On Friday June 12th, I was on the We Still Teach TV show where I got to discuss the Reparations Won curriculum. This episode also featured one of my students and an amazing documentary about the struggle for equity 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.
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.
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.
“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.”