Tuesday, September 25, 2012

I Am the Lorax

The CTU strike of 2012 was an eye-opening experience in many ways. I've reaffirmed that I'm not cut out to be a teacher (how do homeschoolers do it??), that I still hate summer, and that Mitt Romney is an asshat who is out of touch with reality of 98 percent of the population. I also learned some new things--some of which may have a devastating effect on my faith in humanity.

Over the summer, I read a series of books written by Rosalind Wiseman. The subject of them was primarily about girl bullying, but they also dealt with the societal pressures on girls and women not to show anger or true feelings that may be seen as "bad" by society at large. Wiseman made a rather salient point about how social media and mobile phones have changed the face of bullying since I went through elementary school in the 1980s.

They've also changed the face of organizational movements, as parents or other individuals fed up by large groups' inability to act quickly in response to _____ banded together to add their voices to the fray. Indeed, this is how Raise Your Hand got started in March 2010. Raise Your Hand got its start in advocating for fair funding of Chicago schools; to support its advocacy in this, it has launched two campaigns: a push for an elected representative school board (ERSB) and a statewide effort to introduce a progressive income tax.

In some ways, Raise Your Hand's efforts seem like a bypass/doubling of those of Parents United for Responsible Education (PURE), which began in 1987 in response to the last CPS teachers' strike. And in some ways, PURE's efforts seem like a bypass or doubling up of the efforts of the Illinois Congress of Parents and Teachers -- aka PTA. It's not widely known among Internet-savvy parents, but PTA has been building relationships with CPS in an advisory role since 1996 with the creation of the PTA Advisory Council. Like RYH and PURE, the PTA's nonprofit status prohibits the organization from taking a position on labor negotiations.

During the Karen Lewis-Rahm Emanuel standoff, another group, calling itself Chicago Students First, launched, urging parents to make their voices heard. I find it somewhat amusing that hundreds of parents who were pissed off that they had to actually pay for childcare because the teachers had the audacity to band together to fight for what they believed in...banded together to do the same.

Presumably, some parents (although I don't know who they are) also support the efforts of groups like Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) and Stand for Children, although I believe these groups are PACs with nonprofit arms.
How many groups are we up to? But wait, there is one more -- CPS's own Office of Family and Community Engagement (FACE), which employs 17 area/network directors, each with a number of FACE officers under him or her. The FACE officers I've met all have extensive backgrounds in community organizing.

So there are seven organizations that I know about. Seven groups purporting to advocate for me as a parent. Yeesh. Although I admire these groups for banding together, I kind of feel like having so many groups to "speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues" dilutes the message. Parents want a seat at the table, but who gets to sit in it? Shouldn't that person or group be democratically elected or chosen? Otherwise, what's the difference between Matt Farmer and Penny Pritzker?

At my kids' school--and as I suspect was true at many other schools--the strike was a deeply polarizing issue among parents. There were those that baked cookies and visited the teachers on the picket line, those that protested the picket line, and those who fell in every place in between. If that can happen at one very successful Northside school, how can anyone reasonably speak for all parents? As school resumed, I read many Facebook statuses that asked their fellow parents to remain mindful of what we have in common rather than what divides us. I hope that all parents in Chicago can remember that.

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