A Teacher’s Response To Criticisms On The Torture Curriculum In Chicago Public Schools

Part 1: A Brief Background of How and Why the Curriculum on Torture Came To Be

Over nearly a 20-year period, Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge and his officers tortured 110 Black men by beating them, suffocating them, and using electric shocks to force confessions to crimes these men did not commit. As part of a lawsuit that was won by survivors of the Jon Burge police torture era, Chicago Public Schools is mandated to implement a 3-5 week unit in the 8th and 10th grades that teaches students about these horrific events that happened within the Chicago Police Department. The men who survived the acts of torture did not win substantial amounts of money from the city, what they wanted and won was their stories taught in schools in hopes of preventing more instances like this. For more information about what Burge and his men did click here.

 

Part 2: For Concerned CPS Parents and the Public

I am a high school social studies teacher in CPS. My oldest child attended pre-school in CPS and will now be starting kindergarten in CPS on Tuesday. I have heard some parents say, “Well I don’t want my kid learning about that!” or “I will pull them out of school when they learn about that.” A reminder that this curriculum is taught to 8th and 10th graders. If at this age your children are still sheltered from the everyday systemic racism and horrible events of our past, it is long overdue that they learn.

 

Do you think Jewish parents don’t teach their kids about the Holocaust? That Black parents don’t teach their kids about Slavery, Jim Crow, and the on going struggle for equality? That Mexican parents don’t teach their children about colonization, loss of culture, and current examples of racism?

 

Whether you talk to your kids or not they know there is injustice in the world. Here are resources for parents to help their kids understand injustice and then ways to address it.

No one likes learning about Slavery, the Holocaust, or any types of discrimination/horrific abuse, but does that mean that it should not be taught?

 

This curriculum does not bash police. It educates students on what can happen if systems go unchecked. We don’t like bullies, right? Well, let your children learn what can happen if a bully is allowed to bully well into adulthood.

 

I would encourage parents to read the curriculum, by clicking here for the 8th grade curriculum and here for the 10th grade curriculum.

 

Social Studies teachers love teaching multiple viewpoints, but there are certain topics, such as this one, when the other side’s viewpoint isn’t valid. We don’t teach that Hitler or the Nazi’s were really a bunch of misunderstood good guys. We don’t teach that Slave owners were really good people just interested in “helping” slaves. We don’t teach that Columbus was a good guy…well unfortunately some still teach that, but he was a terrible human too.

 

The Jon Burge side of this curriculum is the side that picked up 110 random Black men, forced them to confess to crimes they didn’t commit by beating and torturing them. There is no “good side”.

Part 3: Responding to the Fraternal Order of Police

The Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) sent a letter to the leadership of Chicago Public Schools (you can view page 1 of the letter here and page 2 here). Basically asking that both sides of the story be presented while attempting to deflect from the horrific things Chicago Police did under Burge.

 

The courts decided that Chicago Police Department under Burge did horrible things. The courts heard ‘the other side’. The curriculum was then made collaboratively by many organizations.

 

FOP, you had your ‘other side of the story’ chance in court and lost.

Instead of working to improve policing to make sure acts of police torture, abuse, and murder come to a stop, the FOP is working to make sure the mandates in the FOP contract protect cops who kill and issue a code of silence for any officer who might be wiling to speak up.

 

The Chicago Police Department has a long and tragic history of police abuse that includes the recent deaths of Rekia Boyd, Johsua Beal, Laquan McDonald, Paul O’Neal, Bettie Jones, Quintonio LeGrier, Jose Nieves, Pierre Loury, and Kajuan Raye among others. The Chicago Police Department has been exposed for having a secret holding site at Homan Square, they have been reprimanded by the Department of Justice, cost Chicago taxpayers over $500 million in police abuses cases, have a Code of Silence that tries to prevent officers from speaking up, and has articles in their contract that actually allow for abuse of citizens and cover ups by police.

 

Let me be clear though, the torture curriculum only focuses on what Burge did. It does not address any instance of police abuse, murder before or after him.

