Fighting the Bully on the Playground
Chicago teachers are finally standing up to their school bully: Rahm Emanuel.
In 5th grade, I was new in school and got bullied by a mean kid named Josh. He used language I had never heard before, was unusually harsh and abrasive in his taunts, and was slightly smaller than I was. I always dreaded the walk home from school every day, because Josh walked the same route I did for half of it, and always made an effort to intimidate or belittle me. One day, on the playground, I decided I had had enough of Josh, and pushed him into the dirt in front of all the other kids, bloodied his nose, and left him crying. I ended up getting detention that day, but Josh stopped being a bully.
In Chicago, Rahm Emanuel has been determined to prove his toughness to any news camera willing to give him attention, whether it was through bullying Occupy Chicago with constant threats of arrest from his police department before the NATO summit, or responding to negotiations from Karen Lewis, the president of the Chicago Teachers Union by saying, “fuck you, Lewis.” He has demanded teachers work 20% more per week with only 2% more pay, and cuts in school budgets to the point where teacher layoffs have led to a swell in class size in Chicago. Rahm aims to deprive classrooms of even the most basic necessities like air conditioning during summer classes, and to cheapen education by insisting it conform to outdated and irrelevant standardized testing models. Yet if any teachers threatened to strike, Rahm the bully immediately accused them of depriving the kids of their education.
So this week, Chicago teachers clad in red bloodied their bully’s nose by pouring into the streets by the tens of thousands in downtown Chicago, with overwhelming support from not just passing Chicagoans giving a honk or two, but in recent opinion polls of the general public. And big bad Rahm is now crying to as many press conferences as possible, smarting from the blow dealt to him by the teachers’ union and whining about them shutting down schools and most of the city, while still refusing to accept teachers’ more than reasonable demands. Rahm’s argument is that the city is broke, and he reacted by shifting much of the burden to schools.
In the budget plan he presented last year, Rahm shifted pension costs away from taxpayers to Chicago Public Schools, who are already in dire financial straits. Chicago schools won’t get the funding they need until Gov. Pat Quinn’s proposal to double state income tax rates for those making more than $250,000 a year from 3% to 6%. The $1.15 billion raised would ease the burden of those who pay property taxes, which account for 63% of school funding in Illinois, and also provide an additional $277 per student. It isn’t much, but it’s a start. Illinois needs to come to terms with the fact that having one of the nation’s most regressive tax systems isn’t sustainable.
Until that happens, Rahm should remember what matters most in Chicago: the kids. Kids can’t learn in classrooms of 40 or more other kids, rendering a teacher little more than a babysitter. Kids can’t learn in a classroom where it’s 98 degrees outside and there’s no air conditioning. Kids can’t learn in classrooms where there aren’t enough books for each student.
But there is one bright side. Until Rahm the bully stops picking on the teachers, the kids are getting a great lesson in how effective nonviolent direct action can be, and how invigorating it is to stand up to those who try to keep you down.