High Schoolers Researching and Teaching True Columbus to 1st Graders

One of the reasons that I decided to become a history teacher is because when I got to college I became so upset at the many things the history classes I took before that point didn’t teach me. One of the events that upset me the most was when I learned the true history of Christopher Columbus. My earlier schooling just kept my knowledge at “Columbus was a brave explorer who sailed the ocean blue in 1492 and discovered America”. It wasn’t until college that I realized he and his men murderedenslavedraped, and tortured the Arawak people that they met. The fact that we have only 6 federal holidays in our country and one of them is dedicated to this piece of trash, is beyond infuriating.

Last year my oldest son, who was in kindergartner at the time, brought home a book that was donated to the school about Columbus. I immediately read it and realized that this book was filth, because it made him out to be a hero. Here is how I handled that book with my son:

picture1

I thought about this incident over the summer; how little kids were still not learning the true history of Columbus. I decided this year to have one of my high school classes start a momentum to change this. As part of their culminating project on the legacy of colonization, they were to create a historically accurate, 1st grade appropriate children’s book of their own about Christopher Columbus. To take it one step further, I then partnered with some amazing teachers at a neighborhood elementary school to have my students read their books to the 1st grade students.

Before my students could begin to write their books, they had to research whether educated people believed the world was flat or round, if Columbus was the first non-indigenous person in this part of the world, learn about the encounter with the Arawak people, and then finally decide how Columbus should be remembered and if we should celebrate Columbus Day. All of these things were required to be in their book.

Here is the actual assignment:

Columbus Children's Book Assignment

Columbus Children’s Book Assignment

Since you don’t have the books my students researched and then made in front of you, here are some spoilers: Educated people believed the world to be round, the Vikings came to North America 500 years before Columbus AND Phoenicians from the African civilization of Carthage most likely came to North America 1500 years before the Vikings.

My students described Columbus’ encounter with the Arawak using 1st grade appropriate cruelty as, “Columbus enslaved all the Arawak’s and didn’t treat them as equals”, “Columbus took advantage of the Arawak’s because they were giving off good vibes, he hurt and damaged the Arawak tribe”, “He mistreated many women and children and forced them to do things they didn’t want to do”, “Because of the treatment of Columbus and his men the Arawak’s started dying rapidly because of the lack of the food, being abused or worse”.

While I would love to include the beautiful pictures of my 11th and 12th grade students reading to 1st graders I must respect the privacy of all the students involved. After the visit, my son, who was in one of the classes that my students came to, said to me, “Dad, I don’t get how people could be mean to other people just because of skin color. It is just skin.”  My response, “I know buddy, the messed-up thing is cruelty because of skin color and greed has been around since our country first started and it is still going on today.” My 1st grade son’s reply…a deep frustrated sigh.

To view this piece on ChicagoNow click here.

They Say We Don’t Love Our Students

So why do I feel so guilty leaving them?

In my twelve years teaching social studies in CPS, I’ve taught at two different high schools. I have recently made the decision to go to my third.

When I left TEAM Englewood, the first public high school I taught at, I felt like I had to. TEAM, which opened in 2007, was where I started teaching and where I learned how to teach. I was a part of that school. Our principal used to call the original teachers the “founding teachers.” She gave us credit for helping to create that school. We gave input on everything from the hall pass policy, to the hiring process, to what we learned in professional development, and everything in between. When I left TEAM after seven years, it had changed to a point where I didn’t feel it was healthy for me to stay. The principal and assistant principal who I learned so much from had left and we had gone through two other principals who I felt were not helping the school. I was also grieving the loss of a baby. So personally, and professionally, it became necessary for me to make a change.

The next school I worked at was Chicago Vocational (CVS), which is in the Avalon Park neighborhood. When I started teaching there, I wasn’t really prepared for the guilt I would feel about leaving TEAM Englewood. I felt like I didn’t belong at CVS, not because of the kids, but because it wasn’t TEAM. At TEAM I helped create the culture and influenced how the school ran. At CVS I was just another teacher.  However, I quickly built connections with students and began establishing my presence in the classroom and school.

