The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Chicago Public Schools Standoff

Feb 1, 2021

Chicago teachers are on the brink of striking over the mayor’s school reopening plan, because many think that plan is not safe.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot claims that reopening the schools is a matter of “equity.” She points out that black and Latino students have been losing the most under remote learning. And so, she says, the schools need to re-open, and pronto.

She’s right that children do need to be back in school. They are missing out, and the ones with the fewest resources miss out the most.

But Chicago Public Schools’ original plan amounted to nothing more than a few wipes, a few cloth masks, and a cheap air filter here or there. When teachers didn’t think that was enough, Mayor Lightfoot made it seem like the teachers were to blame for the schools being closed. She and CPS leadership act like teachers should shut up and risk getting the disease or spreading it to their families, like many other workers are forced to do. They encourage angry parents to blame the teachers, or blame the union—not blame the people who actually run Chicago’s government.

But by pretending that the disaster of education under COVID is the teachers’ fault, Lightfoot and CPS turn reality on its head.

From the beginning, Chicago Public Schools didn’t put in the money to set up testing for staff and students. They didn’t put in the money to have small, isolated classes. They didn’t put in the money to really clean the schools, or buy the right kind of air filters. When it was clear school was going to be online in the fall, they didn’t put in the money to prepare teachers or students.

And of course, long before the pandemic, the education available to poor and working class students was already much worse than that available to the wealthy—again, because they didn’t put in the money!

After the union threatened to strike, CPS agreed to carry out additional testing and install better filters, and it agreed to accommodate teachers with relatives in high-risk populations. But no one—not teachers, and not parents—really trusts that the schools will be safe.

Whether teachers strike or not, one thing is sure: the problem of education in the pandemic can only be effectively organized at a social level. No one should believe it when those responsible for running the society try to blame those actually doing the work for the problems this capitalism system creates.