Here’s what we should have learned from the Chicago Teachers Strike –
We depend on our teachers for our civilized society to function. Period. And we should all thank the Chicago teachers for the stark reminder.
Public school teachers don’t just teach our kids. They make it possible for parents to go to work. They keep the crime rate down. They give kids a place to go and be productive. They help instill character, responsibility and empathy in our young people. They keep young kids safe. Public school teachers bring order to society. What is that worth to you and me?
After just one week off the job, Chicago was openly worrying that their city would explode in a crime wave. Parents, who depend on schools to take care of their kids so they can go to work, were worrying about losing their jobs or how to get emergency child care. Hundreds of thousands of kids were looking for somewhere safe to go.
Despite Mayor Rahm’s attempts to blame all of this on the teachers by calling their strike a “threat to public health and safety” it was pretty clear that parents were unified with the teachers. He was right about one thing – when our teachers aren’t on the job society begins to fall apart.
During the strike, right wingers and their mouthpieces in the press repeated the talking point that “Chicago teachers are some of the highest paid in the country” to make them look greedy. What do some of the highest paid teachers make? $76,000 a year. That amount is shocking to me – shocking in just how damn low it is. Is $76,000 a year the market value between order and chaos?
We have been subjected to years of propaganda from the right wing that has aggressively painted public school teachers as greedy, lazy, careless and incompetent. It is everywhere – the mainstream and rightwing press, in TV ads, in political speechifying. There is a large network of well-funded “think tanks” in this country whose entire purpose is to destroy public education - and the reality is they can’t do that without breaking the bond all of us have with our school teachers. That’s why they’ve put teachers in the crosshairs. Besides our family, teachers and schools are the biggest constant in our lives when we’re growing up.
Every one of us who has grown up to lead half way productive lives owe that to at least two things – strong parents and/or great teachers. And in many cases, it is our public school teachers who have helped steer kids on the right path when their family has been unable to do it.
My wife is a child and family therapist who works mostly with foster kids whose parents are drug addicts, abusive or both. The kids she works with, as early as five years old, already show signs of falling behind and/or anti-social behavior. I have become convinced that the biggest problem in our country – the root of just about all of our social problems - is the failure of parents to live up to their responsibilities to their kids. And the failure of our country to support parents. Teachers are the back stops - the last line of defense for these kids.
Without teachers, we would spend far more on prisons, public assistance, drug & alcohol treatment and health care than we do today. Instead of lamenting how much we spend on teachers, we should thank them for saving all of us money in the long run.
Here in Portland, we have a thriving public school system that is deeply rooted in our community and crosses socio-economic and ethnic lines. We send over 80% of our kids to public schools. With that many kids attending our public schools, just stop and think about the faith, responsibility and value we place in our teachers.
Ask yourself, what are they worth to our city, which aspires to be great? I say they are priceless.