This past school year at CVS has been one of my favorite years in the classroom. I have worked hard with my colleagues to create a curriculum that connects to kids while also pushing them to think, reflect, and analyze the world. I brought in twenty guest speakers from Chicago to speak to my students. These speakers included award-winning writers, poets, singers, rappers, veterans, and community activists. I helped coach our academic decathlon team. Our librarian and I created a spoken word program that got kids excited to write and perform poetry. Our students competed in Louder Than a Bomb, a youth slam poetry festival.

I was happy at Chicago Vocational.

Then in May I heard about a job opening for a social studies teacher at the high school in my South Side neighborhood.

At first, I didn’t even apply to the opening because I was not ready to leave CVS. But I eventually decided to apply due to some major personal and professional reasons I couldn’t ignore: it is a neighborhood public school located in the same neighborhood that my partner and I chose to live in twelve years ago for its racial diversity; it is the school where my partner works; and it is where eventually my kids will most likely attend high school.

The whole application, interview, and acceptance process took about one month. Throughout the entire process, I cycled through a huge range of emotions that I have been working through.  I had to decide when and how to tell my students that I was leaving and heading to a new school. When I left TEAM Englewood, the decision was made during the middle of summer, so I sent every student I taught an email telling them that I was leaving. But I made my decision to leave CVS during the last few days of the school year, so I decided to tell my students in person. I experienced a range of reactions from them. One student became angry and asked, “Mr. Stieber, how can you leave us?!” Another reaction, that was even more difficult to hear, was the student who simply said, “Mr. Stieber, I will miss you,” and then walked away. I told the kids that I am not leaving because of them, and I am not. The kids are what I love. But the kids don’t understand that, and to be honest, no matter my reason for leaving, I am leaving the kids.

In fact, during an interview, I was asked, “Do you even want to work here? Your body language seems like you don’t.” This caught me off guard because this person sensed how I felt. I had to tell them that I felt guilty for leaving my students at CVS. I told them that I am a loyal person. In fact I am so loyal I felt guilty for my first son, when my wife and I found out we were pregnant with our second son. I thought I might have blown the interview, and I was okay with that idea, but I also hoped that my explanation let them know that I was interested in switching schools—but the decision was extremely difficult.

For better or worse, teaching defines who teachers are. Schools can shape teachers as much as teachers can shape a school. Our schools, then, also become who we are. So when a teacher decides to leave a school, it is almost like they are losing a piece of who they are.

A colleague told me, when I talked to her about switching schools, that teachers can’t be martyrs for their students. Ultimately, we have to do what is best for us. I agree. The issue is since our city has many issues (hyper-segregation, lack of democracy in our schools, police violence, intra-community violence, resource theft), if we all did what was best for us, many of us would want to leave Chicago.  As teachers, I believe there must be a balance between our willingness to stay and fight for our students, our schools, and our city, and our own mental health.

Despite my own personal and professional reasons for switching schools, it is still true that CPS, and especially on the South Side, schools experiences extremely high levels of teacher turnover. A 2009 University of Chicago Consortium on School Research study found that a hundred CPS schools, many of them with majority-Black student populations, lose at least a quarter of their teaching staff every year due to reasons like “principal leadership, teacher collaboration, [and] student safety.” Losing twenty-five percent of a teaching staff per year causes many issues. Students feel like they are the reason that their teachers leave them, and will refuse to allow themselves to get close to their teachers because of the likelihood that their teachers won’t be there the next year. According to the report, having to rehire a quarter of the staff every year also leads to the hiring of “inexperienced, less effective teachers” and can also “produce a range of organizational problems for schools, such as discontinuity in professional development, shortages in key subjects, and loss of teacher leadership.” Why is it okay for certain schools, many of which serve Black and Brown students, to have teachers with little experience, while others have more experienced teachers? What would schools like the one that I am leaving need to make sure teachers are supported and want to stay?

Ultimately, CPS needs to solve the rampant issues it has with inequality in resources and support for the sake of not only its students but also its teachers. Every school deemed “Level 2” should get twice the support of every school deemed “Level 1.” To make this happen, I am not saying we take from one school to give to another, but rather to get funding from other items in the city budget. One of the largest chunks of the budget is policing, which takes up forty percent of the city’s operating budget. Schools and the communities that they serve need resources, not more cops. There is currently $95 million slated for a new cop academy on the West Side, which many activists from the community have organized against.

