Chicago Teachers Union executives have spent weeks whipping their members into a froth over this Friday’s planned classroom walkout.
They’ve stoked members’ anger over Chicago Public Schools’ bid to phase out a generous pension deal the near-bankrupt district can no longer afford.
They’ve whipped passions over the district’s decision to order furlough days because of a huge budget shortfall, and over its move to withhold a category of raises that’s based on teachers gaining further education and experience.
Still, the vote in the union’s House of Delegates to authorize the April 1 strike was a lopsided but far from unanimous 486-124.
That’s 124 union officials rejecting their leadership’s proposed one-day strike. That’s a big contingent of CTU delegates saying no, let’s teach our students that Friday, not spend the day brandishing banners and hollering slogans in the Loop for … what?
The hastily planned, unfocused Day of Tantrum that union leaders demand evokes a famous line in the 1953 movie classic “The Wild One.” Motorcycle gang leader Marlon Brando is asked what he’s rebelling against. “What have you got?” he retorts.
For those 124 union reps to stand against CTU leaders took courage. We applaud those delegates. We also hope their refusal to bow to leadership’s student-cheating stunt will spread through Chicago classrooms. Most of all we hope they’ll be working April 1 at their schools, teaching Chicago students who need all the guidance they can get.
Yes, 80 percent of members voting for a wildcat strike is impressive. But not as impressive as the 88 percent of eligible members who in December authorized union leaders to call a strike. This is a union usually in lockstep with President Karen Lewis. “This house is ready and united,” Lewis said after last week’s vote.
Is that so? Or, come Friday, will some gutsy educators put their classroom service to Chicago’s children first? Will they defy their fellow members, and rebel against misguided leadership, perhaps by crossing picket lines?
That is, if they feel a need to protest, will they do so after they’ve devoted the workday to the kids who rely on them?
Extrapolate for a moment that 4-1 vote ratio across the district. The CTU says it has 25,000 active members but not all are educators. If the dissenters were paying more than lip service and if that ratio holds, some 4,400 of the district’s 22,000 teachers would show up for class and teach students on April 1, instead of heeding the union call to “Shut It Down.”
Why shut it down, the “it” evidently being Chicago? The CTU’s stated motivation keeps changing. One sensible voice amid all the noise:
“No effective teacher gives an assessment to students without explaining what success looks like,” writes CPS teacher Ray Salazar on his blog, The White Rhino. “Yet we still cannot consistently — as rank-and-file members — communicate what policy or social or political changes will indicate success on April 1. … An effective educator knows the pulse of his or her classroom. Yet … the pulse of the rank-and-file membership seemed discounted.”
Last week, after the vote, Lewis acknowledged the frustrations of members who question the strike. Some don’t want to lose a day’s pay; some are concerned about students who soon will start Advanced Placement testing.
Lewis conceded that some educators may cross picket lines. “We’re hoping that between now and April 1 we’ll have a chance to talk to them,” she said. She was asked if those teachers who go to work Friday would be labeled “scabs.”
“Can we not call people names yet?” she said, according to Catalyst Chicago. “They haven’t done anything yet.”
Talk fast, Ms. Lewis. You haven’t made a compelling case to a significant chunk of your membership that this walkout is a smart move. You haven’t told the educators how this will help students.
Because everyone knows it won’t.
Those 124 dubious members also can do some talking. They can convince their colleagues that shutting classrooms out of pique at district CEO Forrest Claypool, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Gov. Bruce Rauner and … “What have you got?” … is shameful. That teaching kids is their calling and should be their priority.
Eventually, educators will get a new contract. They’ll get raises and perks.
But children won’t get back the day teachers rejected them. What kids miss can’t be regained.
Call the grown-ups who come to work “scabs,” Ms. Lewis?
No. Call them Chicago teachers.
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