Chicago Public Schools finally replaces Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day
My maternal grandfather Dominick Colella came over from Italy when he was 12 years old. At that time our country was far more welcoming to immigrants and his family was allowed to come here for a better life. I always looked up to my grandfather. He was a story teller, a hard worker, and someone who cared about people. I looked up to him so much that I named my first born child after him.
It’s important to find honorable people that inspire us and that we can look up to. As someone with Italian ancestry let me just reiterate what many have been saying for generations…Christopher Columbus is not it.
Growing up I always heard the tired regurgitated lines of “…in 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue and discovered America…”. It wasn’t until college that I learned that when Columbus came to America he raped, enslaved, murdered, and tortured indigenous Arawak people. Columbus never deserved a holiday. The recent step by Chicago Public Schools to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day is one Native Americans and other activists have been fighting for for years.
Chicago Alderman Nicholas Sposato (38th Ward) and Alderman Anthony Napolitano (41st Ward) are extremely opposed to replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day. But let’s be clear, Alderman Sposato and Alderman Napolitano don’t really care about celebrating Columbus or not, they are threatened by the idea of anyone trying to challenge their problematic white history. They are fragile white people, both of them are textbook examples of white fragility. For these Alderman who are clearly unaware of what white fragility is, “it is a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves”. For example, Alderman Sposato saying he will bring an “army of Italians” to the next Board of Education meeting and the fact that he even tries to compare Columbus and Dr. King.
As a white person, as someone who has half Italian ethnicity, I’m embarrassed by their actions and their resistance to replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day.
Teaching true history is necessary in our society. There are age appropriate ways to teach the truth about Columbus to children. Last year I had my high school students research what Columbus actually did and then create 1st grade age-appropriate yet historically accurate books. The students then took the books to a local elementary school and read the books to the 1st graders there. Many resources exist already to teach children of all ages what Columbus actually did. Many states and cities have stopped celebrating the holiday.
In time, nearly all people will realize that honoring a raping murder is not a good idea. It’s time that white people, especially Italian American white people, speak up. The name Columbus, should be said with the same disgust as the name Hitler, Mussolini, and every other person who has committed atrocities in history. The Columbus “holiday” needs to be erased from the fabric of our country.
It is now time for all of Chicago to celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day.
It is beyond time to honor the people who were here first.
For 13 years I’ve been teaching in Chicago. 13 years of budget cuts, no librarians, part time nurses, not enough counselors. 13 years of of promises from Mayors and CEOs to improve our schools. Yet, educators always do more with less. That is why the city continues to take. It knows that because teachers love our students we will always do our best, even with no resources.
We love our students so much that we don’t share our teaching stories with non-teachers willingly. We are cautious, we don’t want anyone to judge our students or us. We have pride in our schools. Our schools become our identities. Our kids are on our minds long after the bell rings. We reflect on what went well and obsess on what we need to improve.
Contrary to what I believed when I was a student, teachers have lives outside of school. We are parents, partners, taxpayers, and relied upon by many others in our lives.
So when someone dare calls us greedy it is a right hook to our face. How dare they? Our love for our students and our schools physically drains us. We don’t get enough sleep, we over eat, over stress because of our professions. We stay after the school day ends to grade, to coach, to mentor, for free. We give up our time with our own families for people’s kids.
How dare you call us greedy. How dare you ignore us when we ask for better conditions for our students. It’s not easy for us to do this. We went into teaching because we love kids. We were told our career choice was noble. Yet, now we find ourselves being called greedy because we dare ask for better conditions for our students? We opened up, advocated and showed our love for our students out loud and you called us names.
Tomorrow we are about to perform a noble action taught to us by Gandhi, MLK, Chavez, and Raby. Tomorrow we will strike. We will strike for our students. We will strike for our schools. We will strike to improve our city. We will go without pay. We will risk outsiders talking badly about us. It will sting, it will be hard, but it’s past time that our students have the same basic necessities that every suburban student has had for years.