As I am about to begin my twelfth year at CPS, I have learned that it is only through giving all schools the equitable resources they need that teachers can dedicate their careers to educating their students. With more funds directed towards CPS and schools that need more support, these schools could afford to have more counselors, who could work with students and staff to provide trauma services and individual counseling. A Level 2 school could have a teacher aide for every single class. By fully taking care of our students, you are also taking care of teachers.

This piece was originally featured on the South Side Weekly to view it click here.

CPS Teachers, Bring Your Kids to Work

A CPS teacher on why, if your paycheck says Chicago Public Schools, your own children should be in CPS too

In my first few years of teaching, I loved my students so much that it seemed almost impossible for any other educator to care about their kids more than I did. But after having children of my own, I realized that while I still love my students, I’ll always love my own children more. Although I’ll always go way above and beyond for my students, there is nothing that I wouldn’t do for my own children.

I don’t say these things lightly. I’ve made a conscious effort to work for my students and the community. I’ve constantly worked to create a curriculum that teaches my students to question power structures and to work to create change when inequalities exist. I’ve written countless articles about my students and ways to improve our schools. I’ve been arrested for fighting to keep Chicago Public Schools (CPS) from closing fifty schools in 2013. At times, this commitment to my students has put me at odds with my administration, incited fear of write-ups, and produced threats from strangers. These risks sometimes make me question my desire to defend my students.

But like any parent, I would do anything for my own children, risk more, and ignore idle threats. My drive to protect my children and their well-being, education, and opportunities is stronger than anything I’ve ever experienced. It’s like that moment when you have children of your own and finally realize how much your parents actually love you. It is a window into the emotions of a decade’s worth of my former students’ parents. I now know more completely what those parents wanted for their kids, and wonder if I had fought hard enough. Did I fight as hard as I would have for my own kids?

I was recently interviewed by a reporter for the Weekly about my decision, as a CPS teacher, to send my kids to CPS. The interview was a follow-up to a study by the conservative Fordham Institute done back in 2004 which said that thirty-nine percent of Chicago Public School teachers didn’t send their own kids to CPS.

As a parent, I can understand why some teachers wouldn’t want to send their kids to CPS. Since 1995, mayors of Chicago have had absolute control over Chicago Public Schools. This power lets mayors appoint the CEOs of CPS and the school board members; therefore, the school board, without question, follows whatever terrible idea the mayor may have. In my eleven years of teaching in CPS, I have had eight different CPS CEOs. The Chicago Public Schools system is and has always been a mess at the leadership level.

Believe me: like many other educators, I am beyond frustrated with the way that CPS is and has been run. Working to improve CPS as a teacher (and parent) is extremely hard and, at times, absolutely demoralizing. It would be great to shield my own children from the struggles that every kid in CPS faces. But that wouldn’t help improve our city, nor would it fight against structural racism and inequality in our school system.

It hurts to have underfunded schools for my students, and now I feel that same hurt exemplified with my own child. It hurts that during our oldest son’s first year of preschool in CPS, they tried to cut the preschool special education teacher from his school. A few active parents made me aware of this. These parents created a petitionand contacted CPS, the alderman, and the media. I wrote an article about it, and together we organized a “Play In” to bring attention to this proposed cut. During the “Play In,” kids simply played while parents spoke at the school board and met with the principal, and it became a celebration instead of a protest. On the day of the “Play In,” CPS decided not to cut that position.

At the time of the “Play In,” I was exhausted. The only reason I marshalled enough energy to fight as hard as we did was because it was my son’s school. If it hadn’t been my son’s school, I likely would simply have felt upset for that school and moved on.

For this reason, I believe that if you work for Chicago Public Schools, you should send your kids to CPS.

I would go so far as to say CPS employees should be required to send their kids to CPS. Chicago Public Schools teachers are already required to live in the city, a policy that I actually agree with. I believe it creates a connection to our students and gives us responsibility for their success that can only be fostered by common ground and common experiences.

To fight for the schools our students deserve, we must also live in the city, send our kids to CPS, and fight for the city that we all deserve—as frustrating as that may be at times (or all the time).With skin in the game, CPS’ actions become personal, and the intensity with which we fight for a just education becomes stronger and more meaningful.

