We’ll defend Chicago schools

March 28, 2013

As Mayor Rahm Emanuel announces the planned closure of dozens of Chicago public schools--the bulk of them in Black and Latino neighborhoods--teachers, students and parents are coming together to build opposition to this recent assault.

In the Pilsen neighborhood, community members gathered on March 23 for a public forum titled "The Fight to Save Our Schools" to hear speakers including a student from Benito Juarez High School, a teacher and representatives from the Pilsen Alliance and the International Socialist Organization. Here, we reprint a speech by one of the panelists, activist and former CPS student Maritere Silva.

THE CHICAGO Teachers Union (CTU) strike back in September has infused confidence into communities across the city. Parents, teachers, students and community activists have been collectively fighting the closings of dozens of schools in Chicago. We have shown that we have power if we stand up and fight back, but the fight is not over. There are still 61 schools on the list of closures. So the fight to keep our schools open is still a vital one in our communities.

The corporate regime across the country has made it their goal to turn public education into a for-profit business. It's not to improve our education system, which is how they are trying to spin it. The big plan is to close as many schools as possible to open up space for charter schools, to allow private businesses to flourish. The development of charter schools, and expensive standardized tests is the means by which the ruling class plans to accomplish this goal of profiting off education.

Chicago is not an isolated case. This plan has been implemented across the country, in Detroit, Philadelphia and New Orleans. The difference between those cities and Chicago is that we have responded aggressively to the attacks. The CTU has shown its strength and stood up for the interests of our children and teachers. As a result, Chicago has become the center of attention and has inspired other school districts across the country to question the educational status quo.

High School students march and rally against threatened school closures in Chicago
High School students march and rally against threatened school closures in Chicago

The economic crisis was caused by a bankers and politicians who now are trying to "fix" the economy on the backs of workers--and school closings are a part of it. They are coming for our standard of living.

The fight they are waging is not only against public education but also the entire of the social safety net. The attack is on health care, they are cutting Pell grants and Social Security, transportation services, etc.

Even though the parents of the students whose schools are being closed work minimum-wage jobs--at grocery stores, in factories, like my parents, or at the Post Office or the Chicago Transportation Authority--it does not seem to be enough for them.

NOT SURPRISINGLY, most of the schools on the closings list are on the West or South Side of Chicago, where mostly Blacks and Latinos live. So these are racist school closings. We, as people of color, are judged differently, so we receive different resources. School closings will force Black and Brown kids to walk across gang lines and place them in dangerous situations.

The rich know what kind of education is best for kids in elementary school. Their kids go to the best schools in the world, to elementary and high schools where the fees are expensive as college tuition. Billionaire New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg sends his kids to schools where classes are, at most, 16 students. They have some six science labs, six art studios, a few music rooms, and even darkrooms (to process their own photography!).

Yet the reality for most students today is much different. One hundred and sixty schools in Chicago do not have a library. Let me reiterate: In 2013, 160 schools in Chicago do not have libraries!

I would like to assert that we have been denied a proper education. This fight should not only be about not closing any of our schools, but also about Chicago's students receiving all of the resources that the children of the rich receive.

For example, I was in classrooms throughout grammar school and high school next to 30-plus other kids in each class. There was no inquiry solicited by teachers. Just imagine trying to have a discussion with 30-plus students in a crowded classroom with no air conditioning.

We all have our learning differences; this fact is completely disregarded. Classes should be structured so that we have small groups with ample time for students to articulate their thoughts completely. Learning is about more than a test score, and being quiet for hours on end while filling in bubbles is not an education.

We want our students to become critical thinkers: to be given the opportunity to think critically about our world and to challenge and change it! The attempt at banning the graphic novel Persepolis proves that Chicago Public Schools (CPS) and Rahm have no interest in teaching our kids to grow intellectually. Rather, they want to stifle learning capabilities.

This acclaimed graphic novel is about a young girl who is critical of a tyrannical government. This politically charged book could lead students, as it did me, to the exposure of the reality of oppression and, consequently, to question it.

Rahm is not comfortable knowing that kids in Chicago might begin to question what he is doing with the education system. But it is too late, because kids are already fighting back!

THIS IS a minor show of how frightened the ruling class is after witnessing a strong fight against their agenda.

Let us not forget the destruction of the "People's Library" at Zuccotti Park during the height of the Occupy Movement. They will come after any venue of knowledge available to the working class. They will take it all away, if we let them.

So we are told that there are no funds to maintain our public schools open. This is a blatant lie. We know that CPS has millions in surplus money. So why are they so interested in crushing our school system? Where is our money going?

It goes toward charter school networks like the United Neighborhood Organization (UNO). UNO operatives have been sapping public money and promoting themselves as heroes of education--think of the pro-charter documentary Waiting for Superman.

About a month ago, a report was published saying that a UNO charter school executive paid state grant money to companies owned by two of his brothers. They used at least at least $93 million of it. That tells us about the political and economic goals in the city of Chicago.

Education is a human right, and we have been deprived of this right for years. We cannot call what we've had an education--an actual education, an effective one. It is not the kind of education that we deserve as students. We want to demand an education that aids students in every neighborhood in Chicago and that creates students with intellectual curiosity--not one that diminishes it.

The closing of public schools will have a negative effect on students through out the city. Parents at the public hearing at the Velasquez Institute expressed their concern over the distress that their children have had after being informed of their school potentially closing. One of the mothers said that her child asked at all times of the day what will happen if their school is closed. She said that school closing could cause a terrible psychological effect.

We are an intelligent community that is aware of the corruption and filthy inconsideration expressed by the rich and powerful in this country. The fact that all of these people in power are so adamant about pushing children out of their neighborhood schools is an indication that they are either detached from reality or just really do not care about our children--or both.

Only in America do we spend $40,000 a year to incarcerate each prison inmate, but only $8,000 a year to educate every elementary school student.

These people who substantially benefit from state grant money won't simply stop because we politely ask them. History informs us that situations like this do not resolve themselves so easily.

CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey has stated that this is the civil rights movement of our time. Like I mentioned before, most of the schools on the closure list are in Black and Latino neighborhoods. We, as a community, must unite with our neighborhoods in this struggle for our schools on the West and South Sides of Chicago.

I would like to make a connection between the struggles to overcome racial discrimination during the civil rights movement. It took a lot of struggle to be victorious.

Today, institutions like the prison system and even our education system perpetuate racism. Brian Jones, a teacher in New York City, has states that what it will take to win this fight for what is rightfully ours is civil disobedience, sit-ins, and massive protests and marches, where different struggles are united.

Today, we want to make Rahm take notice that we know what he is doing to our city--and we want him to know that we will not allow him to carry out his plan to destroy our lives.

If CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett decides to close any of our schools, we have to take to the streets and organize--and demand what we've been denied.

To change the status of things now, we must change the system that we live in--and fight for a system where children's education comes first, not profits. The capitalist system works for the few and destroys the rest of us.

But we can create a world where our communities decide how education should be structured, and not have it be dictated by a few executives. We must strive to organize across the city and work with everyone in struggle.

This fight is only beginning.

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