[This OP-ED was written in response to another opinion piece posted on NBCLatino. Opinion: At Chicago's teacher strike, no one is thinking about the children]
As a working class Dominican-American who was born and raised in New York City, I have been involved with our public school system for most of my life. I was a public school student from kindergarten through college, as well as an active parent, and now work as a middle school teacher. The one thing that I have consistently seen over the years is the pervasive institutional racism. From my own experience and from my research on educational practices and outcomes I can say that our educational system is tracked and tiered in a way that guarantees that many poor and working class youth of color, especially African-American and Latinos, will not be successful.
In the suburbs of middle class America, we have something called school boards where parents make decisions concerning the curriculum, hiring practices, and everything else that involves the education and wellbeing of their children. In the 1960s when people of color, primarily African-American and Puerto Rican parents, with the support of progressive “white” parents, tried to exercise this same right in the schools in our neighborhoods we were called anti-Semites and separatists. The battle for Community Control ended with the decentralization of New York City public schools and the ascendancy of Albert Shanker and the United Federation of Teachers as the victors.
Instead of having popular control, in which parents and communities work collaboratively with educators, we are being placed under the management of charter school boards and our taxes are being funneled into the coffers of corporate America. Last year, students in New York State took state exams that were designed more for the benefit of corporate testing companies than for the needs of our children. The infamous “Pineapple Gate” scandal, in which students were given an English Language Arts exam that included choices that did not make sense and would not be counted in their grade, clearly illustrates this point.
There is at least one bright spot in this era of catering to corporate America and the public school privatizers. If we look at the demands of the educators’ strike in Chicago we will notice that they tried to work within the framework of building educator and community strength. Their strike was not an attempt to weaken parent and community power but an attempt to defend public education and their membership, while building unity with our communities. The parents in Chicago understood this and that’s why a majority of them, polled by Capitol Fax, supported the strike.
The highest level of support for the strike comes from the African-American community,with a 63 percent approval rating, and from the Latino community, at 65 percent approval rating. Together, these two communities account for 86 percent of the students in the Chicago Public Schools. At the end of this strike, we can clearly see that the CTU and parents have strengthened their alliance. For the time being they have slowed the attempt by education “reformers” to privatize Chicago schools and destroy the ability of educators and parents to fight back.
Mark A. Torres, MA, Chair of the People Power Movement-Movimiento Poder Popular, and Teacher at the Frederick Douglass Academy 5 public middle school in the Bronx, New York.