 

I know police who have said things to me like, “I’m not a bad guy.” I know some police are right when they say that. It is true that even within a corrupt system like the Chicago Police or policing as a whole, there can be legitimately good police officers. However, until I hear police willing to call out the FOP, take it over, or create a new and legitimate police union then I’ll just say that within every corrupt system there may be a few good apples.

 

Anytime I write a piece critical of police I ask myself a lot of questions. Is there a risk to me in writing this piece? My spouse? My kids? Do I need to try and make sure there aren’t recent public pictures of my kids on social media? Do I need to prevent people from knowing where my kids go to school? Am I damaging my career? Am I in danger? Or are these just irrational fears that I don’t need to worry about? I think these thoughts every time my partner gives me the look that means, “Dave be careful.” I try to be, but then I think about teaching.

 

In college, I was told by a great teacher, that no matter where you teach, if you are going to be successful in this career you need to advocate for your students and then teach them how to advocate for themselves. Since I began teaching in CPS in 2007 I have heard stories from my students of police harassment and abuse. I think about students who have been killed by police. I realize that I must use my various forms of privilege to speak out. I hope soon enough police officers will do the same.

 

There can’t be healing until there is acknowledgement of systemic issues with policing and from there reconciliation can begin. However, as long as the FOP is around, healing isn’t even possible.

 

Jon Burge and his men did horrible things. The reason we teach about these things is to prevent them from happening again. If you are an educator who wants to learn more about this curriculum, I am fortunate to be a part of a group of educators putting together a professional development (PD) that will be offered at the Chicago Teachers Union in the near future on what this curriculum really is and how to teach it. Click here for more information about PD’s offered from the CTU, the dates for this PD are not yet finalized.

 

If you are interested in working to improve policing in Chicago than check out the Alliance Against Racist & Political Repression (AARPR) as they and the Chicago Torture Justice Center have and continue to work to get all the victims of the Jon Burge era freed from jail. The AARPR also are and have been working towards getting an elected Civilian Police Accountability Council, which would make the police accountable to someone besides themselves or the mayor’s cronies.

 

Click here to view this piece on Huff Post.

Presenter Reparations WON Curriculum

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Photo: CPS Teachers from right to left Will Weaver, Mayra Almaraz-De Santiago, and Dave Stieber

We are leading professional development around the Reparations WON curriclum.

https://www.ctuf.org/won/

“Starting this school year, middle and high school teachers must teach about the history of torture committed under the direction of disgraced Police Commander Jon Burge and the fight waged by survivors and their allies for justice. In 2015, organizers won the passage of a Chicago city ordinance which awarded a full reparations package to survivors and included the creation of this curriculum which CPS finally launched last spring. This curriculum will be a challenge to teach and teachers will need strong preparation, as well as time to collaborate and plan. The CTU and CTUF Quest Center supported the development of the curriculum and worked with rank and file educators to develop this professional development series.The PD modules are divided into 1) before teaching the curriculum, 2) teaching the curriculum, and 3) after teaching the curriculum. The modules will include workshop time for participants to think and plan.”

Both An NFL Player and Chicago Public Schools Teacher Punished for Fighting for Justice

How could an NFL player and a Chicago Public Schools Special Education teacher have anything in common? When they both are being punished for advocating for justice for others.

We are all familiar with the story of Colin Kaepernick who decided to peacefully protest the inequalities facing Black Americans, specifically in terms of police brutality. If you aren’t from Chicago then you may not be familiar with the story of Sarah Chambers. Sarah is an elementary special education teacher in Chicago who vocally advocates for the special education students she teaches at her school, as well as across the entire city. Chambers is now entering her 10th week of suspension. She is forbidden to teach her students and they have been forced to have a substitute teacher all of this time. Chicago Public Schools (CPS) has not said why she is suspended. However, just as Colin Kaepernick is still unsigned because of his advocacy for justice, Sarah is suspended because of her willingness to vocally advocate for her students.

Colin Kaepernick and Sarah Chambers are both highly effective at their chosen professions. Colin Kaepernick has the 5th best touchdown to interception ratio of all time and last year he had 16 touchdowns as compared to only 4 interceptions. Sarah Chambers has consistently received distinguished ratings by her principals, the highest rating achievable in the current teacher evaluation system.