We will strike because we are noble. We will strike because we know our moral compass points to equity, it points toward justice and we know those are things the students of Chicago have never had.
My classroom is decorated with historical figures who inspire me. Every person on my wall worked to do what’s right, because they envisioned what a better future should be like for all people. These individuals cared so deeply about their country that they put themselves on the line to advocate for others even if what was right was not popular or even legal.
I became a social studies teacher because of them. These individuals knew that those in power used legislation and laws to control, discriminate, harm, and dehumanize people. People like Dolores Huerta who broke an Arizona law that prevented people from saying the words “strike” and “boycott”. People like Sal Castro who ignored the laws that made it illegal for him to teach his students what their over-crowded and underfunded East L.A. school system was being deprived of and helped them plan mass walkouts. When these activists came across a damaging and controlling law, they would examine it, understand it and purposefully refuse to follow it.
In Illinois, there currently exists a damaging and controlling law, a law that became official in 1995. Known as the Chicago School Reform Act, this law was created to silence teachers’ voices calling for equity in public schools. It gives the mayor full control of the school system and school board. And in an effort to make us look greedy it forbids teachers from striking over anything besides pay and benefits. The law makes it impossible for educators to force the city to admit that having over 30 kids in class is unjust, that not having a librarian in 9 out of 10 majority Black schools is unjust, that a critical shortage of nurses, counselors, and social workers system wide is unjust.
This insidious law makes teachers look greedy and weakens our power because the city only has to negotiate pay and benefits with us. This law continues to allow those in power to ignore the conditions and lack of resources in Chicago Public Schools. This law makes the teachers who are on the front lines, unable to get the city to negotiate over truly improving our public schools.
This is why the Chicago Tribune, Sun Times and even our own school system calls us greedy by perpetuating these opinions. They want us to simply take a raise.They want us to just trust that the Mayor will do right by the students. They want us to ignore the fact that Chicago’s schools have been criminally underfunded for generations. Every student who ever attended CPS knows this fact. Every parent of a CPS student knows this. Every teacher who has ever taught in CPS knows this too.
Our schools should have so much more than what they currently have or have ever had. This is why many politicians and people in power don’t send their own children to CPS, because the inequities are devastating.
94% of Chicago’s educators just authorized our union to strike. In 2012, when we went on strike we had 90% of teachers vote to strike. In 2012 Chicago Public Schools was trying to take pay away from us. Now CPS is willing to give us our cost of living increases without a fight, so why did more teachers vote to strike this time then in 2012? We are so fed up with looking into our kids faces every day and knowing this city truly doesn’t give a damn about them. We are done waiting on verbal promises from the city.
Mayor Lightfoot claims she’s not Rahm. Maybe she wasn’t when she ran but since she’s become Mayor, I hear a whole lot of Rahm in her statements. Rahm called us greedy, Rahm talked badly about us when we had our strike vote and Rahm sued our union when we struck in 2012 because we wanted to negotiate over things besides pay and benefits. Mayor Lightfoot has done all of those things, besides sue our union. But if she continues the failing Rahm playbook I’m sure the city is already planning to sue the Chicago Teachers Union if we strike on October 17th. The city will sue us because as educators we dare to demand that our students have everything they deserve, in writing.
Mayor Lightfoot said a strike would be “catastrophic” for the students. In a series of posts on Twitter with the hashtag #PutItInWriting, educators and supporters detailed the real catastrophe and decade long catastrophic effects from the lack of funding and resources for our CPS schools and students.
EVERYTHING that our students and schools deserve, in writing, includes:
Place full-time librarians, counselors, clinicians, psychologists, social workers and nurses in every school
Make sure all students get special education services they are entitled to by law
Hire special education teachers, case managers and paraprofessionals
Maintain real class size limits
Give us the freedom to plan, grade & be professionals on our teacher preps (the limited time during the day when we don’t have students in front of us)
Establish true restorative justice programs in schools
Provide mental health services for all students and staff
If the city chooses NOT to give our students these requests in writing, then the city is following in the path of Mayors Daley and Emanuel by ignoring what the students deserve. If this city actually cared about the students it “serves” it would not be arguing with those on the front lines of education, the educators.
