In response to school closures, a new movement is born

Mindless destruction.

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 U.S. history and follow similar closures based on similar policies in Philadelphia, Detroit, Cleveland, Sacramento, and other school systems.

The vote was a direct outcome of a corporate “market based” approach to public education. No longer are educators in charge of public education. Now big business is in charge and they’re 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.

The other, reserved for the working class and children of color, is starved of resources, has a bare bones curriculum in which students are considered expendable and warehoused accordingly in overcrowded classrooms in dilapidated buildings.

That the policies are patently racist is evidenced by the fact that 90 percent of children affected are African American. This prompted a lawsuit by the Chicago Teachers Union that the closures violate the federal Civil Rights Act.

That children with disabilities will be 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, Walton, Broad 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, and place the children in greater danger of exposure to gang violence. In addition advocates warned shutting school doors 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 institutions built up over generations from the hard work, blood, sweat and tears and creativity of thousands.

As CTU President Karen Lewis said, “This battle is far from over.” A new movement has already begun in the political arena to 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 effectively 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. Chicago is on the frontlines of this fight.

Photo: Seth Perlman/AP


John Bachtell
John Bachtell

John Bachtell is president of Long View Publishing Co., the publisher of People's World. He served as national chair of the Communist Party USA from 2014 to 2019. He is a regular writer for People's World, and active in electoral, labor, environmental, and social justice struggles. He grew up in Ohio, Pittsburgh, and Albuquerque and attended Antioch College. He currently lives in Chicago where he is an avid swimmer, cyclist, runner, and dabbler in guitar and occasional singer in a community chorus.