In addition to being highly effective at his profession, Colin Kaepernick is an active citizen who is committed to making our country better. As a social studies teacher myself, it is empowering to be able to show my students a celebrity who is aware of issues, makes others aware, donates to organizations trying to improve those issues and finally is willing to work to create change. Colin Kaepernick has pledged to donate $1 million of his own money to organizations working to improve our country. He also created an organization called Know Your Rights Camp, which he is intricately a part of.

While not a celebrity, Sarah Chambers is also an active citizen and an open LGBTQ teacher who created an LGBTQ club at her school to provide all of her students a safe space. She teaches her students about the gross underfunding of Special Education programs in Chicago, which directly impact their lives. She then educates the public about these issues and speaks to those in power in Chicago to bring about the change that will impact all students in CPS.

An unfortunate similarity is that Colin Kaepernick and Sarah Chambers both work for organizations run with nearly absolute control. To the head of the NFL Roger Goodell and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, being a civically engaged citizen like Chambers and Kaepernick is dangerous to their power structure. Many fans clearly like and support Kaepernick as evidenced by the fact of his top selling jersey last season and by the fact even though he is unsigned, his jersey is currently still one of the highest selling jerseys. His jersey (currently 17th most popular of any position) is outselling the starting quarterbacks of 24 teams. Sarah Chambers is also clearly respected as evidenced by the massive amount of support she has received from her students, parents, and teachers.

In Chicago, Rahm Emanuel forbids Democracy in our school system. Rahm appoints everyone involved in making decisions about education, from the CEO to the school board. Roger Goodell also wields similar power. He often suspends players and punishes teams without just cause. The NFL and Roger Goodell try to hide information from the players, like the league attempting to cover up the issues with concussions. Rahm Emanuel also engages in cover-ups. He tried to cover up the murder of Laquan McDonald by the Chicago Police for over a year.

The actions of Goodell and Emanuel may be supported by other power hungry elites, but their actions are clearly not liked by the masses they are supposed to represent. When either of them go out in public they consistently face booing fans/constituents. Rahm Emanuel got booed after a Chicago Blackhawks rally, at a street naming ceremony, at a basketball game, and most recently by school children.  Roger Goodell gets booed at every NFL Draft.

While there are many similarities between the Kaepernick and Chambers situations there are some major differences. One of the differences that I want to focus on is the vastly different levels of support from people within their profession, as well as the unions that are supposed to represent them. Sarah has support from her union, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU). While Kaepernick does not have the same level of support of the National Football League Players Association.

There have been many rallies and protests to support Sarah, organized by the Chicago Teachers Union. But what help has the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) provided for Kaepernick? Certain NFL players like Michael Bennett, Richard Sherman, and Brandon Marshall have come out to question why Kaepernick has yet to be signed. Last season Kaepernick also had the support of his teammate Eric Reid as well as multiple NFL players and U.S. Women’s soccer star Megan Rapinoe, who joined his protest.

But through all that, why is the National League Football Players Association staying quiet? The NFLPA should be visibly fighting against the obvious banishment of Kaepernick. It should be helping to organize rallies, release statements, and build a movement of NFL players who are willing to speak up. Other players should also speak up and push the NFLPA to act.

As of now only one white male athlete has supported Kapernick in any sport. Current Eagles defensive lineman Chris Long has been the only white male athlete to support Kaepernick. Many Military Veterans, the people who he was supposedly disrespecting, have come out to support Kaepernick, yet crickets from nearly all white male athletes.

The Chicago Teachers Union has encouraged its members to speak up in support of Sarah. The teachers who are willing to speak up for her, know that it is a risk to speak up, because Rahm Emanuel wants teachers to stay silent.

Silence is exactly what the NFL and other sports organizations want. Being outspoken got former Chicago Bulls sharp shooter Craig Hodges blacklisted from the NBA, as chronicled in his book “Long Shot”.

