Beating the Neoliberal Blame Game: Teacher and Parent Solidarity and the 2012 Chicago Teachers' Strike

By Gutierrez, Rhoda Rae | Monthly Review, June 2013 | Go to article overview

Beating the Neoliberal Blame Game: Teacher and Parent Solidarity and the 2012 Chicago Teachers' Strike


Gutierrez, Rhoda Rae, Monthly Review


It was Monday afternoon on the first day of the historic Chicago teachers' strike. The streets surrounding the downtown headquarters of Chicago Public Schools (CPS) were quickly filling up. Red-shirted teachers, paraprofessionals, students, parents, and community groups arrived in waves smiling, hugging, and chanting, some arm-in-arm, while others held up the now-familiar Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) signs that read, "On Strike, for Better Schools," as well as witty home- made posters such as, "If you can read this, thank a teacher."

This was the first massive demonstration of the strike. I arrived downtown a little early to meet other parents eager to show support for the incoming teachers and school workers. We certainly were not alone. Numerous parents, students, and community members turned out to stand with more than 26,000 teachers and paraprofessionals (many of whom are also parents of CPS students) who were taking a courageous stand not only for their dignity and rights, but also for a just and equitable education for their students. My sign was hastily made that morning on the sidewalk in front of my children's school where my family and I picketed with our teachers. All it said was "Parents Support Teachers," but the reaction from incoming strikers to this simple show of solidarity was incredible. Many shouted, "Thank you parents," "that means so much to us," and "way to go parents." Others snapped pictures, clapped, or held their fists in the air.

Soon the streets were jam-packed, overflowing with red as thousands of people continued to march toward CPS headquarters. It was at this point that I felt the power of this historic moment. Chicago teachers and paraprofessionals in solidarity with communities across the city were posing one of the most formidable challenges to neoliberal education policies that are privatizing public education, undermining the teach- ing profession, intensifying racial and economic inequities across the district, and dehumanizing the children in our public schools. These damaging policies have gained traction in part because of the neolib- eral blame game in education, where corporate and political elites are writing the rules and faulting teachers and parents for the complex problems facing public schools. The power of solidarity exemplified in the Chicago Teachers Union strike has changed the rules in this neo- liberal blame game.

The Neoliberal Blame Game

To better understand how the neoliberal blame game in education works, we need to know who is doing the blaming, who is getting blamed, and why.

Speaking to an audience of two hundred business and political lead- ers on the day CTU delegates voted to suspend its seven-day strike, Bruce Rauner, wealthy venture capitalist and close advisor to Mayor Rahm Emanuel, issued a scathing critique of the union and revealed his interest in splitting what he called "good teachers" from the union's ranks. He claimed, "It's the weak teachers. It's the lousy, ineffective, lazy teachers that-unfortunately there are a number of those-they're the ones that the union is protecting and that's where there's a conflict of interest between the good teachers and the union bosses."1 Rauner has been a leading advocate for corporate education reforms and edu- cation privatization. He has called for increasing the number of charter schools and private education management organizations, tying teacher performance to student standardized test scores, and bringing in more temporary teachers from Teach for America.2 Rauner's contempt for the teachers' union and public-sector unions in general led him to bring to Illinois the conservative education reform group Stand for Children.

Stand for Children has had a successful track record in getting states to pass laws curbing teachers' rights and expanding education privatization.3 The organization raised millions of dollars from conser- vative foundations that support privatization and corporate education reforms, including the Walton and Gates Foundations. …

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