1 of 150 Arrested for Protesting School Closures

Yesterday I a Chicago Public Schools history teacher, a father, and husband was arrested for sitting down on La Salle Street in front of City Hall and refusing to move when asked to do so by the police. I along with nearly 150 others was taking part in an act of civil disobedience against the school closing policies implemented by Mayor Emmanuel, Barbara Byrd-Bennett and the CPS Board of Education.


You see those of us that chose to get arrested and the other couple thousand marching legally against the CPS plan to close over 54 public schools are beyond frustrated that we live in a city that is governed by lies and press releases.

The “justifications” that CPS are using to try to convince the public how “necessary” it is to close public elementary schools in African-American communities are typically these main four points:

1) CPS says closing schools will save money.

In two separate reports by the Catalyst and by CReATE both studies found that school closings either do not save any money or it only saves a very miniscule amount of money.

2) CPS has been toting an alleged $1 billion budget deficit, which is again not true. CPS actually has a $500 million SURPLUS not deficit.

3) The formula that CPS uses to determine if a school is “under utilized” is not a valid measure of deciding under utilization according to research done by Raise Your Hand Illinois.

4) CPS claims that students from closed schools will go to “better” schools. Again this is untrue in a report released by the Sun-Times.

So with all this in mind when I was originally asked if I was willing to participate and be trained for a civil disobedience that would lead to my arrest I stopped to think;

How much longer can I go on letting my students in Englewood be treated as second-class citizens by a school system that says it cares about them?

I believe and am constantly telling my students that if you work hard enough you can overcome many obstacles in life. The issue is that CPS has forced my school (and many like it) to have to get rid of our librarian, second counselor, attendance clerk, technology coordinator, schools accountant, and only have half a nurse for a half-day on Fridays all in the name of “budgetary reasons”. It seems to me that our mayor and CEO no matter what they claim about their policies not being racist are very much in fact promoting and implementing racist policies while letting institutional racism permeate through this district.

Before the disobedience I also thought of my one year old son and what kind of person I want him to be. I thought of my wife who is an amazing CPS teacher, but because of many of the harmful CPS policies like schools closings sometimes she thinks about other careers besides teaching that she could do.

I thought of every person that inspired me to be a history teacher and all the amazing actions they took. I knew that I had no choice but to participate in this act of civil disobedience.

While I sat on the cold cement among lunchroom staff, custodians, teachers, and clergy I couldn’t help but feel angry that we live in a society that tries to close public schools. While sitting on the ground next to a man in his seventies with bad knees waiting to be arrested I couldn’t help but wonder how many more arrests will it take before this racist mayor actually listens to the people?

While the police treated all of those arrested with the upmost respect, while the crowd of protestors cheered for us and our disobedient actions, I thought to myself we get arrested for sitting on the cold cement in front of city hall, yet our mayor is legally allowed to close 54 public schools and praise that his actions are a positive step for communities he never even visits.

This whole fight around school closings and public education comes down to whom will you believe?

Will you believe a mayor who sends his kids to one of the best private schools in the state with art, world languages, counselors, and resources?

Will you listen to Barbara Byrd-Bennett who was responsible for closing public schools in Detroit in the name of “what’s best for the community”?


Will you listen to the students, parents, clergy, school employees, and people of the communities where these schools are located that are demanding and have been demanding that NO schools be closed?

As Gandhi eloquently states, “All through history the way of truth and love has always won.  There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end they always fall, always.”

Remember everyone this is our 4th CEO in three years and Barbabra Byrd-Bennett will soon be gone like Brizard, Manzany, and Huberman.

Our Mayor only has a 19% approval rating so then in a few short years hopefully he will be gone too.

The important thing is to make sure that NONE of their policies like school closings last any longer than either of the people attempting to implement them.

It will take many more arrests, sit-ins, occupations and forms of civil disobedience to bring these school closings to a halt, but once again to quote Gandhi, “First they (CPS) ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win”. CPS and the Mayor are in a full on attack against truth and against democracy, but as we will see, truth always wins.


BROWN: Protesting teachers say closings among roadblocks to central mission: educating students

Written by Mark Brown for the Chicago Sun-Times
March 27, 2013 9:00PM

Dave Stieber and Jessica Marshall are high school history teachers in the Chicago Public Schools, and I have it on good authority that they are excellent ones.