If this city cared about its children, it would happily fund our education system. Chicago quickly gave $33 million more to keep the police in the schools, even though many students, parents, and teachers objected. The city will hand over money to the police department to incarcerate our youth but will not do the same to educate them.
When Bernie Sanders was in Chicago recently, publicly supporting public school educators, he said, “…teaching is one of the most patriotic professions that you can do.” It is our patriotic duty to do whatever it takes to get our students what they deserve.
The Chicago Teachers Union will strike over pay and benefits. But me, and many others, we will be striking to disrupt the status quo. We will be striking against systemic racism and generational neglect in our public schools.
We will be attempting to follow the lead of those people that I have on my classroom walls. The people that I’ve always aspired to emulate. There have always been bad laws used to harm, discriminate, and to silence people. It’s once again time to ignore laws like that.
It’s time to do what is right for our students.
To view this piece on SouthSideWeekly click here and for ChicagoNow click here
Educators in Chicago are currently working towards getting a new contract that will truly improve our schools for our students. But this past week the Chicago Tribune Editorial Board wrote a piece telling us to “just take the deal” — basically take the money and shut up.
This is the same Editorial Board that had one of its board members write a piece in 2015 wishing for a Hurricane Katrina-type disaster here in Chicago. The article praised the disaster for giving “a great American city a rebirth.” The author, Kristen McQueary, stated “That’s why I find myself praying for a real storm. It’s why I can relate, metaphorically, to the residents of New Orleans climbing onto their rooftops and begging for help and waving their arms and lurching toward rescue helicopters.”
After the Tribune urged us to just take the deal, Chicago Public Schools shared that article on its social media. The message CPS sent its 40,000 educators is you are all a bunch of greedy educators who should just take the money we are offering you.
I’m beyond exhausted of the “greedy teacher” narrative. I’ve been teaching in CPS for 13 years. I’ve been through multiple contract negotiations, the strike of 2012, the Day of Action one day strike in the spring of 2016 and the last minute midnight contract signing in the fall of 2016.
I’ve heard the empty promises of Rahm Emanuel, which ended in devastation. I’m hearing the empty promises of Lightfoot. I’ve been lied to by 12 CPS CEOs. All of these people tell us that they know what’s best for Chicago’s kids and that we should just trust them.
Chicago makes students pay to take the bus to and from school. I’ve watched Chicago steal TIF money designed to go to neighborhoods and schools and put that money to things like private stadiums, the Riverwalk and hotels. I’ve seen CPS vote to give the Chicago Police Department millions of dollars to continue the school to prison pipeline while increasing class sizes and cutting school budgets.
There is and always has been money in Chicago. Money that Chicago should have been using to fully fund and improve its schools for generations.
Now CPS wants us to take the money and trust them to actually, finally help the schools. It doesn’t matter who is in charge of Chicago or CPS, the answer is no, we will never trust you until you put it in writing.
I would rather teach and be in the classroom but I’m ready to strike. I’m ready to strike until all of the following are put in writing in our contract:
Place full-time librarians, counselors, clinicians psychologists social workers, and nurses in every school.
Make sure all students get special education services they are entitled to by law.
Hire special education teachers, case managers and paraprofessionals.
Maintain real class size limits.
Give us the freedom to plan, grade & be professionals on our teacher preps (the limited time during the day when we don’t have students in front of us).
Establish true restorative justice programs in schools.
Take police officers out of schools.
Provide mental Health services for all students and staff.
In my 13 years as an educator, I’ve taught almost 2,000 students. I’ll strike for every single one of my students. I’ll strike for all my future students. I’ll strike for my two sons in CPS. It should come as no surprise that I will be voting yes to authorize my union to strike in next week’s strike vote.
So Chicago, know that the mayor and CPS have a choice to put all of our demands in writing to truly make our schools better or we will shut this city down until they do.
