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Op-Ed Wed Sep 12 2012
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.