As teacher-parents, our involvement benefits everyone because we are able to evaluate a school unlike any other parent. This year, my partner and I made our son’s school administration aware of a teacher that needed more assistance, helped get the morning entrance policy changed, and made the school aware of an unlocked and open outside door by the preschool.

We have a trained eye for what works and what doesn’t. We have the experience and the skills to identify needed improvement, and do not tolerate inefficiency—even more so with our own children at the hands of CPS. We have the capacity to understand the system, and we know the right words to say to get the change we need to meet the expectations we hold.

If we want to make Chicago change, then our professional lives and our own personal lives must intertwine. They must coexist. We must be invested beyond our paychecks. Our fights, rallies, strikes, and decisions must become more passionate and personal.

I believe that Chicago Public Schools must end mayoral control of schools, that Chicago needs an elected school board, that Chicago must stop stealing TIF funds from Black and brown neighborhoods for downtown projects, that there is no reason to close a public school, and that money should go to students and schools as opposed to police, jails, and a new cop academy.

However, given the hyper-segregation of Chicago and the systemic racism of our school system, it is evident that even within CPS—where all schools need support—schools that teach predominantly Black and Brown children need even more resources. So while I believe that all CPS teachers should send their kids to CPS, I am much more understanding of a teacher of color choosing to or feeling forced to send their child(ren) outside of CPS than I am of a white CPS teacher doing the same. If, as a white teacher, you are willing to teach Black and Brown children in CPS, but unwilling to send your own kids to the same system from which you profit financially, it says more than a few things about your savior-like mentality.

Teaching is about building connections with our students. We teachers may differ from our students in terms of race and/or economic status, but when we live in the city, pay taxes here, and send our kids to the same public schools, our students will see that. They will see that despite our differences, we share many common bonds—most importantly, the desire to improve the city that we all call home.

To view this piece on the South Side Weekly click here.

FB Live Ed. Chat

This is a FB Live conversation (link at bottom of this post) with the amazing Dr. Roshunda Allen, Professor at Tougaloo College and myself.

We addressed educational issues impacting Jackson MS, Chicago, and our country.

We specifically talked about the idea in Denver of having a 4 day school week and also about gun violence in our schools.

(Skip the first 2 minutes and 20 seconds of technical issues/me staring at the screen to get into our convo.)

https://m.facebook.com/dfstieber/posts/10155502076561676

Closing Schools, Increasing Policing -The Chicago Way

Closing Schools, Increasing Policing -The Chicago Way
Courtesy of The News-Gazette

Chicago spends 40% of its entire operating budget on policing. In addition the city has paid out over $500 million on police brutality cases. On top of that Rahm thinks it a wise choice to spend $95 million more on a new cop academy.

Meanwhile those that run Chicago Public Schools (don’t forget Rahm appoints them) voted to close 5 predominantly Black public schools. Add that in with the 50 plus Black schools closed in 2013.

It is not conspiracy to say that Chicago wants to incarcerate, not educate, its Black youth.

It is policy.

Many in the city see the connection. If you underfund and then close schools, while continually increasing funding to police it becomes apparent what the goals are.

A budget is a political document, not just a financial one. It shows what the city prioritizes.

Chicago prioritizes criminalizing our youth, NOT educating them.

Rahm says he cares about kids, but he does NOT send his own kids to CPS. So he can say whatever he wants, BUT unless his own kids are in the CPS system his words mean jack.

Never forget that Rahm said, “25% of CPS students won’t amount to anything.”

Chicago is filled with harmful policies past and present such as redliningblockbusting, and gentrification. Actual policies created and implemented by the city that targeted and harmed Black communities in our city.

School closings, school turnarounds, and school phase-outs, is just the new or continued version of these policies that target and harm Black communities.

While these policies continue to destroy education for the children in our city, Rahm and his crew make sure to always fund policing.

The Chicago Police Department (CPD) is responsible for torturing and killing Black Chicagoans. CPD has been proven to cover up its own crimes and illegally detain people in secret sites.

In Rahm’s Chicago, if a school is deemed unsuccessful, under his bogus school rating system, then that school is punished. Charters will be built in the area and then the school will be closed or phased out after having it’s funding systematically cut.

