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Op-Ed Wed Sep 12 2012

Fighting Educational Apartheid

By David Stieber

The use of the word apartheid conjures up blatant injustice and horrible conditions. As a history teacher I was selected to travel to South Africa a few years ago to study Apartheid and how its effects still impact much of South Africa. I traveled to schools in wealthy suburbs both public and private and to public schools in incredibly poor townships. I was able to see the outrageous differences between the haves and the have nots. In the United States we do not have people living in shacks in huge numbers as all too many do in the townships of South Africa. However, we do have huge differences between fully funded schools and school districts and the schools and school districts that are not fully funded.

Chicago is suffering educational apartheid.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel sends his kids to elite schools where the kids have everything. All kids deserve the same programs and advantages in school. The school I work at in Englewood has one nurse who comes on Fridays, for a half day. So my students can only get sick or injured on Friday afternoons.

Rahm's kids go to a school in a safe neighborhood. In Englewood the kids are often not even safe walking to and from school.

We have a library with no librarian. We have a social worker who is shared between three schools. He is at our school two days a week. We have just had one of the most violent summers in Chicago history. I am offended as a parent, as a teacher and as a person that there are only 370 social workers, psychologists and nurses for 400,000 students. Demanding that every school be staffed with a nurse, social worker and psychologist daily is a necessity.

Our school has one counselor for all 500 students. He is required to help kids get into colleges, do test prep, help kids with social and emotional issues as well as many administrative tasks. We have to literally beg the school board for additional Special Ed positions. Even though we have a high Special Ed student population.

My school is not unique.

Chicago has educational apartheid.

Schools in Chicago routinely have 30 to 40 kids in classrooms, especially at the lower elementary grades. I interviewed at an elementary school to teach 7th grade and was told I would have 42 kids in my classes.

We do not have funds available to make sure books are ready the first day of school. We have to wait until the 20th day of school to get the full funding.

Think about the school you attended and the community you grew up in. Did you grow up having more than the kids I describe in Chicago? Would your community and parents have allowed these gross injustices to occur? Or did you grow up in Chicago, where parents, students and teachers have been doing the best they can with what they are given and in the process they often forgot the advantages that they didn't have?

Chicago has educational apartheid.

Teachers right now are being portrayed as greedy. I'll admit it, I'm a greedy teacher. I'm greedy to give my students an education that they deserve. I'm greedy to give every student the same opportunity across the city of Chicago. I know as a teacher I can create amazing lesson plans and engage my students, but I also know as a teacher that I cannot give them fully funded schools that every parent would be proud of. I'm greedy for my students to get every opportunity and advantage that Rahm's kids get.

Why is Chicago allowing this to happen? Why has the city let the students of Chicago, mostly black and brown students, go to disadvantaged schools like the one I described? Why does the mayor always claim he has no money to make schools better? Where is all the money going? How can he allow this to occur? A budget is a political document, not a financial one. A budget is all about priorities. Clearly the mayor has his priorities elsewhere.

We cannot and will not let this go on any longer. What is happening in Chicago is racist, elitist, and flat out Educational Apartheid and this city will not take it anymore.

Chicago has educational apartheid that teachers are fighting to end.


Dave Stieber is a father, husband, CPS teacher of History. Dave is passionately committed to promoting and improving urban public education, while simultaneously improving the lives of his students. He will be graduating shortly with his masters in Urban Education Policy Studies from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

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LaShawn Williams / September 12, 2012 10:33 AM

Thanks for this, Mr. Stieber...

Michael Minor / September 12, 2012 1:33 PM

I want to point out that part of this whole thing isn't racism or anything of the like what is suggested.

A major factor seems to be districts having too many kids for their taxes to support education.

And as much as I think education is a priority of a good government, at which point do we ask people how well their planning their lives, if the rest of chicago has to pay for the district being too poor to support itself?

Right now it seems racist because what districts are in need, I get that.

But really, this isn't any different than seeing southern states needing so much federal aid in comparison to northern states.

At which point do we stop blaming the government not taking from one district to give to another via taxes, before we ask people who are having kids what they need so they can afford education for their children without so much outside help?

And above all those things I typed, I want to THANK YOU for being a teacher. I've had countless teachers growing up touch my life and their service is of heroic scale :)

Jim Sanders / September 12, 2012 2:39 PM

Racism seems to be the elephant in the living room of the Chicago strike. The perpetrators of these cuts think that they'll be able to get away with it because the vast majority of the victims are black and brown. The Democratic Party studies every decision it makes. Leaders of the Democratic Party, including Barak Obama, seem to think that they can get away with betraying Chicagoans and their children. They doubt that community support in Chicago and beyond will stop them.

The Chicago Teachers Union has done a great job of establishing that they are for better schools. They've been fighting for the children of Chicago and it's paying off with more public support than was expected. The Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators has broken beyond the old business union model and managed to emphasize the unity in community. The Movement of Rank-and-File Educators in New York was formed with many of the same values and tactics. This is the model that needs to go national.

The cynical politicos seem to believe that these children and their communities can be abandoned with no political cost. It's up to us to prove them wrong.

Inez / September 12, 2012 5:56 PM

@Michael Minor:

I really agree with you. Kids deserve to have bad schools if their parents are poor. I also think its really unfair that people on the South and West Sides have the same fire protection services that I have in the Gold Coast. I think we should fix that. If those neighborhoods are poorer, then they should have worse fire protection. Who knows, maybe they can't afford to have any fire stations. I mean, I shouldn't have to pay to protect their homes from burning down, right? I also think they should pave their own roads too. If poor people can't afford that, maybe they should face the fact that they simply haven't achieved in life the way that I have. They must just be lazy. Let them eat cake!

Dr. Cliff Brickman / September 12, 2012 8:39 PM

Yep -> More state-federal-local $$ should definitely be allocated for more school social workers--to support students' & teachers' needs. As to the "books right away" concerns, are not public schools as with all schools moving to e-books and learning programs on the students' screens--immediately or sooner?

Paul Froehlich / September 12, 2012 10:55 PM

Chicago homeowners pay property taxes about 50% lower than their counterparts in Schaumburg. Chicagoans enjoy the lowest property taxes in the state. Consequently, there is room for more local funding effort.

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