dagNotes: Why Penny Pritzker is Important (Chicago Teachers Strike)
We must first consider what Penny Pritzker wants for her children and the children of parents, like her (Rahm Emanuel), who can afford private education: well-funded and resourced libraries, useful arts and music programs, good gyms and physical education, new facilities with the latest technologies, computer labs with enough working and up-to-date computers for the annual class-load, texts for every student, well-equipped and healthy cafeterias, and the best, most-educated, pedagogically progressive teachers a school could desire. We must second be willing to admit that Penny Pritzker does not think these things are a priority for Chicago Public School parents, teachers and students. You might believe this is a bit harsh, a little too mean, maybe even an unfair claim. It’s not. The problem with her involvement in public school reform is cultural.
What she wants for “those” people—and believe me that’s how she thinks about public school students, teachers, and parents—is a degraded form of what her privileged community can access. This degraded school is The Charter School. Charter schools don’t work as well as the kinds of private schools rich kids’ parents can afford. Why not? They are not fully-funded. I argue this under-funding and lack of resources is by design. The parents don’t have the time and money to fund and dedicate themselves to organizing the schools. The students still live in the problem neighborhoods, with problem cops, and often problem homes. The teachers are still under-paid and not provided with the best resources and appropriate materials. Nor do they have job security. People like Penny Pritzker know about these problems, but they also believe that they know how best to advise under-privileged people and their under-developed communities how *they* should work to earn what she already possesses.
What’s different at charter schools? Well, they’re pseudo-public schools that pretend to provide the benefits of an idealized—imaginary—private-school education. They can fire teachers and drop students who aren’t meeting oppressive standards they had no stake in implementing. In spite of rigging the system to look successful to the best of their abilities—the ability to get rid of low-performing students and teachers who don’t meet benchmarks—charter schools fail to live up to their missions all over the country.
Penny Pritzker wants poor kids to have schools that aim to reflect the kinds of private schools she admires. Why the need for the struggle and aim as imprecise as it happens to be? Because rich people believe they have earned their ambition and that poor people have yet to prove they are worth it. This isn’t to say Penny Pritzker and people like her don’t think she’s doing the right thing and being a good citizen. She does think so. People think she’s a blessing to the world. Believe me. She throws money at all sorts of things. It’s just that she’s wrong. And it’s our responsibility to keep this in mind and insure that people like her aren’t the ones setting our education agenda. Penny Pritzker shouldn’t be on a school board and engaged in curriculum development. She has not earned the right to help create educational policy.
Let’s be clear: teachers’ unions with all their complex problems and yes, even bureaucracy, are what we should get behind. This strike, the first in 25 years, is important because these are the people—the teachers and their students—who have a stake in the successful operation of public schools. They are not catering to the textbook industry, the corporate educational reform movement and its CEOs, the charter school movement, parents, and politicians. They are engaged with and within the classroom. They necessarily provide the tension we need when negotiating educational reform.
And now they are in the streets because citizens tend to afford rich people like Penny Pritzker the respect and ambition they have not earned and tend to distrust workers. Workers here are Students and Teachers.
(revised and edited)