They also are among many young and dedicated CPS teachers who have grown so weary of the education reform wars that they find themselves questioning their own futures in the profession they love.

As teachers and other union members led a demonstration outside City Hall on Wednesday in protest of proposed mass school closings, I sought out these two young teachers to discuss how this latest CPS initiative is contributing to dispirited morale — even at schools not in the direct line of fire.

“At what point does it become too much?”
That’s the question that Stieber, 31, a teacher for six years at TEAM Englewood, says he increasingly asks himself.
“It’s like: why are we doing this?” he said. “What gives me strength is knowing it’s not just me.”
Stieber is a Chicago Teachers Union activist who questions the wisdom of closing any schools at this time without further study and preparation. He was in the thick of Wednesday’s protest, even going so far as to get himself ticketed for civil disobedience by sitting down in the middle of LaSalle Street to block traffic.

But Stieber’s real passion is working with his students, including as a coach for his school’s spoken word poetry club, participants in the acclaimed Louder Than a Bomb program. (If you’ve never listened to the kids at a Louder Than a Bomb poetry slam, you’re missing something.)

What bothers Stieber and so many other teachers is how the hassles of working for CPS keep encroaching on that mission—from a lack of resources to constantly changing directives and mandates.

The school closings are just the latest and, in Stieber’s view, probably the most significant of these disruptions.
While no high schools were closed in this round, many of TEAM Englewood’s feeder schools are slated for closing. The handwriting is definitely on the wall.

Stieber said the closings cause students to question themselves.
“To them, it’s like, maybe I AM a failure,” he said.

Marshall, 33, in her third year at Louisa May Alcott School in Roscoe Village, tells much the same story.
A CPS graduate herself, Marshall taught four years in New York after college but said she felt compelled to return to her hometown to contribute to the school system that gave so much to her.

“I’m in that moment when I’m starting to question whether this is the right thing for me. Can I hang on? I feel like a lot of us are in that position,” said Marshall, who is part of a pilot program developing a civics education curriculum for CPS high schools.
“It’s been a very difficult transition into CPS. It’s sad,” she said.

She’s apparently good enough at her job that her class was selected for a recent visit by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
With Alcott on an earlier list of “underutilized” schools, the school closing list created tensions there as well, she said.
“As if the kids don’t have enough to deal with, it’s one more thing on their plates,” Marshall said. “It makes them feel there is something wrong about their school.”
The process breeds insecurity for teachers and students, she said.

“Even if your school isn’t on the chopping block, you wonder if I’m going to be next,” Marshall told me.
Although she also is a union rep at her school, Marshall was not at the protest rally. She called me back from a spring break trip to Arizona that she said had put her in a much sunnier mood than if I’d caught her a few days earlier.

For the record, I did not go through the union to identify Stieber or Marshall. I asked a friend who knows good teachers and worries about the prospect of CPS losing dedicated individuals like these.
For this day, at least, these two aren’t going anywhere.
“I really love my kids. When I can shut out all the craziness from CPS and just concentrate on them, I’m golden,” Marshall said. “I do think I’m going to stick with it.”


Giving High School Students a Voice in the CPS Banning of Persepolis


As we are all aware now last week at Lane Tech Persepolis was removed from classrooms as demanded by a CPS mandate. The removal of the books and the banning of Persepolis immediately prompted students and teachers to protest this decision at Lane Tech. Later that same day, Barbara Byrd-Bennett said the banning of Persepolis is only for grades 7 and under. She went on to say that the book will be reviewed to determine if it is appropriate for grades 8-10.

Currently only 11th and 12th graders are allowed to read the book per the new CPS ruling.

The book is a historical and autobiographical account of the author as a young girl growing up under dictatorial rule in Iran and the revolutions led by the people in an attempt to bring in Democracy.

As a history teacher I decided to let my students review the book and decide if the banning of Persepolis by CPS and Barbara Byrd-Bennett was justified.

Out of the 71 students who took part in the lesson, discussions, and read through Persepolis 53 students did not agree with the ban imposed by CPS and Barbara Byrd-Bennett. Many of the other 18 students thought that the teacher should decide if the book is appropriate for their students, not CPS.

The following are direct quotes from my junior and senior high school students in Englewood.