Power likes silence whether in sports or teaching. Power adores systems like blackballing. Colin Kaepernick is not the first athlete punished for being an active citizen. John Carlos and Tommie Smith were punished for raising their fists at the ’68 Olympics. Toni Smith a college basketball player faced severe repercussions for her protest in 2003.

Sarah Chambers is not the first teacher punished for being vocal. In fact, Chicago Public Schools is currently punishing many other teachers for being outspoken, here are the stories of 5 of them.

In the cases of Sarah Chambers and Colin Kaepernick my final question is, why would the powers in place be more upset about an actively engaged citizen then what is causing them to take a stand in the first place?

The NFL should be proud of someone like Kaepernick, who can play well and be socially aware and active, just like Chicago should be proud of someone like Sarah Chambers, who is a great teacher and an advocate to make our schools better for all our students.

Power thrives by fear. To improve our country, athletes, teachers, and citizens need to support the truth tellers who are willing to risk it all. These truth tellers are not in the spotlight for themselves, but for the betterment of everyone in society.

If you are interested in helping Sarah Chambers and other teachers who have been punished get their jobs back, whether you live in Chicago or not you can click here for information on whom to contact to help.

If you are interested in helping Kaepernick get signed, start pressuring your favorite NFL team’s front office and the NFLPA. As a Bear’s fan, I know Kaepernick could beat out all of our backups and most likely our starters. I imagine that the fans of many teams around the league are not happy with their quarterback situation either.

As Dave Zirin in writes in The Nation, “The NFL is denying Colin Kaepernick employment not because he isn’t “good enough” but because he is being shut out for the crime of using his platform to protest the killing of black kids by police.”

 

*Important things to note and question about this piece. I focused on Sarah Chambers because she is and has been very vocal about her punishment. I believe publicizing her struggle will continue to help shine a light on all the terrible policies that harm all teachers, special education students and students in general in Chicago. By focusing on Sarah Chambers, a white teacher, it does not shine a spotlight on the gross injustices that teachers of color and specifically Black teachers face(d) in CPS. Chicago Public Schools has a history of firing Black and Latino teachers in large numbers and of not hiring Black teachers as well.

 

To view this piece on Huff Post click here.

Suspended For Standing Up For Students: Only In The Mayor Controlled Chicago Public Schools

My oldest son will be starting kindergarten in the fall. He is a introverted kid. He loves to learn, takes a while to warm up to new people, and is a loyal friend. He is however at times too passive, which could make him vulnerable to bullying or more prone withdraw from activities that he would otherwise be interested in. When I envision the type of teacher that I want for my son next year and going forward in CPS, I picture a teacher that will make him feel safe, inspire him to learn, bring him joy and push his learning. I want a teacher who will teach him to take a stand, will advocate for him if needed and also will teach him how to advocate for himself.

 

My wife and I are both CPS teachers and we know that the system of CPS is a mess, but also know that the educators who work in the buildings are amazing. As an educator in CPS for the past ten years, I have met many educators that I would love my son to have as teachers. One such educator is Sarah Chambers.

 

Sarah, if you haven’t heard, is now in her 7th week of being suspended by CPS. She is an elementary special education teacher who has always received great ratings from her principals. She also vocally advocates for her students and special education students across the city. In addition, she also runs her schools LGBTQ club at her school.

 

Her “crime” is holding accountable a school system in which the mayor controls schools, appoints school board members, and picks CEOs to “run” the schools without educational experience. People such as these are intimidated by vocal and outstanding educators, who call them out on their inexperience or short-comings.

 

Sarah has been an outstanding teacher and vocal advocate for her students for many years now. I wrote about her back in 2014 as she led her elementary school to protest the ridiculous amount of testing being forced onto our students. Her school and another school boycotted an unneeded standardized Illinois test. CPS threatened to revoke the teachers’ teaching licenses if they didn’t give the test. The teachers met with parents and explained why they were against giving the tests and gained parental support for the boycott. These teachers so loved their students and were committed to doing what was right for their students that they literally put their careers on the line for their students. Her work on this protest was featured in the book More Than A Score.

