"For me, the most important lesson
[of the Freedom Movement] is that by respecting the fact that fellow activists could passionately disagree over strategy and tactics—yet remain allies—they strengthened SNCC and the Movement as a whole."
From Bruce Hartford's article in the current issue of Urban Habitat.
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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Chicago Teachers' Strike

In reading the New York Times' editorial and articles on the Chicago Teacher's strike, I was particularly struck by the following contradiction:
  • The lead editorial argued: "What stands out about this strike, however, is that the differences between the two sides were not particularly vast, which means that this strike was unnecessary."
  • The article analysing the dispute, however, had the following as it's second paragraph: " At stake are profound policy questions about how teachers should be granted tenure, promoted or fired, as well as the place standardized tests will have in the lives of elementary and high school students."
Either the editors don't read the articles in their own paper or don't believe that "vast" and "profound" are synonyms.

The NYT Editors argue that since "half the states" already require teachers to be evaluated (to varying degrees) by standardized test scores, the Chicago teachers are fighting against the historical trend.  In other words, this kind of evaluation is foretold -- it is written, so stop fighting against it UNNECESSARILY!

It is this very argument that bothers the likes of Civil Rights Veterans like Bruce Hartford.  One of Bruce's favorite quotations is from Bayard Rustin to whom Bruce attributes the following: "History is not an accident, it is a choice."  In a short essay, A Hundred Years of Nonviolent, Bruce provides evidence to support Rustin's claim.

Rustin was expressing a sentiment that has long been understood by all those who fight against tyranny.  For example, Frederick Douglass' famously argued that "If there is no struggle there is no progress....Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will."
“Let me give you a word on the philosophy of reform. The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims, have been born of earnest struggle. If there is no struggle there is no progress. This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to — and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”
—Frederick Douglass, “The Significance of Emancipation in the West Indies”
(August 3, 1857)
Employers and school districts have been using standardized tests to sort the pool of workers for over a hundred years.  Only since 1989, however, have business leaders wanted to attach "high stakes" to these scores.  Teachers conceded to focusing their teaching to the tests during the last 20 years.  When I was trying to organize teachers, parents and students against the implementation of High Stakes Testing in 2000, the vast majority of teachers didn't feel they could stop the implementation of that policy and gave in.  Now, they are upset that the test scores are being applied to them and "half the states" have forced concessions from teachers.  Chicago teachers have decided to draw a line in the sand saying enough is enough.  This may inspire teachers in other cities to join in pushing back.  But this will only happen successfully if teachers can form coalitions with parents by agreeing to a new vision of what the public schools should be all about.

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