Click here to view this piece on The Chicago Reporter
Recently the CPS Board of Education had a chance to actually be different than the appointed school boards of the past and do right by kids. They were asked to vote on a plan to give the Chicago Police Department$33 Million more dollars for employing police in schools. Out of the school board members 5 decided that investing in CPD was a good idea.
$33 Million more will given to policing. $33 Million more given to one of the most corrupt police departments in the country. The Chicago Police Department cost the city $118 Million in police misconduct cases just last year. CPD police misconduct has cost the city over half of a Billion dollars in just the last 8 years. CPD is responsible for codes of silence, black sites, sexual assaults, trauma, torture, and far too many murders.
It’s been researched and proven that having police in schools does NOT make kids safe. It allows the trauma that the police caused on the streets and in the neighborhoods to continue in our school buildings.
Many educators talk and teach their students about ending the school to prison pipeline. But the CPS Board has decided to ignore all of that. Work to end the school to prison pipeline? Nope, the School Board invested $33 Million more in it, ignoring research and student testimony from student organizations such asGood Kids Mad CityandVoyces of Youth in Chicago Education.
It was reported just this summer thatpolice in CPS had no oversight. So CPD, after being called out, “promised” to fix it. Our city already gives $4 million every day to CPD. The Justice Department called out Chicago’s Police Department andlisted 100 issueswithin the Chicago Police Department.
Yet a group of people who claim they care about kids, ignored all of that and decided to once again invest in policing over education.
CPS teachers are in the midst of a contract negotiation. We want, in writing, things that will actually benefit our schools and students. We want, in writing, more nurses and social workers. We want counselors NOT cops in our schools. We want a librarian in every building. We want real limits on class size. We want true protections for students with special needs. Our students deserve so much more.
But at the bare minimum every student should feel safe in their school. A Chicago Police Officer does not do that.
We can make kids feel safe in schools by actually having time to work with, counsel, and educate them.
The CPS Board had a chance to change the status quo this week, but instead it decided to ignore students, community, and research. The Board backed the blue and invested in policing over education.
This is just another reason why I will be voting yes to authorize the Chicago Teachers Union to strike.
After final exams were finished a few weeks ago, I asked my juniors what we should watch. They unanimously said “When They See Us”. I cringed, but not because I had any doubts about the series. I had been captivated and enraged by it the week earlier while watching it at home. I cringed because I thought I knew how hard it would be to watch it with my Black students.
When They See Us sees the Central Park Five give false confessions under interrogation (Image: NETFLIX)
In this class, we had spent extensive time learning about the greatness of Africa and life pre-imperialization, to reaffirm strong identities. We spent weeks examining institutionalized racism, Chicago police torture, educational inequalities and city policies. The students were ready to watch the series; they had class context and maturity, plus the life experience of being Black teens in America. As a teacher though, I was ready for summer vacation. I was ready to be done teaching.
Watching this series in the comfort of my own home had been very difficult. It made me think of every student I’d ever taught who had been caught up with the police, it made me think of all the survivors ofChicago police torture. It made me picture my current students in the situation of Raymond, Kevin, Antron, Yusef, and Kharey, the wrongly accused children featured in this series.
Starting this series with my students would require that I still teach, even after grades were done. Just a few minutes into the first episode I stopped it and asked my students what they should do if the police ever try to question them. After their first instincts were only following in the footsteps of any young kid, claiming they’d ask for their parent, I showed them this tweet and we discussed it:
Tweet from @prisonculture
Around the same time, the school that I work at had staff from members from First Legal Aid come and speak to our students about their rights with police. This organization broke down what rights the students had and gave them instructions on how to interact with police in multiple scenarios.
