Solidarity With Chicago Teachers: For the Schools (and Art) Our Kids Deserve!
We, the artists, activists and cultural workers of the Occupy Chicago Rebel Arts Collective, wish to state our full and enthusiastic support for the Chicago Teachers Union. We offer our solidarity to the teachers of Chicago in their struggle for their jobs, and to provide the education that Chicago’s kids deserve. As artists, we understand that education can play a crucial role in the creation and evolution of art. Without teachers and well-funded schools, there is no education.
Recently, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) released next year’s budget. It is little more than a scorched-earth policy that declares war on a unionized workforce and, despite all of Rahm’s pious rhetoric, the children of Chicago. Arts and music programs? Gone, or at the very least severely whittled down. Libraries in schools? Suddenly a luxury.
This goes hand-in-hand with the overall attack on teachers’ basic rights and the quality of our schools. If Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard have their way then tenure for teachers will be abolished, along with any job security. The insulting offer of a two percent raise—which won’t even compensate for inflation—will be standard. And the turnarounds and charter takeovers will continue apace, in essence placing our schools and our children’s schooling into the hands of private education companies.
How is it that, in Emanuel’s words, an eighteen percent pay raise is “not tethered to reality,” and yet the notorious Tax Increment Financing schemes that drain untold millions from the city’s coffers is reasonable? How is it that the city of Chicago was with one hand willing to move every mountain for the NATO summit and shut down libraries, field houses and arts programs with the other? It is Emanuel who has become “un-tethered,” not the Chicago Teachers Union.
As artists, we believe in unconditional defense of people’s right to art. Nobody can deny that a lively and robust artistic scene is crucial to any healthy society. This is reflected in the CTU’s own words and actions. In their pamphlet “The Schools Chicago’s Children Deserve,” the union names the arts as a crucial part of education:
A report of international studies on the impact of arts education revealed several benefits from arts programs. Arts education was found to:
• Improve students’ aesthetic development and appreciation of the arts
• Enhance children’s self-awareness, self-confidence and acceptance of others
• Increase class attendance and significantly lower drop-out rates
• Promote enthusiasm, motivation and engagement in learning
• Improve student behaviors in terms of greater motivation to read, awakening of student interest and emotional growth
• Develop interpersonal skills such as teamwork, tolerance, and appreciation of diversity in people and ideas
• Enhance academic attitude and aspiration
And yet, the suits who run the Chicago Public Schools have shown time and again that they believe the arts—as well as education itself—to be a privilege more than a right. In the administration’s attack on public school teachers over the past several years, arts and music teachers have often been the first laid off.
Currently, there are roughly 140 schools in Chicago lacking an arts or music program. This number is already unacceptable, but it’s even more criminal when one considers that 120 of them are on the South Side! This puts on display not only the brazen contempt that Emanuel, Brizard and company have for poor and working people, but their utter indifference to combatting racial inequality in our city.
This is, once again, part of a broader set of shameful disparities in our public school system. It is impossible to separate inadequate access to arts from the over-crowded class sizes, from the extreme segregation between student bodies, from the fact that a grand total of 202 school nurses are expected to take care of the kids in 684 schools!
By contrast, the CTU are demanding that our schools be given decent funding, that they not be placed in private hands, that education not be chalked up to skewed and biased standardized tests. They are demanding that teachers be given the resources (including decent pay) needed to make sure our kids have smaller class sizes, adequate supplies and a safe, healthy learning environment. They have also, to the Rebel Arts Collective’s great pleasure, launched a campaign demanding arts and music teachers in every school!
To us, the formulation is simple: if you want your kids to have arts and music in schools, you support the CTU. And so, we wish to enthusiastically and emphatically restate our steadfast solidarity with the teachers of Chicago in their fight for a decent living and better schools. We reject the base attacks on teachers and the opportunistic manipulation of our children’s futures.
The Rebel Arts Collective will do everything within its reach to support this struggle. We will put on events and fundraisers publicizing the cause. We will work with arts and music teachers to make sure the real facts continue to reach the public. And if there is a strike, we will proudly walk the picket lines and urge our fellow artists to do the same. As always, the question remains: which side are you on?