The police do not receive this same treatment. In fact it seems as if the police are rewarded for the more flawed that they are. Students and schools punished, police rewarded.

The Chicago Police Department is getting a brand new $95 Million Cop Academy on the Westside. More for incarceration and less for education.

Our children in CPS are treated like they are in a police state. Metal detectors, police with guns in the school. Limited resources. Terrible Food.

Yet, students are told, if you work really hard you can overcome all of this. You can make it.

No doubt the amazing kids in Chicago do overcome. BUT kids should not have to overcome. Kids should just have what they need.

So instead of building a new cop academy invest that money into the schools.

Instead of policing and incarceration we could try fully funding education.

But Rahm says no.

Rahm closes schools.

Closing over 50 elementary schools in 2013 was not enough. He wants more closures. Now it is TEAM Englewood, Roberson, Hope, and Harper high schools. Eliminating all of the public neighborhood high schools in Englewood.

But even that is not enough, so he takes out a high performing elementary school in the South Loop, National Teachers Academy. This closure is done to appease white parents afraid of sending their children to school with a majority of Black students

Rahm says screw the Black community. Because surely if Rahm truly cared about the Black residents of Chicago he would be upset by the fact that over 200,000 Black families have left the city.

But not Rahm.

He would rather close a school than fix a neighborhood.

Put policing over education.

Blame the victims.

Put Incarceration over improving communities.

This is policy. These are calculated choices. This is Chicago.

Courtesy of In These Times

An Ode to the CPS Librarian

An ode to the dope librarian
Gatekeeper to tranquility
Checker of passes
Keeper of calmness

Provider of
safety
a place to
research
write
read
nap
chill
unwind

Recommender of books
Counselor for kids

Now tech coordinator
Changing with times
Collaborator with teachers

Will do any job that is asked
Most out of love
But also fear of being cut
Needs to feel needed

Is needed

But teachers aren’t used to you
There are so few of you

Self described unicorn

CPS librarians once flourished
Now all combined
Barely fill a room

Like all things good for kids
CPS cuts you
Attempting to eliminate you
Almost extinct
Just to save a mismanaged buck
Value ignored
Enrichment for students lost

By nature librarians aren’t loud
CPS knows this
So it attacks

75% of schools
no librarian
Librarian a luxury
Luxury too good
for CPS kids

Rahm’s Lab School
kids
1 librarian per 285
kids
CPS
kids
1 librarian per 2671
kids

Someone once confronted you
“why librarians
when we have Google searches
and a computer?”

Clearly this person never knew
You
Never knew what librarians
Can do

But we see you dope librarian
We appreciate you
We need to do a better job of fighting for you
Building w/ you
Working w/ you
Getting to know
you
Listening
to you
Appreciating
you

If you are interested in learning more/ wanting to advocate for librarians for our schools and our children then click here to get involved.

 

To view this piece on ChicagoNow.com click here.

Never Enough Money For Education, But Chicago Always Finds Money For Incarceration

Every year, for the past 11 years that I have taught in Chicago Public Schools (CPS), Chicago claims it doesn’t have enough money to properly fund its public schools. And every year there is some “justification” for not giving our students equitable funding.

 

In 2010, CPS didn’t have enough money and threatened to cut extracurricular programs and non-varsity sports.

 

In 2013, it was “necessary” to close more than 50 public schools, the most schools ever shut down at one time in our country’s history.

 

Now, every year our students watch as librarians, counselors, social workers, support staff, security and teachers are cut. They see how special education has been criminally mismanaged. They wonder why the technology in their school does not work, why paint is peeling off their classroom walls, why their track is unusable, why their heating and cooling vents spew out white clumps of powder, or why there are broken asbestos tiles in their classrooms.

 

Yet through all of this, Chicago always finds money for policing.

 

Throughout my time teaching in CPS, I have heard stories of the abusive nature of the Chicago Police Department (CPD) from my students. At first, due to my whiteness, I had a hard time believing my students, because what they were telling was so different from my own experiences. For me as a white person, the police are at worst a minor annoyance. But for my black students, the police can mean danger, abuse, harassment, brutality and death.

