Erica Clark, a co-founder of the community organization Parents 4 Teachers, said that she became active after watching her child’s teachers become scapegoats for larger social woes.
“I was fed up with the way I saw teachers being treated by the mayor, by politicians, by CPS,” said Clark. “As a parent, when you’re out badmouthing and disrespecting our teachers, you’re badmouthing and belittling our kids.”
Clark said she hopes “to take the admiration and respect that individual parents feel for teachers—even CPS admits that parents give high marks to their teachers—and translate it into political support so that we’re not just supporting them in the classroom, but out on the streets.”
Helping the teachers win a strong contract is only part of the goal, Clark said. “This is a fight for what education is. Is it a top-down, corporate model that says we should run our schools like a business, or a vision that provides a quality education for all children, no matter who their parents are?”
Several other panelists also directed criticism at the school “reform” effort and its proponents, including Penny Pritzker, the hotel heiress and Chicago school board member whose family’s Hyatt chain the city recently awarded a $5.2 million subsidy to build a hotel in Hyde Park.
“When I hear these detached billionaires who have never been to a public school, have never sent their kids to a public school, force this reform idea on the schools—that’s about shutting them down, privatizing them, and making a profit,” said Michael Brunson, recording secretary for the Chicago Teachers Union.
“We hear the same phrase over and over again. ‘It’s for the kids.’ That’s too often used as a rhetorical prop rather than a true statement,” Brunson said. “I am a parent. I have two children in Chicago Public Schools. I am a teacher. I’ve taught in some of the most challenging areas of the city. How can I do what I do if it’s not for the love of the kids?”
Some of the night’s greatest applause was saved for seven teachers from Madison, Wisconsin, who traveled to the meeting to issue a statement of solidarity. The teachers, members of Madison Teachers Inc., compared conditions locally to those that that resulted in a weeks-long occupation of the Wisconsin capitol building early last year.
“You have been there for us in our struggles,” said one member of the delegation as the others held their picket signs in a row behind her. “Now we are here for you.”
“One of the signs at the state capitol in Wisconsin said ‘The Capitol is my classroom,’” she said. “Everything I learned was printed on a picket sign back in February of 2011.”
A representative of the Letter Carriers Union also pledged union support.
The Chicago Teachers Solidarity campaign was formed earlier this year in anticipation of a fall contract dispute. The group has participated in informational pickets taking place this month outside early-opening Chicago public schools.
Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis filed a ten-day strike notice with the Chicago Public Schools board Wednesday. On Thursday, the union house of delegates chose September 10 as the start day of the strike, should a deal not be reached in the meantime.