Chicago Students Always Lead the Way

Those of us who work with students day in and day out know the brilliance and potential that our students have. We also find ourselves as educators, parents, and tax payers becoming increasingly frustrated by a mayor, “CEO” and appointed school board that consistently and blatantly does not have the best interest of our students at heart.

Have no fear our students will lead the way. Yes, our students that the media far too often labels as “gang bangers” “thugs” or “criminals” will lead the way against the harming polices implemented by CPS.

Students have been organizing to fight the ill proposed school closings and over testing taking place in our schools. This student led group made up of hundreds of students from various schools across the city goes by the name Chicago Students Organizing to Save Our Schools or CSOSOS.


This student led group meets weekly, creates agendas, plans and organizes. These students from various parts of the city cross gang lines, racial lines, to come together to improve this city from the inside out. CSOSOS has organized a walkout/protest of Day 2 of the PSAE testing. Students from other schools have followed in their footsteps and walked out of school to protest the unfair firing of their teachers like what happened at Lincoln Park High School last week.

These student groups and student actions aren’t just happening out of thin air, there is a long historical precedent of students leading this city.

As a history teacher I decided to do some research and find out as many examples of student actions in Chicago as I could. The following list is not conclusive, but it is a start to give us all the understanding that our students are not only brilliant but are capable of leading this city. The student actions are well rehearsed and organized. Their actions cannot be measured with a multiple choice bubble test.

1.Freedom Day 1963 : 200,000 students walk out city wide to protest funding cuts to education

2.Equal Rights Walkouts 1968 : City wide student demand for equal rights for all students led by African American & Latino students

3.Anti-Immigration Law Walkouts 1995 : City wide student protests against legislation that would take away basic human rights for immigrants.

4.Iraq War Protest Walkout 2003: City wide students walked out of class to protest the U.S. led war in Iraq.

5.Senn High School Student Walkout 2004: Students and community protesting becoming a Military School .

6.School Closing Walkout 2009: City wide walkouts against the proposed school closings.

7.System Wide Proposed Funding Cuts Walkout April 2010: CPS was thinking about cutting extra curricular activities and programs.

8.Social Justice HS Students protest firing of teachers & principal Aug. 2012

9.King High School Student Sit In to Protest Principal Dec. 2012

10.Lane Tech Students Protest Banning of Persepolis March 2013

11.Day 2 PSAE walkout April 2013: Students walked out on the 2nd day of PSAE testing against school closings and over testing.

12.Lincoln Park High School students walkout May 2013: Students protesting the wrongful firing of many of their teachers.

Needless to say our students are intelligent and partake in the democratic process that this country was founded on. So if our students feel forced to have a protest to make their voices heard, join them. They are teaching all of us what Democracy looks like, sounds like, and feels like.

Mr. Stieber Protests Aren’t on the MAP Test

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

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

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

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

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

4. Make other students aware of the issue.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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