Renika, “Persepolis is not inappropriate, it may have violence but violence is in the everyday life of a 7th grader.”

Ty’Neequa, “P is something that actually happened, just like people were tortured and killed in the Holocaust. CPS shouldn’t be able to keep information like this from students. We need to learn about revolutions in other countries. The banning of Persepolis would be like CPS trying to prevent teachers from teaching slavery.”

Jaydeisha, “Teachers know what their students are capable of handling, so if the feel their students couldn’t take the book they wouldn’t let them read it.”

Malik, “Children deserve to know the truth.”

Toriana, “There are things in this book that we need to know. Young students in CPS learn about slavery and just like slavery bad things happen to different races too. I think students need to know every piece of information that we can. “

Latoria’ “The truth of the book is not much different than what kids see in their neighborhoods every day.”

Amanda, “There isn’t a problem when teachers teach about the tragedies around Native Americans, African slaves, Mexicans or any other culture that has experienced tragedies and racism, so what is the difference with this?”

Tomas, “Teachers should be able to decide if they want to teach the book or not to their students. “

Ray, “This book tells us what actually happened during the Iranian Revolution.”

Alexis, “This book shows a lot of emotions such as love, hate, and struggle. It is important to know the true events surrounding the life of this girl.”

Tyranesha, “Teachers should be able to decide at what age to teach this book, because teachers know if their students are mature enough for the book. Students shouldn’t be disrupted of their education because CPS thinks they are not mature enough. The teachers know what the kids can and cannot handle.”

As teachers we are the experts in curriculum and instruction. If teachers felt like students would not be mature enough or able to understand the content then teachers would not use a book such as this.

Chicago Public Schools under the “guidance” of Barbara Byrd-Bennett is taking the ability of planning and making appropriate instructional practices away from the experts (we teachers).

This book until last week was only banned in Iran, but now Chicago and Iran have much more in common.

“I feel badly for the children because it sends a message to them that there is something wrong with reading,that we don’t want them to read this book because there’s something in it that we don’t want them to know.” –Judy Blume

The quote from Judy Blume famous childrens author sums up the repressive state that Chicago Public Schools is sadly becoming by banning books and closing schools.


The Night That We Were Shocked, That We Were Shocked….By CPS

Performed at the LTAB 2013 Coaches Slam

Our skin has become thicker
From Chicago
Thicker from the winters
Thicker from the corruption
The lies and double speak
From sacrifices demanded by our city
The violence
The violent sacrifices of our students
Of spirit — Antoine, Terrell, Dre
Of body—Patrice
Of life—Trevell

We know our skin is thicker
It has to be
We know you CPS
Perpetuators of Educational Apartheid
Our Chief Officer
“Graduation Rates?
College Acceptance & Persistence?
Those matter less
Standardized test scores that’s what shows a quality school.
Our CEO says
Trust Us
I come from people like you
I am you
We will listen to you
We are with you
She baptizes Englewood with her lies:
Like she did Detroit

We know you CPS
Been to your bogus meetings before
Seen people yell at you about your budget and supposed deficit
Saw your arrogance (no questions while god is speaking)
Heard your disrespect (25% of kids won’t amount to anything to Rahm?)
Paternalistic tendencies

That Monday night our skin wasn’t thick enough
School field trips
Yellow busses
100’s of kids/teachers K-8
Thousand parents
In Englewood
On a school night
Going  to church

Picture the alter, elevated , on the stage
Only the CPS anointed are allowed on this alter
Protected by position
By power
By the pastors prayers of appropriate worship
Picture the anointed
Security guarded
Suited up
Salaried up
Faulty dated  up
Walton family funded
Bull shitted up

Picture the congregation, coming to pay homage, or bear witness
To repent for their sins
Being Poor,
Being Black,
Being  from Englewood
They have come to beg for mercy
Their souls must be saved

Forgive us CPS for we have sinned
Is that what you wanted to hear?
You give the people 6 minutes of your holy ear

Picture confession
Confessions of children
“We will find the space you say we have if you let us stay open”
“I’m in the 2nd grade please don’t close my school”
They know their god is a just god
A father says, “I challenge you to let your children walk in our children’s shoes”
Their penance
Confessions of parents & students; teachers
Presentations, speeches
Data, testimony
Just visit our school —-you will see

