CHICAGO – Protesting what their union has called an ‘unfair and uncompetitive’ compensation package, Chicago Teachers walked off the job Monday, leaving hundreds of thousands of students out of the classroom. “It’s about respect and dignity,” said union spokesperson Debbie Mitchell, on a call from her downtown office Tuesday morning. “To think we have 23 year old, entry level teachers making only $49,000 a year, when all they can expect is 14 weeks vacation, a pension, benefits, and guaranteed lifetime employment; it’s insulting.” When asked whether she was concerned about worsening student achievement among low income communities, Mitchell was forthright. “Oh, no doubt. We’ve got some dumb kids. Future janitors and drug dealers, most of them.”
A particular sticking point in ongoing negotiations between the City and the CTU is over what role standardized testing of student achievement should play in determining teacher compensation and advancement, with some going as far as to suggest abolishing the concept of teacher tenure. “I think it gets to the fundamental point of academic freedom,” said Steven Lipschtein, a lawyer, and chief negotiator for the teachers. “Teacher tenure exists to protect educators from wanton dismissal, in situations where school administrators might object to say, their area of research. For instance, think of the 2nd grade teacher, who dares to suggest the idea that Peter Pan is a metaphor for cocaine addiction? Or that James’s giant peach was really just a pretty big peach? Tenure is more necessary now than ever.”
Speaking on behalf of teachers themselves, 5th grade English teacher Dr. Beatrice Simmons suggested that updates to the curriculum may be necessary if the student achievement gap is to be reduced. “I think the first thing we need to put on the table,” said Simmons, “is rethinking, for example, the English language itself. These kids, you would not believe how little they know. For 30 years I’ve tried teaching the traditional distinctions between ‘two, too, and to’ and to a child, not a one ever gets it. So I just stopped. Told them we’d all switched to using ‘2’. I can’t tell you, it was a load off of my mind.” Simmons, who has a PhD in English, and wrote her dissertation on erotic feminist literature in Francoist Spain, believes her approach may have a more widespread application in teaching in general. “Imagine if children weren’t burdened with having to know why flowers bloom or where stars go during the day? There’d be no limit to how well they could do.”
One group particularly impacted by the strike has been parents, who have been scrambling to find last minute weekday child care. Speaking from a counter-protest in Grant Park, a crowd of parents were united in their disappointment in the teachers’ decision. “Our kids need to learn!” said one woman. “And we don’t mean so they can get into college; we mean so they can stay out of jail. THEY DON’T KNOW ANYTHING.”
As of writing, a deal had yet to be reached. The strike goes into its third day Wednesday.