Thursday, May 16, 2013

If this is the 'civil rights issue of our time,' who's who?

In this Oct. 15, 1957 file photo, seven of nine black students walk onto the campus of Central High School in Little Rock, Ark., with a National Guard officer as an escort as other troops watch. (AP Photo, Fred Kaufman, File)
Education is the civil rights issue of our time. At least that's what the school reformers like to say. The phrase has been repeated so often by the likes of Secretary Duncan, Michelle RheeJoel Klein, and Condeleeza Rice-- that it's become meaningless.

I, for one, have always felt uncomfortable with this claim and especially with those who were making it. There is no one single civil rights issue that defines an era. There are many and they are all intertwined -- poverty, housing, jobs, voting rights, race and gender.

But let's go with it for the moment, especially in light of the closing of more than 50 Chicago schools, nearly all based in the city's predominantly black neighborhoods. Yesterday, the Chicago Teachers Union, backed by several of the city's civil rights groups and civil liberties organizations, filed complaints in federal court on behalf of several parents and students. They singled out two groups in particular who face the greatest potential harm — special education and black students.

The lawsuits come as no surprise to the Sun-Times editorial board. Rahm's ready-fire-aim approach has them scared to death that the whole thing is going to explode.
No surprise there. What is surprising is how willingly CPS invited these suits. For months, this page has argued that no school system, much less one with a history of dysfunction like Chicago, can pull off mass closures in such a short amount of time.
 The idea that Rahm and CPS were "inviting the suits" is an interesting one. It's more than likely, especially with a panel of judges already dissing the closing plan, that the court will issue an injunction, thereby keeping the schools open in the fall. The suits will also keep the heat on the board as they move towards a vote on the closings. The court case will also be a motivating force in putting thousands of angry parents, teachers and students in the streets during the long, hot summer months, right up 'til school opens next fall. Mass closings could even be tied up for years in expensive court battles, while the lawyers duke it out.

Why would Rahm's team want this? I'm sure his legal team has pointed out  the likelihood of just such an outcome from his wild strategy. I don't know for sure, but handing it off to the courts does get Rahm off the hook with the Civic Committee,  which has been pressuring him to race ahead with the closings.

What the lawsuits cannot do is get Rahm off the hook with those angry parents, teachers,  and voters, especially in the black community. These are the very people who gave Rahm (and Democrats) his majority in the last election. It's those folks who really do see this as the civil rights issue of this moment in time. And it's not hard for them to understand who the civil rights marchers are in this case, and who's the demagogic politician barring the schoolhouse door, ax handle in hand.

Civil rights suits are "status quo" says Byrd-Bennett

I'm sorry that I bothered to call out Byrd-Bennett in yesterday's post. She took my cue and jumped out of Rahm's doghouse, if only for a brief moment, to defame those behind the civil rights suit.
“We have a shared responsibility to do everything we can to ensure a bright future for every child. And, yet these lawsuits demonstrate that union leadership is committed to a status quo that is failing too many of our kids.”
Status quo? Those demanding civil rights for black students and those with special needs? Yeah, right.

1 comment:

  1. Retired Cleveland EducatorMay 16, 2013 at 6:13 PM

    Who is Byrd-Bennett to talk about the "status quo"? She has been a status-quo bureaucrat in the system for the past quarter century. We had her in Cleveland until she nearly sunk the district in dysfunction and financial mismanagement. Then she went on to "manage" Detroit Public Schools. Check out the state of DPS to see where her fight against the "status quo" is leading you all in Chicago.


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