You demand confessions
But on your time
Just 6 minutes                        ( Fiske, Stagg, Bontemps, Banneker, Davis)
Times up
Next in line
Still not enough
You must tithe 33% of your schools
No more public schools in, Auburn-Gresham, Woodlawn, Lawndale, Englewood
Let the children walk longer to school
It is in god’s hands now
Make them cross major streets, neighborhood lines, gang lines,
Make them bus
If they want it bad enough they will go
Make them pray about it
God will guide them

But last night in Englewood a thousand people
Realized they were not the sinners
Realized you were just playing
Just playing god
They flipped the script
When you asked for two minutes
They gave you ten seconds
They counted you down
10 all the way to 1
They will not listen
Will not stand by
Will not let this happen
God no longer
Times up


Mr. Stieber Protests Aren’t on the MAP Test

Last week my high school students decided, on their own, to have a protest. They were upset about how cold our building has been this relatively mild winter.  So after 1st period many of the students put hoodies and sweaters over their short sleeve uniform polo, (which is a violation of the dress code) and marched loudly into the hall. They had signs, some had chants, and one even had an American flag. These sixteen and seventeen year old Englewood students were organized. Their downfall was they didn’t fully think through how to explain this plan to the 9th grade students who just thought the protest was fun and were running around getting into trouble instead of helping the cause.

Security, teachers and administration intervened, the kids stopped the protest and went back to class. A few kids got in trouble. Being a history teacher, I was impressed by the students planning, but I realized they needed help understanding the purpose of a protest and steps involved in order to get what they wanted, without having to protest.  So I did a mini-lesson the rest of the day that included discussing the following steps:

1. Do your research. (Is it cold in every room or just some?)

2. Get leaders. (Who can help organize and be a spokesperson)

3. What are your demands? (We want it warmer etc.)

4. Make other students aware of the issue.

5. Make sure you are organized and everyone understands the demands.

6. Ask for a meeting with the Principal. Talk about what can be done.

7. Wait to see if your demands are met.   If your demands are met you win!!

8.  If the demands are not met, discuss options and consequences.

9.  If a protest is selected, make it organized and focused.

While I was teaching this lesson my students said things like, “Mr. Stieber you are going to get in trouble for teaching us this.” or “You made this lesson just for us?!”  or “Mr. Stieber are you allowed to teach us this?” My goal was to help them to understand that while protests can seem fun, the point is to use mass protests only when working within a system that fails to bring about the change they seek.  In this case, the students wanted the building to be warmer or to wear long sleeve shirts over (not under, like the uniform policy dictates) their uniform polos.

Later that day, our principal met with some of the protest leaders and the student council to work out a compromise that made all the kids happy.

Discussion and protests are the foundations of democracy and they keep it vibrant and strong.  Thankfully my Englewood students are proud, educated and confident enough to stand up for change, if necessary through protest. These students are setting a precedent for what types of people our children will become. These teenagers who respect and understand democracy also understand the power that rests in that system. As do the Seattle teachers who took the first stand against and are leading the way in the MAP protests. These “standardized tests” are forced on schools by their districts and/or state governments, as a means “to evaluate student progress and teacher effectiveness”. The tests have nothing to do with college.  In Chicago, no one outside the school district even sees the data.  In Chicago these MAP tests are commonly referred to as “optional” quarterly and interim assessments, but in reality CPS forces schools to take these tests.

Teachers are all for testing and evaluation.  We assess our students everyday with meaningful activities that are current, effective, connected, diverse, and relevant. We fully realize that progress is important for educational achievement but we also realize that students are not mass produced widgets that can be measured by “standardized” metrics.  As teachers we are morally bound to always think, “Is this helping my students?”, and if not, what should be done differently?

Educators all across the country have been saying for years that these tests are a waste of educational time.   The tests are often flawed, they are expensive for the district, and they decrease the students desire to attend school. Teachers are well aware of their students data and they continually assess and use their own data when planning lessons and units. These MAP tests replace over seven days of actual teaching for the students per year.  That’s seven days and significant financial resources lost to mind numbing and educationally irrelevant tests.