 

The actions by CPS to suspended a committed and vocal teacher are bigger than Sarah Chambers. This is how CPS has been operating for years. Once again, when you have mayoral control and people with no educational experience running schools they get scared when outstanding and vocal teachers speak up. Teachers like Xian Franzinger Barrett, Tim Meegan and other CPS teachers who have spoken up in years past quickly find their position cut. In many districts, educators would be lauded for their commitment to their students and schools, but CPS prefers its teachers quiet and complacent. The minute you are confident and vocal CPS comes for you or at least puts you on a troublemaker list.

Now this year, in addition to Sarah Chambers there are 5 other teachers currently suspended for being vocal advocates for their schools and students. Teachers like Kevin Triplett, Joseph Dunlap, Laura Sierra,  and Jose Contreras. Their stories and “justification” for being suspended can be found here.

Now I know there may be someone somewhere thinking, “surely those teachers must have done something illegal or they wouldn’t be suspended”. If you have taught in CPS long enough you know that being vocal is a crime enough. To survive in the chaos of CPS system leadership teachers usually adopt 1 of 2 strategies. Either, 1) go along with the mess and just lay low or 2) act like you are going along with the mess and then close your classroom door and do what is best for our students. There is another option. It is the option that has the potential of incredible highs and devastating lows. This 3rd option is to teach effectively, develop critical-thinkers who question why things are they way they are and speak out against injustice. The possible high is that with a concerted and collaborated effort, over time real change will happen in CPS and the school system will improve. Mayoral control will end and school board members will be elected and no longer appointed. The low of this plan is exactly what is happening to the CTU Six, they are targeted and suspended for being too vocal.

 

As a parent I want a teacher who not only can teach my child, but is also willing to defend my child and teach society ways to improve our schools. By suspending these 6 teachers, CPS is robbing these teachers’ students of quality instruction. The students of these teachers are and have been taught by substitutes for weeks. That is not what is best for kids.

 

There are ways you can help. 1) Contact CPS and CEO Claypool and ask them to reinstate all of the CTU Six. 2) Contact your Alderman and ask them to support the CTU Six. 11 Alderman have already publicly stated their support, shout out to Alderman Garza, Pawar, Waugespack, Cardenas, Rosa, Arena, Munoz, Mell, Lopez, Cappleman, and Reilley. 3) Get involved in your neighborhood schools, teachers need support.

 

To view this piece on Huff Post click here.

To view this piece on Alternet click here.

A President’s Day Lesson For Trump: The Feds Can’t Fix Chicago

Dear President Trump,

 

You seem to have a strong dislike towards Chicago. Is it due to the fact that Chicago was the only city in the country, during your presidential campaign, where you were afraid to take the stage in? Or is it because former President Obama adopted Chicago as his hometown? I know you weren’t a fan of Obama since you called him, “the Founder of ISIS” and declared for years that he wasn’t born in America.

 

Okay, so you have two reasons to not like our city. But beyond that I’m not sure why you are so obsessed with Tweeting or talking badly about Chicago. You just criticized Chicago again in your pep rally in Florida this weekend. If you want to actually help our city, then you should listen to people from Chicago. You shouldn’t meet with people who aren’t from here to talk about us. Just like that pastor from Ohio who claimed on live TV that “top gang thugs” from Chicago wanted to meet with you. Except that after his bold proclamation on national television, he admitted he “misspoke”, i.e. had lied about that.

 

So for Presidents’ Day, I thought long and hard and I decided to give you a gift. As a high school Social Studies teacher in Chicago, I decided to teach you about Chicago and specifically why we do not want the Feds to come to our city.

 

Don’t think I am singling you out due to your political party either. Many of us in Chicago have been trying to teach our own Democratic Mayor Rahm Emanuel the same things that I am about to teach you, but he refuses to listen. He claims he cares about our city and our people, but his policies prove he doesn’t. I don’t want you to follow in his footsteps.

 

Now to your lesson on Chicago:

A few things to note President Trump, Chicago is not the wild west.

