Nicole Aro is the AFL-CIO Digital Strategies deputy director.
My mother is a high school teacher. Growing up, the joy that she took in her students learning each day was inspiring (and still is!). She spent thousands of dollars of her own money on classroom and after school activities, countless days and weeks over the summer poring over classics so she could better educate her seniors on their Advanced Placement (AP) work and endless nights and weekends creating her own supplemental material when the textbooks just weren’t engaging enough (think sketch comedies using characters from The Iliad and The Odyssey).
Inspired largely by my mom, when I got to college in Chicago, I promptly signed up to be a part-time teaching assistant in the Chicago Public School system. I spent about 15 hours a week, often more, in elementary school classrooms or after-school programs for just about my entire college career.
I realized that while many teachers might not have quite the same quirky sense of humor as my mom, she was far from unique in her passion and dedication to her students and her profession.
So, I decided to become a teacher, and I joined Teach for America in Philadelphia, where I taught middle school (primarily special education) for two years. I know firsthand how some change could benefit out education system. And I know the people fighting to fix it.
In the past few days, the online activist organization Change.org started running a petition by Stand for Children, a billionaire-funded “education reform” group founded by Jonah Edelman, that Chicago teachers say directly interferes with the collective bargaining process between the Chicago Teachers Union/AFT and the School Board. AFT has come out in strong support of the Chicago teachers.
This isn’t the first time Change.org has gone the wrong way on education: For months, the organization has run petitions for StudentsFirst, a group founded by Michelle Rhee. Rhee’s time as the chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools was rife with anti-teacher policies, including illegally firing teachers. With the Stand for Children petition, it appears that Change.org is escalating its support for anti-teacher policies despite its stated progressive agenda.
I love change.org. I’ve watched the organization grow from a scrappy start-up to an online powerhouse, hell-bent on making the world a better place. The organization has scored innumerable victories, many of them alongside people fighting for justice in the workplace, and the energy and creativity its staff bring to their work is inspiring. I’m friends with many of them, and I can say without a doubt that they are some of the most amazing people I’ve ever met.
That’s why the situation right now is heartbreaking to me.
Let’s be clear. It’s unacceptable that Change.org supports an organization attacking a union in the middle of workers' negotiations with their employer, period. But Stand for Children, StudentsFirst and the gaggle of groups promoting similar agendas have crafted their messaging in such a way that many progressive activists are fooled. These groups seek to portray the impression that they are romantic heroes out to save students from the crumbling education system. Their foes? The greedy, incompetent teachers who are fighting back against anything that could save the educational system. So maybe Change.org was just fooled into thinking this was happening here.
So let’s look at what’s at stake in this battle. According to Chicago teacher Jennifer Johnson:
At stake in this negotiation is how much funding the Chicago Public School District will provide for basic art and music instruction, school nurses, counselors, playgrounds and libraries.
Ninety-eight of our Chicago schools don't have playgrounds, and 160 schools don't have libraries at all. Forty percent of our schools do not have full-time art and music programs. These are some of the important issues that teachers would like to discuss at the bargaining table, not just to improve working conditions for teachers but to ensure that our students receive the education they deserve.
These are the words of a nine-year veteran of the Chicago Public Schools. I think it’s pretty clear who is actually standing for children and putting students first right now: the teachers.
Please sign this petition asking Change.org to stop supporting deceptive, union-busting groups like Stand for Children, and share it with your friends.