As Chicago teachers will likely start to boycott the MAP tests and school parents start to have their child opt out of this unnecessary testing, teachers will once again need your help as community members. I hope the mini-lesson that I taught my students about effective protesting will inspire you to take action with us (should it come to that).




Blog Hop

Tagged by Kenzo Shibata http://kenzoshibata.wordpress.com/

“My Chicago Teachers Union sister Melissa Barton who blogs at Skool-Aid tagged me in what is called a “blog hop” which she described as,

A chain letter for blogs, but ”without the threats of supernatural punishment should you fail to do it in a timely fashion.”

So the idea is that I write a little about myself and link back to other people’s blogs that I like.”

What do you write about and why? 

I write about all things that are impacting public education (poverty, violence, bad educational policy created by non educators etc.). As a high school history teacher with a masters degree in urban policy studies, I have started becoming increasling aware of all the attacks with faulty data against public schools and public educators.

It is a challenge to say the least to teach all day and do the things that teachers love to do (which are working with kids and all things teaching) and then leave school and hear radio ads, politicians, conservative think groups (thank you Milton Friedman), fake educators (Michelle Rhee) and fake educational organizations with “clever” names (Students First, Stand 4 Children, Advance Illinois, Democrats for Education Reform among many) bash teachers and everything public for the sake of their or their friends own profits.

Where besides the blog do you write?

I have written for the Huffington Post, Gapers Block and Alternet. Mainly I wrote for the Huffington Post.

What do you do besides writing this blog?

I am a father, husband, teacher, spoken word poetry coach, involved in the Chicago Teachers Union, just finished my masters at UIC. I have many things to keep me busy.

Which authors do you find inspiring?

Howard Zinn.  Any and all Civil Rights era writers, activists, and speakers. Educational writers like Diane Ravitch, Kenneth Saltman, Lisa Delpit, Alex Kotlowitz, Linda Darling-Hammond. The three best professors I have ever had, Bill Ayers, David Stovall, and Pauline Lipman.

Chicago has some of the best spoken word poetry around and a few (there are many) of my favorites are Kevin Coval, Malcolm London, Roger Bonair Agard, Patricia Smith, among many many others.Check out Young Chicago Authors to get into the Spoken Word in Chicago.

Basically any author that is willing to speak the truth to power. Read any of these people and you will know what I mean.

What is your writing process?

I usually find myself very upset and frustrated with whatever I feel the need to write about. I usually work out, get my thoughts in order, then write a frustrated copy, edit it myself, then have my amazing & brillant wife or my dad edit the version then submit it for publication.

What blogs are you going to give shout outs to?

There are a whole lot of people out there doing amazing work. I’m going to give a shout out to my dad who was in Vietn Nam and now actively speaks out against war. Check out his blog and get educated to the realities of the military. http://warisslavery.blogspot.com/

The “Justification” for Closing Chicago’s Schools

To be honest and straight to the point, closing a neighborhood school means the city has failed that neighborhood. It should come as no shock then that all the school closures in Chicago over the past decade have been in black and latino areas of the city. Many of these neighborhoods, like Englewood where I teach, have been ignored, underfunded, and blamed for their own problems for decades.

Logic says that CPS should be trying to help improve struggling schools, but using logic and CPS in the same sentence is a fallacy. As CPS Chief Operating Officer Tim Cawley said publicly, “If we think there’s a chance that a building is going to be closed in the next five to 10 years, if we think it’s unlikely it’s going to continue to be a school, we’re not going to invest in that building.” So CPS admits that if a school needs help there is no way that they are going to fund that school.  Since the vast majority of underperforming schools are all in poorer communities, CPS has, through its own policies, decided to give up on the schools in those communities.   They look at a school as a business investment, not a community investment.

This city has consistently failed communities.  Instead of trying to improve, fully fund, and help communities and their schools, Rahm and Barbara Bryd Benett, following the previous policies put in place by Mayor Daley and “CEO”s Vallas, Duncan, Huberman, Mazany and Brizard (wow that is a lot of turnover), believe to really “help” a community it is best to close their schools.   It’s like a doctor saying that you’re really sick, but it’s better for your family if you die.

We are currently in the most violent year in the history of the city of Chicago. Chicago has significantly more deaths than any other major city. If we apply the “logic” of school closing to violence in Chicago then we should close the police stations too? I mean the police must be failing our citizens right?

