United States

Rahm Emanuel: Point Man For Obama’s Bipartisan Pork Barrel Pedagogy

By Bruce A. Dixon

By early this week, the truth was hard to avoid and impossible to deny. The Chicago Teachers strike threatened to expose the vast gulf between some of the president’s rhetoric about preserving public education and protecting teachers, and the savagery of the Obama administration’s Race To The Top initiative, which ties federal education funding to how many public schools are closed and privatized, how many public school teachers fired, and how many of those remaining are evaluated according to business-friendly norms like test scores.

“I want you to understand, the president has weighed in,” Emanuel said. “Every issue we’re talking about regarding accountability of our schools, quality in our schools to the education of our children, is the core thrust of Race to the Top.”

Emanuel added that the “notion” of the teacher evaluations he proposed came from Race to the Top.

“In that sense there couldn’t be a bigger push for the president,” Emanuel insisted.  

Emanuel also thanked Mitt Romney for his statement of support.

Besides the president, Rahm Emanuel had every newspaper and radio station in town, the Commerce Club and all the billionaires, scores of well-funded charter school operators and their contractors and hedge fund backers. He even had fake citizen groups like Democrats for Education Reform, which used money donated by its billionaire backers to run deceptive radio and TV ads (still running as of Tuesday night) aimed at inciting parents against the people who teach their children. Illinois is also one of twenty or so states that have passed corporate inspired “school reform” testing and curriculum measures into law, and drastically limited the issues over which teachers can negotiate along with the their right to strike.

But one of the signs carried by striking teachers told it all. It said, “our working conditions are your child’s learning conditions.” The Chicago Teachers Union had prepared months in advance for the strike by reaching out to and working with organized parents around the city and enlisting them behind its basic demands to keep schools open and well-funded, and keeping them informed on and involved in activities that fought the creeping privatization of public education in Chicago. While Rahm had the media, the billionaires, armies of hired stooges and the president, the teachers enjoyed broad support among parents and the public.

Even with Chicago’s corporate working hard to blur connections between the bipartisan agenda of dismantling public education, the president who calls the shots and the mayor who enforces them, the act was getting thin. With the presidential election less than two months away, the White House couldn’t afford to have its own policies exposed to its base voters. It’s likely therefore, that the White House privately needed Emanuel to settle the strike while doing nothing to back down from the presidential policies that caused it.

With last year’s “Waiting For Superman” and this year’s “Won’t Back Down,” the elite bipartisan campaign to privatize inner city public education is bound to continue. Romney and Obama, Democrats and Republicans agree on that much; so on this issue as so many others there is no question of greater and lesser evils. But if Romney or Jeb Bush or some other Republican were in the White House, Democrats of many stripes wouldn’t hesitate to connect a sitting president with presidential policies aimed at privatizing education. With a Democrat, especially a Black Democrat in the White House, Black political opportunists see their careers threatened by any criticism of the president, his party, his policies or what he had for breakfast, and can draw softheaded or lazy thinkers with them in the name of racial solidarity to protect the Black president. So when it comes to school privatization, a Black corporate Democrat, whether in City Hall or the White House is the more effective evil.

In the months leading up to the strike, Chicago’s Public School officials fired thousands of teachers and closed dozens of schools, often with little or no notice. Some of the school closings appeared to coincide with efforts to gentrify Chicago neighborhoods, and most of them were met with outrage from local communities. They avoided many public meetings and walked out of many private meetings, refusing to bargain with teachers. According to Substance News, the Chicago Public Schools “...tried to gut the entire contract throughout most of the ten months of negotiations, retreating from many of their most serious demands only after the strike threat became credible...”

The fight isn’t over. The Chicago Tribune is already calling for teacher strikes to simply be made illegal, and the functionaries at places like the Chicago Public Schools headquarters are beneath contempt and beyond shame. CPS head honcho Jean Brizzard gets paid $250K per year, more than any other school “CEO” in the nation. But, Substance News tells us; he has not been present at a single one of the last 70 negotiating meetings. He may be on the way out with the standard golden parachute, to be replaced by a functionary from Detroit, where the takedown of public education has been largely completed already.

For those paying attention, there are lessons here. Teacher unions till now have adopted a mostly passive and defeatist attitude toward fighting privatization, and uncritically supported Democrats with their members’ dues money, regardless of their positions on charters and privatization. But unions are pretty useless without the possibility of strikes. Strikes with public support make a big difference. The picket lines were in Chicago, but the impact of Chicago’s parents and communities who stood behind their teachers is being felt nationwide. The fight against pork barrel pedagogues who prescribe corporate school reform as the cure for inner city schools is entering a new phase.

Black Agenda Report, September 19, 2012