By John Bachtell
That’s the immediate reaction to the vote to close 50 schools by the Chicago Public Schools Board of Education (BOE) on May 22. The BOE voted unanimously for Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan, in reality a continuation of the same policy dating back 20 years.
There was never much doubt about the outcome by the deaf, rubberstamp BOE. It is after all an unelected, unaccountable board appointed by the Mayor and composed of corporate CEOs, millionaires and billionaires.
The closures are the largest in US history and follow similar closures based on similar policies in Philadelphia, Detroit, Cleveland, Sacramento and other school systems.
The closures are a direct outcome of a corporate “market based” approach to public education. No longer are educators in charge of public education, but corporate executives, CEO, millionaires and billionaires who are looting public education and turning it into a profit making venture.
Such an approach involves creating a two tier public educational system, one for the wealthy, which gets showered with abundant funding and resources, a rich curriculum, small class sizes and experienced educators.
And the other is reserved for working class and children of color, which is starved of resources, a bare bones curriculum in which students are considered expendable by society and warehoused accordingly in overcrowded classrooms in dilapidated buildings.
That the policies are patently racist is evidenced by the fact that 90% of children affected are African American. This prompted a lawsuit by CTU that the closures violate the federal Civil Rights Act.
That children with disabilities will be being warehoused and denied funding to address special needs also prompted a similar lawsuit claiming violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Meanwhile the education profession is being destroyed and teachers are becoming merely unskilled low wage classroom managers, easily replaced as they burn out after a couple of years.
The entire system is opened to privatization and looting by Wall Street hedge funds and the likes of billionaires Gates, Waltons, Broads and their ilk.
The BOE approved the plan despite broad based opposition by the Chicago Teachers Union, parents, students and communities around the affected schools and the community at large.
High school and elementary school students boycotted classes and sat-in to protest the plan and joined their teachers, parents and community activists in marching rallying and being arrested in civil disobedience actions.
Emanuel and CPS officials conducted themselves disgracefully throughout the process, presenting shifting reasons for the closures and justifying them on the basis of lies, distortion and omission. When one justification was exposed as a lie, they shamelessly shifted to another.
First it was a billion dollar budget crisis and underutilization. Then it was underutilization and low performance.
Even this was too much for the corporate media mouthpieces like the Chicago Tribune and Sun Times who voiced growing skepticism.
When the expose of the lies became too much, CPS simply imposed a news blackout.
All along they hid the real CPS agenda of privatization.
Those who opposed the closures warned that they would only deepen the education crisis in Chicago; place the children in greater danger of exposure to gang violence; they would mirror past closures and not result in educational gains.
They warned the closures would continue to destroy the fabric of communities that are already reeling from deep poverty and economic crisis.
A school closure is akin to a plant shutdown. It is destruction of human community and public institutions built up over generations from the hard work, blood, sweat and tears and creativity of thousands.
Like a plant shutdown, the consequences are brutal with ripple affects that are widespread and unforeseen. They involve harm to children, families, neighborhoods and the teachers, support personnel, cafeteria workers, maintenance workers and their families – the very fabric of a community.
As CTU president Karen Lewis said “this battle is far from over.” A new movement has already begun in the political arena: register 250,000 voters and unseat Mayor Emanuel and his supporters in city council and pass legislation to establish an elected school board.
To win, such a movement must be far broader than present, reach deeper into the grassroots and go beyond communities so far affected, and unite our multi-racial working class and mobilize the entire labor movement while affectively countering the corporate lies and setting out a vision for the future of public education.
A new national movement for education justice has been born all across the country, to defend public education from those who would destroy it, to end the corporate looting and privatization and to provide a fully funded, equitable public education for all.