Schools, like churches, are integral parts of neighborhoods. Schools are places that are used for community meetings and gathering places. Many former students come back to see their teachers and show their former schools to their children and grandchildren. The research shows that when a school is closed it further destabilizes a community. If CPS did any real research they would know that closing a school in impoverished communities harms the community.  Yet contrary to doing real research the CPS PR department claims that school closings, among other things, help neighborhoods.

Chicago continues the proven ineffective practice of closing schools. In the past, when a school was closed, a new school was opened in the same building with new teachers, new principals, new security, new custodians, and new lunch workers yet with worse results than the school it replaced.

Rahm and Barbara Byrd Bennett have claimed at various points in the past few months that they are going to close schools that are underutilized and also that they are going to close underperforming schools, or a close combination of the two.

So if we have an underutilization problem why are they promoting and opening more charter schools? Wouldn’t the logic be that if schools are underutilized we don’t need more schools? Why are they promoting Charters that are underutilized themselves? Charters are proven no more effective than public schools and in many cases they actually perform worse than public schools.

So they are closing public schools to open more charter schools and closing “failing” public schools to open even more failing charter schools? Confused yet? The “logic” of CPS only gets worse.

Another consequence of closing schools in black and latino neighborhoods and firing the entire school staff is that experienced teachers of color are disappearing in CPS.  They are typically replaced with young (read much less expensive), white teachers. So not only are schools being closed, but students in CPS are losing role models that look like them and are often times from the same neighborhoods.

But you say to yourself, come on, they must be closing schools for some good reason, right? At least we can all agree that closing a school will save CPS lots of money, right? I mean Rahm, Barbara Byrd Benett, and CPS spokesperson Becky Carrol said that closing schools will save the district money. I mean if CPS and the Mayor said it, it must be true, right? Well actually closing a school does not save money either.

So closing school does not save money and does not improve the education for students. Charters do not perform better, the schools that replace the closed schools do not do better, so……what are we missing?

What is the incentive to close “underperforming, underutilized” public schools?

The Chicago Appointed Board of Education (none of them are educators) tells teachers, principals, and school staff how to best run their schools.  On top of that the Board also tells parents and community organizations that they may live, work, and have a vested interest in their community but they, the community, do not know what is best for their school – only the Board knows. This model used by the Board of Education of “you don’t know what’s best for you” goes way back in history and is steeped in racism and oppression. In fact, Chicago is the only school district in the entire state that does not have an elected board.

Barbara Byrd Benett in her campaign to convince the public to trust in CPS and trust her just said that no charters will be opened in any closed public schools…well that is likely not true either. In an attempt by CPS to appease the public (who do not want schools to be closed) they are offering an “agreement”. Their “agreement” is that if they can close schools this year there won’t be any school closings in the next five years. That may sound appealing to some, but CPS can still close as many schools they wish this year. In addition, the language of the their proposal to not close schools after this year just says they won’t close schools based on underutilization – they left themselves a loophole to still close schools based on “under performance”. So once again CPS is just providing a “nice” sound bite.

Rahm continues to lie and disrespect the citizens, taxpayers, and voters of Chicago and since Barbara Byrd Bennett is forced to do what Rahm says there is no reason to trust anything coming out of CPS headquarters.  We have had 6 different “CEO”s in the past 11 years who come in and change policy, the message, and vision of CPS at their whim.  In addition since the school system is controlled by the mayor, the “CEO” has no real power.  Just look at Brizard who “decided to move on” conviently after the first teacher strike in 25 years in Chicago. Barbara Byrd Bennet like Paul Vallas, Arne Duncan, Ron Huberman, Terry Mazany, Jean Claude Brizard will move on somewhere else or be blamed and let go. All the while the students in Chicago Public Schools will suffer, because CPS will blame the teachers and blame the schools instead of fully investing in the schools. The answers are not simple, but in every community in Chicago there are organizations, parent groups, educators, and committed citizens passionate about improving education in this city. It is sad that we allow a Mayor to run education when he is clearly not interested in helping all kids. I mean didn’t Rahm say that, “25% of the students in Chicago aren’t going to amount to anything” anyway? That comment shouldn’t come as a surprise, especially since after his most recent comments about people can “choose to drive” if they can’t afford public transportation.  Rahm has no concept of the needs of the vast majority of the people of Chicago. He lives in an ivory tower and tells us to eat cake.




