incarcerated in violent, abusive juvenile prisons .
We know that it hurts our students and community when banks hold thousands of vacant homes and we have tens of thousands of homeless students in our classrooms.
We know that students must be able to return from school to homes supported by a living wage where their basic needs can be cared for.
So today, we stand together. We know if we don’t stand together today to change how money and power flow in Chicago, that there is no bright future. Money and power will continue to flow away from classrooms and mental health clinics and into the pockets of the super-rich.
At a small negotiating table with a few, mostly unelected suits supposedly representing the city but really representing the super rich, sending a team of classroom teachers to win a few salary demands or insurance payments is not enough. We cannot cut the babies in half and stay the course for the next five years.
We need to shift power away from the people who are hurting our students every single day and create a responsible budget that prioritizes their needs for education and stability over the wants of bankers, investors and the super rich.
What does this fight look like?
At our school, it is a morning picket line with parents, students, alumni, educators and community members. Friends and activists are flying in from Portland, Newark, Raleigh, Denver and dozens of other cities to join us. Students are traveling to the juvenile prison to demand its closure and to City Hall to demand a resolution that prioritizes their needs. We are traveling to Chicago State and Northeastern Illinois University to support the call for full funding of higher education.
We are all meeting back up at the Thompson Center State Building downtown, tens of thousands of people strong to take back our city.
And you, wherever you may be, can join this same beautiful struggle in your community.
I hope you will join us and the Progressive today as we share updates from our strike. Please wear red, and tweet with us at #FightforFunding and #CTUStrike.
Let’s fight--not for our leaders to treat our youth and communities better. Let’s fight so that the power is in the hands of the only people who can build our dream society—our students, our communities, ourselves.
It’s vitally important to think of the society, school and people we dream of, not just what we want at this moment. We must teach ourselves to sometimes sacrifice what we want in the moment to fight for the future we need.
It’s one of the most fundamental lessons that the twelve- to fourteen-year-olds I work with every day share with each other.
Sometimes, we’d rather be sleeping than studying the Constitution. Sometimes, we’d rather be discussing what happened on the block than putting our passion to paper or keyboard. But in those moments, it’s worth thinking of the dreams we share. We dream of future lives in the professions we choose and in prosperous communities. We dream of a Chicago filled with young people who have grown up right. We dream of schools and neighborhoods that are supported and rising spring temperatures than aren’t inevitably accompanied by bullets searching for names.
This Friday, April 1, we are modeling this lesson to Chicago Public Schools CEO Forrest Claypool and Mayor Rahm Emanuel. They tell us, “Cross the picket line and teach today for the good of your students.” But we know that, for the good of our students, we must take a stand.