Watching the police interrogate, harass, threaten, and abuse the innocent kids and parents in “When They See Us” not only made past teaching experiences come back to me, but it also made past personal experiences come back too. It made me think aboutmy own police run in and privilege. When I was seventeen, I was drinking with my friends at a party. We ran out of alcohol and needed more so we made the drunken poor choice of breaking into a nearby building that we knew had some in it. In the morning, we realized the stupid mistake we had made. We all quickly decided we would not discuss what happened with anyone, including to deny everything if asked about it, and we went home. Later that morning, I got a call from the police saying they were coming to my house. I panicked and didn’t move for some time. Then as the police car was pulling into my driveway I told my parents that the police were coming over because of a break in that happened near the party the night before, but assured them that I had nothing to do with it. My college educated parents, caught off guard by the police showing up, let the police come into the house and ask me questions, without ever once considering their options to 1. Not let the police in or 2. Tell me not to answer any questions or 3. Make sure that I didn’t say a thing without a lawyer.
I also was naïve enough to figure that I could lie to my parents and also lie to the police and not get caught. I told my parents that I had no idea about the break in, that the police were asking me about. The cop then proceeded to sit at our table and ask me questions about the break in. I told him three times that I had no idea about the break in. After the third time of me telling him the fake story he looked at me and said, “Some of your friends already told me what happened so if you don’t tell me the real story of what happened then I am taking you down to the station .” Not wanting to be taken from my house and believing that one of my other friends had already told him what happened, I told him the truth. He took down my testimony and thankfully, due to my privileges as a white teen, he let me stay at my house with my parents while they went to talk to the other kids who were involved.
The owners of the building that we broke into decided not to press charges against us if we apologized and agreed to do volunteer work for them. I now know that the decision not to press charges were made because we were white and thought to be “good kids” who made a poor choice, (which just means white). But if they would’ve pressed charges I would’ve been charged with a felony.
Raymond, Kevin, Antron, Yusef, and Kharey did not get the privileges I was born in to.I committed the crime and got away with it, they didn’t even commit a crime and got punished.My students do not get those privileges. Yet, I and every white person does.
All of this led me to my next thought, if there are so many issues with police and we have to educate our youth on their rights with police, why do we let police in our schools?
In Chicago, where there have been far too manypolice murders, our students are also exposed to police in their schools. A thorough report published in 2017 titled “Handcuffs in Hallways-The State of Policing in Chicago Public Schools” states, “Research shows that the mere presence of police officers in school increases the likelihood that a student will be referred to law enforcement for adolescent behavior. School-based arrests, which fall more harshly on students of color, put students in direct contact with the justice system. Poor policing within schools therefore puts students on the fast track to the school-to-prison pipeline…These children regularly interact with police officers during the school day, putting them in greater risk of being pulled into the criminal justice system. Students report being stopped, searched, and even arrested and processed on campus. Daily interactions with police influence students’ perceptions of their own safety and increase their level of stress, especially among Black and Latino students. Therefore, impairing their ability to learn and develop. There are varied issues related to police officers assigned to CPS. Police assigned to CPS lack proper training…”
Just recently it was reported that thepolice in schools are not getting any better either. “CPD’s current lack of guidance and structure for [student resource officers] amplifies community concerns and underscores the high probability that students are unnecessarily becoming involved in the criminal justice system, despite the availability of alternatives,”
We should have an abundance of counselors in schools not police.
As Alicia Garzasays,“There has to be a readjustment of resources that is being diverted to police and policing as opposed to community health services, and there certainly has to be control over the police by the communities that they are supposed to protect and serve.”
I wish that in July my teacher brain wasn’t still thinking about these topics. I wish during the school year that I didn’t have to teach about difficult topics such as forced false confessions like in the case of the Central Park 5 or here in Chicago with the over 100 Black residentsforced into false confessions,but unfortunately our country is founded on institutionalized racism. It is imperative as educators that even though a topic is difficult to teach, we still must teach it. Teaching Tolerance calls this “Teaching Hard History”.
As a teacher and resident of Chicago I know there are actions our city can do to help prevent institutionalized racism from continuously rearing its head.
One of the easiest ways to start this process is to take the police out school, to help prevent situations where students are traumatized in anyway by the police.