Performed at the 2012 LTAB Coaches Slam

(Dedicated to my Dad, Arnold Stieber)

You say it all came back in an evening
In front of the tv
Winter 2003
Iraq war about to start
Platoon was on
You had not let yourself go there since ‘70
You let yourself go there that night
You say it all came back
You could see it
Hear it
Smell it

9/11 might have triggered it
The invasion in Iraq rekindled it
But Hollywood
Brought it back

Knew growing up you were in Vietnam
Wasn’t really sure what that meant
Knew you were in war but never discussed
Couldn’t play guns, cops and robbers, GI Joe
Knew that was the rule
Told some friends you were in war
Another dad had been too
He didn’t talk about it
Heard he had changed when he got back
Didn’t know if you had

Other friends asked about the guns you used
People you killed
Like in the movies
Never did ask
Still don’t want to

So in 2003 you started talking about it
Little by little
I was 22 and felt like 5
Learning about you for the first time
Stories always pretty general
Nothing too specific
Keeping Vietnam at a distance
You had graduated college got drafted
Never thought you’d be infantry

Stories of basic training
You spoke with a clergy man in the army
You said killing didn’t seem christrian
Clergy said country first
You were trained to kill
Targets that looked like targets
Targets that moved
Targets like humans
Humans that looked like targets
Humans that move

Stories of Agent Orange
Fragging of “superiors”
R and R in Australia
Christmas in Nam so you could come home quicker
Slurs for the enemy
How soldiers used women
Coping mechanisms to keep sanity

Before you started researching/reading/questioning
A friend former soldier told you not to go down that path
Let it be
You had to go down that path
Now you speak/write/converse
You talk to soldiers home from Iraq/Afghanistan
Stories from them too similar to yours
You see their ghosts
Motivates you to talk to teens about the realities of war/military

Some people don’t want to hear your voice/words/writing
Say things like you’re dad is the only soldier I know who feels like that
Other soldiers they know dont talk or complain about war/death/killing
They don’t know other soldiers back from war
Are killing/over dosing/abusing themselves
War veterans have the highest suicide rate
You told me you thought about it

Soldiers are trained to kill/survive war
Not retrained on how to survive after war
So many don’t talk
You tell me

America teaches that war is necessary
Many soldiers have to believe what they did was necessary
Yet you speak out
Many soldiers fear saying the things they did/saw out loud
Fear of saying what happened may make loved ones distant
That no one can understand what was “normal” unless they were there
You teach me that for a soldier to speak out against war is difficult
You say war is slavery
In 1970 you had three choices
Leaving the country but knowing you couldn’t return
Or War
You said you weren’t brave enough for the first two

People need to know this
So you speak
I know it’s not easy to do what you do
But I thank you for the difficult path you choose
Soon I will be a dad
I have your path to follow
It ‘s easy to sit back
Believe what you are told
It is difficult to do what you believe
At 22 I started becoming a man
Because you started teaching me what that means

I Teach

Performed at the LTAB 2011 Coaches Slam

I teach…
I teach because it pisses me off every time you say you teach where?
With that shocked expression on your face
Thinking damn you’re white how do you survive?
“Those” kids need good teachers too… bless you
Thinking but not asking
Why teach there?
Why teach “those” kids?

I teach because you are probably scared of my kids
even though my kids would probably be the first to help you
when they do… you will probably say something like
Wow they are so well spoken…
Which is code for you didn’t think that black kids could talk how you deem proper

I teach because Englewood… is a part of the city too
because Englewood… produces genius
I teach because you …Media….say Englewood… produces death
because you turn your shoulder on Englewood

To prove you didn’t forget about that part of the city
You…Chico…say the city opened military schools and started ROTC programs for those kids
In case you don’t get it and you don’t…
You’re saying my kids don’t know how to act
That it is okay to have them be the first to die in war

I teach because even though our city is one of the most segregated in America you…Daley… still claim the segregation is by choice alone…
That redlining doesn’t impact us still
That your father didn’t tighten the Black Belt

I teach to prove I can teach…..because my kids have built in bullshit detectors
They can smell your shit as soon as you step into the building
I teach because my kids have heard what you think about them
And because you think your shit so much and control the media
some of my kids started to believe the things you have been thinking about them

