hatever the outcome ultimately of the Chicago Teachers Strike, teachers around the country are going to face the future with new pride and confidence. After ten years of being attacked and held up to ridicule by an incredible cross section of the nation’s leaders — ranging from politicians to editorial writers to business leaders to talk show hosts and Hollywood film personalities — teachers have shown they have the power to shut down a large urban school system and have the support of many parents and students in the process.
Not only do the images of tens of thousands of teachers marching through the streets of Chicago have inspirational power, so does the brilliant commentary of strike leader Karen Lewis, who has eloquently portrayed the teachers fight against school closings and high stakes testing as a battle for the future of Chicago’s children.
At a time when teachers around the country increasingly work under extreme stress, not only from policies which evaluatee their performance on the basis of student tests scores, but from the daily battering they take in the press and the broadcast media, Chicago teachers have shown the way, not only to force changes in policy, but to create a new narrative about what is really going on in the nation’s schools, one that puts the onus on reformers for policies which raise class size, eliminate music art and sports, and undermine the role of schools as centers of community life.
In the long run, putting that narrative into the center of the nation’s discourse may be as important as the show of power. Chicago teachers have put forth a vision of schools as places where students talents should be nurtured in all their variety, not confined to testable components, and where the views of students, parents and community members should be determinative when the fate of neighborhood schools is decided.
They have not only decisively shattered the image of union teachers as selfish timeservers protecting the incompetent, which the Reform movement has used to justify its policies, they have raised the question of what education should look like in a democratic society, and show the Reform policies to be ones that offer public school students a kind of rote learning which they would never allow their own children to endure.
This article first appeared at LAProgressive.com