 

It has been well documented that CPD has been terrorizing Chicago’s black and brown communities for generations, going back to the 1960s, with the murder of Fred Hamptonwhile he slept, to the 1970s, with acts of torture led by Commander Jon Burge.

This year, Chicago Public Schools students will be learning through the Reparations WON curriculum of the standard torture practices during the Jon Burge era. For about a 20-year period, Commander Jon Burge and his officers would pick up innocent black men and force them into confessing to crimes that they did not commit. His standard methods of getting forced confessions was torture, which included suffocation, putting loaded weapons into mouths and electric shocks to the genital area.

 

Although the Burge torture era has ended, the corruption within the Chicago Police Department has not.

 

CPD has and continues to operate using a code of silence, with secret detention sites like Homan Square, the planting of evidence, falsifying reports and killing people of color in our city. All of these standard operating procedures are well documented.

Through all of this, the “union” representing the CPD ― the Fraternal Order of Police(FOP) ― proudly continues to justify these practices. This is the same FOP who is upset about the Reparations WON curriculum, because they want the curriculum to tell both sides. Both sides of torture?

 

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. Over the years, the FOP has negotiated items in the police contract that allows the police to make up stories and intimidate people who might file complaints against them, to name a just a few.

 

Now, Mayor Emanuel thinks the police are deserving of a new $95 million training facility. Just another example of Rahm using taxpayer money for anything and everything besides our students. Rahm will fund River Walks, Navy Pier, basketball stadiums and hotels while stealing TIF funds from the neighborhoods and schools that need them. His policies lead to the cutting of librarians, social workers, counselors, teachers, and support staff. School budgets continue to be cut. Parents go on hunger strikes to keep schools open. Still more schools are proposed to be closed, in Englewood.

You must survive on less.

 

At the same time schools and our students are having to operate with less, in conditions the mayor would never tolerate for his own children, Chicago is increasing funding to systems, like the police, that harshly punish black and brown children and families.

The Chicago Police Department costs taxpayers $4 million a day in operating costs, which makes up 40 percent of our city’s entire budget and totals up to $1.5 billion dollars per year. Police brutality cases in Chicago have cost our city more than $500 million dollars. To put this spending on policing in perspective, the daily cost of CPD is:

“… more than the city spends on the Departments of Public Health, Family and Support Services, Transportation, and Planning and Development combined. Mental-health spending receives $10 million per year, and only $2 million per year is allocated to violence-prevention services.”

Just recently, a case involving a Chicago police shooting and killing of Ronald “Ronnieman” Johnson shows once again CPD planted evidence, showcasing continued corruption. Ronald was shot while running in 2014. It was claimed that he had a gun and, according to an image put out by CPD, it showed he had a gun. This was a claim his family has disputed. The officers weren’t charged. But now, after a forensic scientist reviewed the image, it has become evident that it is a false image.

 

Meaning Ronald didn’t have a gun. Meaning there is no justification for his death.

Before Rahm gives any money to the CPD, he should follow all of the recommendations of the Department of Justice report. In case you missed it, the DOJ investigation was the largest civil rights investigation into a police department in history. The DOJ findings included that CPD was responsible for the use of excessive and deadly force against people who pose no threat, use of force in health crises, exhibit racially discriminatory behavior, having officers with no accountability and who are poorly trained.

 

On top of addressing the DOJ concerns, Rahm should also have a democratically elected Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC), as many community organizations have been advocating for years. (While he is at it, he should have an elected school board, too.)

 

Until the Chicago Police Department cleans up its act, it should not receive additional funding to build a new cop academy. Police can improve their training methods in their current training facilities. You don’t need a new building to teach police how not to be racist or why they should not kill innocent people.

 

If Rahm can’t find money for the education of our students, then there is no way he should find money for the incarceration of them#NoCopAcademy

 

Here is more information about the proposed cop academy, and here are ways to help pressure our elected officials to not support the cop academy.

 

Also consider donating and supporting the Chicago Torture Justice Center which, “seeks to address the traumas of police violence and institutionalized racism through access to healing and wellness services, trauma-informed resources, and community connection. The Center is a part of and supports a movement to end all forms of police violence.”

See this piece on Huff Post and Alternet