I teach because I don’t want you to cross the street, hug your purse, check your wallet when you see my kids
But still I teach because you…Eugenics …say that black people are better in sports
That the NBA is their key out
That sports are a black males only choice
You are not telling them to be teachers, doctors or scientists
You are telling them to reach for that hoop dream
That even though there are only 432 players in the NBA
you are still teaching all black males to go for it

I teach because you say racism is gone…
That what I am saying is outdated…
That race is equal….
That America has a black president

Well I know my skin still cashes checks…
That my history is still legal to teach in Arizona….
That I am not speaking for all white people because I am in front of a mic…
That society is still duped into believing that Jesus is white….

You like your role of eternal helper
Saving the Savage
Manifest… Destiny
“Helping” those you deem less fortunate
Because you say it is their choice to live like that
Because your right… is right
Because your right… is white
That if they work really hard they can still go to the top
That there is no ceiling….
Just because you can’t see how clean the glass is
The ceiling is still there

I teach because even this whole conversation about race makes you uncomfortable…
You don’t see color……
Then I teach…
So you can

The “Open Seats” of Chicago Public Schools

Since the teachers strike ended it is obvious that the Chicago Public Schools appointed Board of Education and Mayor Emmanuel are gearing up to close a large number of public schools.  Their rhetoric is that public schools have large numbers of under utilized buildings, meaning that there are not enough students for all the available seats in public schools across the city.

The claim by the Mayor and Board of Education is there are 600,000 seats and only 400,000 students. On December 1st CPS is legally required to announce any plans for closing schools. When CPS announces the expected school closing list a large number of schools will be closed (expect 80-120 schools) students will have new teachers, principals, and building staff. The community will lose institutions that are central parts of the neighborhood. CPS has been closing schools for the past ten years and the date shows no real improvement is made by closing schools, in fact the research shows that when a school is closed it further destabilizes a community. CPS’ primary justification for closing schools is based on standardized test scores (even though again research shows test scores not an accurate measure of intelligence)

In fact there is already an official hit list of 80 schools that UNO charter school leader Juan Rangel (who also served on Mayor Emanuel’s education team) wants to close. Rangel wants these 80 public schools to be turned over into privately run charter schools. Turning public schools into charter schools would benefit Mr. Rangel as well as the other charter school network heads, because they could get more public and private funds, which increases their already large salaries.

So even though CPS claims there are 200,000 “empty seats” CPS and the Mayor now want to reopen many of the closed public schools as new charter schools If there really was 200,000 empty seats wouldn’t the logic be that we do not need to open any more schools? Yet our Mayor in all his genius wants to open even more charter schools even though research shows charters do NOT perform better than public schools.

One other important point that the Mayor and Board of Education are failing to mention in this case is the projected $1 billion CPS budget deficit. The mayor was so quick to mention the budget deficit during the teachers strike, yet now when he wants to open possibly 100 charter schools the budget deficit is not mentioned.

On top of that the charter schools in CPS actually have open seats in their own buildings. Charter schools because they get public and private money are able to spend money on advertising and PR campaigns. So many of us are familiar with the rhetoric that charter schools have a lottery system and very long wait lists to get into them…well this is not actually true. The proof? The day before the CPS teachers strike happened the various charter school leaders got together and held a press conference where they announced their were open seats in their schools (remember it was about a month into their school calendar) in fact “that 1/3 of the city’s charter schools had open seats”.

So lets be clear one month into school 1/3 of all charter schools had open seats. Yet CPS wants to close under utilized public schools and open the exact same buildings with more under utilized not as effective charter schools?

As a teacher, a parent, and a citizen of Chicago this “plan” does not make sense.

Charters perform no better than public schools, 1/3 of all charter schools are under enrolled, there is a projected budget deficit…. so what is really going on? What is behind the Mayors plan to close public schools? Is he doing it for the kids like he claims? The overwhelming evidence says no.  Demand truth from the Mayor, Demand an elected school board, Demand that your alderman ask for transparency around the issue of school closings.

There is money in this city. The budget is a political document not a financial one. The budget is all about priorities and it is time we make the Mayor and the appointed Board of Education understand ours, because as a teachers and parents our priorities are about the kids.