Debate Left, 9/18

P reachers’ Unions

By Ben Tomkins

This conversation is wearing me out.

The Chicago teachers strike is not about money.  It’s about the pressure being put on teachers to extract a certain level of performance from students regardless of their socio-economic status by people who have no concept of the reality of education.

Many teachers in Chicago are teaching in urban and impoverished schools.  However, when our government assesses teacher performance, a student is considered a student no matter where they live.  Many of them get up and go to bed hungry.  Many of their parents are abusive, alcoholics, working 70 hours a week for nickels, etc.

Have you ever tried to teach a 9-year-old what a pronoun is when she hasn’t been fed breakfast?  By her alcoholic father?  After she got her ass kicked on the way to school?

Actually, I have.  It’s an experience well worth considering before you pass judgment on the teachers of Chicago, and moreover before you vote.  Particularly when a certain political candidate and his wife seem to think that identifying with the unthinkable, grinding depths of poverty in America is insincerely acknowledging the universal experience of every single upper-middle class mother in the country who doesn’t have time to make their child a proper sandwich before going to work, and must resort to giving them a Lunchable and a Capri Sun before driving them to school in an BMW SUV.

That’s a nanny’s job.  My god, the horror of a dirty steering wheel.

Regardless, the academic performance of the country’s impoverished students is compared equally to that of privileged children.  Worse, the teachers in these distressed schools are held economically accountable for extracting the same quality of work.

I would hope, by now, that any thinking human being could see this is absurd.  Not “less-than-ideal,” not “a challenge for our hard-working teachers.” I mean to say that it is a ridiculous collection of nonsensical thoughts, and patently obvious to anything with a simian brain.

This is why the Chicago schoolteachers are going on strike, and many of them deal with kids in situations that make the above look like Tastykake fun-time.  The system in place pounds into the ground the wonderful teachers who are willing to work with the most distressed students in the worst-funded schools, and shower the teachers working in the rich schools with praise and gold.

This is also why the rich need a tax cut.

Of course, this has pissed off the Chicago schoolteachers, and it should piss off you too. These warped and corrosive policies are ruining our public schools, resulting in rich people further crippling the system by sending their kids to private school, bitching about their tax dollars being used to fund public schools, and all the while wailing and moaning about how their personal freedoms are being abused. It’s the most disgustingly selfish thing I have ever heard.

They clothe themselves in this self-centered, willfully-ignorant, greed-lusting disregard for the civic duty of providing basic, first-world education for one’s fellow countrymen, and then have the audacity to condescendingly hiss from their golden pulpit that it’s because they have a loftier understanding of freedom.

The teachers in Chicago won’t stomach this any more.

Now, this is more than just Chicago. There is a political party in this country that, with its Brylcreemed hair and glossy white teeth, is preaching permissiveness of this selfishness, and telling us the Chicago teachers are using their union to “put themselves ahead of their students.”

This is an outrage, and if you want to know how the Republican Party really feels about helping poor people, look no further than the first 30 seconds of Ann Romney’s address at the Republican National Convention.  I quote:

“Just so you all know, the hurricane has hit landfall … fellow Americans are in its path, and just hope and pray that all are remain safe (sic) and no life is lost”

There it is.  First of all, apparently not even the most expensive private teacher on Earth can teach a dull, vacuous bint what a pronoun is. Secondly – probably as a result of her daft, glazed faculties – her solution to the problems of the poor is to pray about it.  Not help, not donate, not institute a free breakfast program for these kids.

It’s to acknowledge it in front of everyone in church for public adulation so that you can feel good about yourself, dismiss it as a job well done, and carry on with the difficulties of paying a nanny to raise your kids while you swoon on the couch from the exertion of being a mother.

Well, I’m sorry dear.  There is a difference between teaching and preaching.

I, and I’m guessing most of you out there, don’t want to live in a country where the rich, hard-working mothers of upper-class America are free to pay their full-time nanny to muck out the social therapy horse stalls, and wash our impoverished citizens into the gutter.

Neither do the teachers in the Chicago school system, and the reason for this is as stark as it is praiseworthy:  They don’t teach from a golden pulpit.  They go down into the gutter and teach these kids every day. When you do that, you are no longer able to relax on the balcony of your mansion and pretend it’s not real.

Benjamin Tompkins is a violinist, teacher, journalist, and critically acclaimed composer currently living in Denver, Colo. He hates stupidity, and generally believes that the volume of one’s voice is inversely proportional to one’s knowledge of the issue.

Reach Ben Tompkins at

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Ben Tomkins is a violinist, teacher, journalist and critically acclaimed composer currently living in Denver, Colorado. He hates stupidity and generally believes that the volume of one’s voice is inversely proportional to one’s knowledge of an issue. Reach Ben Tomkins at

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