 

There is no doubt that certain neighborhoods in our city have very high levels of violence (I will address that in more depth shortly), but it is important you know that while some neighborhoods have increases in violence, many other neighborhoods have seen decreases in violence. The parts of Chicago that are funded appropriately are beautiful, which is why Chicago is the third most visited city in the U.S. I mean, you should know the downtown is beautiful, you do own the hotel in Trump Tower, right on the Chicago River.

 

In fact, contrary to what Attorney General Jeff Sessions and you say, crime is not up nationally, it is down. In addition, the police in Chicago have way too much power, so you can cool it with your Executive Orders giving police more power. Did you read the recent scathing Department of Justice Report on systemic abuses by the Chicago Police? Included in it were policies that promote a Code of Silence, poor training methods, harassment, abuse, torture at a secret facility, and murder, all done to the residents of Chicago, by the police. The Chicago Police continue to take life, while accounting for 39% of our city’s entire operating budget, which is $4 million dollars per day. In addition, Chicago Police brutality cases have cost our city half a Billion dollars.

 

In fact, Chicago does not even make the top ten of the most violent cities per capita in the country.

 

But sadly, violence is an issue in parts of our city, so lets address it.

There is no doubt that certain neighborhoods in our city are not anywhere as safe as they should be. As a Chicago Public Schools teacher for the past ten years, I have personally seen and experienced the impact that the violence has had on my students, their families, my colleagues, and myself.

 

Here is the thing about violence, hardly anyone would choose to commit crimes or be violent if there were other options. The issue is that the amount of other options are extremely limited, in particular in our most vulnerable and violent neighborhoods.

You yourself said Chicago’s violence is, “very fixable.” I hope that means you are willing to address the root causes of the violence.

 

Chicago, through the purposeful segregation policies of redlining, restrictive covenants, and eminent domain over the years, has been divided into a city of “haves” and “have nots.” Generally, downtown and the North side of the city are the “haves” and the South and West sides are the “have nots.”

 

Those of us who live in Chicago know that jobs and investment in struggling communities, which includes public schools, is the key to stopping violence. The investment in these communities should improve the lives of the residents, rather then push them out. As one Chicago writer says, “Want to fix Chicago? Invest in its people, embrace the idea that the rest of the city matters, not just the North Side.” Chicago has also closed half of its mental health clinics which were primarily located on the South and West sides. Now the largest primary provider of mental health in the entire country (yes, I said entire country) is the Cook County Jail located here in Chicago.

 

We need to stop diverting money away from neighborhoods that need it the most. This money has been stolen from the neighborhoods and used for things like new stadiums and beautification of our already beautiful downtown. We need to fully fund our public schools and create new revenue options to do that. Another Chicago writer said we need to “Talk about the systemic issues.” We need to talk about how people do not have job options in far too many neighborhoods in our city.

 

The way Chicago Public Schools are run is also terrible and contributes to the violence. The Mayor has complete control over our schools. He closed the most schools in the history of our country and has continually cut school funding. He picks the members of the school board, who show their gratitude for being appointed by doing whatever he says. This includes opening new charter schools, even though charters are proven no more effective than public schools. The person in charge of our school district has ZERO educational experience. All of these school closings, funding cuts and diversions of money to charter schools by our Mayor have and continue to harm our students and our city, which in turn is tied into the violence.

 

A Chicago organizer puts it clearly, “”Poverty is violence, and it exacerbates violence… If you give people access to mental health care, education, you give them the opportunity to realize their full humanity. And we’re denied that.”

 

To put it simply we do NOT need to give the police more power. We do NOT need more police. We need to create jobs and fund our public schools and our neighborhoods.

People need jobs.

Services need to be provided.

Schools need to be fully funded.

All neighborhoods need to be equitably funded.

 

I hope you appreciate the gift I am giving you. I am saving you some work on investigating the root causes of violence in our city. You don’t need to send the Feds to our city… unless the purpose of them coming is to get rid of our mayor. Just kidding, kind of.

But I guess all this to say, I would like to ask you to stop talking bad about our city.

Or, as the kids say, just take the name Chicago out of your mouth.

 

Sincerely,

An actual resident of Chicago

P.S. Release your tax returns.

 

To view this piece on Huffington Post click here.