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Education Thu Dec 17 2009
Thomas Frank, author of the vulgar Marxist tract What's the Matter With Kansas?, published a piece in the Wall Street Journal outlining the "Real Chicago Way," arguing that in fact the policies that have characterized Chicago government for a generation were in no way the socialist/fascist nightmare/fantasies the right wing paws themselves over in sweaty reveries about men in uniforms punishing them. Instead, Mayor Daley and his legions of Public Policy Masters Degree Technocrats have implemented a neoliberal, essentially conservative regime: privatize everything, do nothing if there's no profit in it, and co-opt identity politics by making small groups of people very, very rich, so that they stand behind you at press conferences. Even the Mayor's supposedly outrageous tax regime was regressive: it jacked up fees and sales tax, but never instituted a city income tax (as New York has) and held the line on property taxes (and the shadow property tax increase--the creation of TIF districts--redistributed wealth upward as corporate welfare). Chicago's union density has declined over the course of Daley's Mayoralty. Our schools have been rampantly privatized with no attendant benefit. Public housing stock has decreased. Chicago is a practical model for neoliberal--Milton Friedman wet dream--policy.
Thanks in part to President Obama's ascension, it is spreading. Arne Duncan, the rich kid nitwit who is the Secretary of Education because he's not too tall to kiss ass but tall enough to post up on the elbow, is the worst kind of mushball liberal, raised in comfort to believe he knows what is best for the mudpeople under his feet, and his "Race to the Top" program seeks to replicate the model he used in Chicago--you know, the one that accomplished precisely nothing. So insidious is this program that other cities are calling on activists in Chicago and asking them for advice on how to prepare--and what to expect:
On Sunday December 6th a group of nine teacher activists gave a presentation in Milwaukee on the ongoing fight for public education in Chicago, Illinois. They are part of a group called Caucus Of Rank and File Educators (CORE).
They are part of a movement that is bringing together parents, students, teachers and community to fight against the Chicago plan called Renaissance 2010 initiated by Mayor Daley in 2004. Its goal was to close 100 Chicago Public schools by 2010.
In 1995 the Illinois State Legislature enacted the Amendatory Act. This act gave Mayor Daley complete control of Chicago Public Schools. The mayor appoints the board and the superintendent.
Under Renaissance 2010 many schools have been closed and reopened as either charter, contract or performance schools. Plus the latest category for school closing is labeling a program a "turnaround" school. If a school is classified "turnaround" by the CEO of the district all employees are fired and a new staff is hired for the school. Every staff person in the building is replaced including cooks, engineers, secretaries, assistants, administration and teachers. Students are said to remain in the school.
Neoliberal economic policy is bad. But perhaps the ugliest thing about it is its hostility to the doctrine of "the commons". The idea of commonly owned space grates neoliberals, because nobody is making money off of it. Chicago has seen a constricting of the commons over the years, the most egregious example coming with the privatization of part of Grant Park, which was to remain "forever free and clear". And this march towards parallel societies--a privatized one for the wealthy and the dregs for everybody else--is marching outwards from Chicago to other cities:
The year 2010 may be remembered as a turning point in many American cities, towns and suburbs.
It could be the moment when citizens say "enough is enough" and rally to save essential public services from the chopping block, even if it means paying higher local taxes.
Or it could be time when deep gashes in funding for parks, libraries, education, public safety, transit, health and other cornerstones of the commons good bring many communities to their knees, ushering in age of reckless privatization and steep decline in quality of life as local governments are unable to provide for the basic needs of their citizens.
John Gurda, a history columnist for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, paints a frightening picture of where continuing cuts in public services will lead us "The day may come when librarians have to leave a key under the doormat at each neighborhood branch, when homicides are reported to a call center in Bangalore, when every household is expected to bury its own garbage and to keep its own fire bucket at the front door."
He sees his hometown heading "down the road to municipal suicide" as it staggers under huge budget deficits. This fate shared by many, if not most, American communities right now--suburbs and small towns as well as inner cities. Indeed, Gurda notes the budget crisis of Milwaukee County, which delivers essential services to the suburbs as well, is equal to that of the city.