Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) and United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) joined
other teachers unions around the country yesterday to protest against President-elect Donald Trump and his pick for education secretary, Betsy DeVos. On the one hand, nothing could have been more appropriate. But, the way the union played the message in the media made me realize that we are in for four very long years. Not only will advocates for better education opportunities for Black children have to keep a vigilant watch on a potentially predatory president and his seemingly unprepared education secretary (
watch this video of DeVos trying to answer a simple question about growth-based vs. proficiency-based assessment), we will have to keep fighting back a false narrative from the union that attempts to tie every effort to change the education system to Trump and DeVos. Trump, the billionaire real estate mogul and reality TV star turned president of the United States has given a lot of lip service to the idea of helping poor and working-class families in America’s inner cities. But, many of his policies and actions could be considered diametrically opposed to that objective. For instance, Trump wants to revive the stop-and-frisk policing tactics that helped to decimate a generation of Black youth. And let’s not forget, we are talking about the “Look at my African-American over here” president and the man who nominated Jeff Sessions for attorney general. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sGvBZysVzpI And while it seems like the Trump-DeVos team is well aligned with the education reform movement in America, I think that is a bad assumption. First and foremost, many of the people (myself included) who have made this fight for expanded access to high-quality education for Black children the great passion of our lives do it out of a passion for justice and equity for our people. That is why I can never accept a president who wants to expand school options for Black youth and at the same time embolden crooked cops who find it inherently dangerous for four Black youth to stand next to each other.
We also cannot accept a school choice agenda that is separated from a school quality agenda. Black communities in Chicago and across the country are filled with terrible school options. We don’t need to multiply the number of schools for the sake of “choice.” We need to multiply the number of great schools for the sake of our children. But, if the CTU press release about their rally tells me anything, it is that teachers unions are going to spend the next four years trying to tie every attempt to change the status quo in education back to Trump and DeVos. How sad. Let me put it this way: Not everybody talking about education reform is an uninformed, billionaire racist. But, the CTU knows that. The CTU knows that Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Governor Bruce Rauner have had bitter fights over the issue of adequately funding Chicago schools. But, they still present the two men as political allies set on destroying education in Chicago. The CTU knows that Rahm Emanuel is a liberal Democrat who vehemently opposed Trump and that even the Republican governor never endorsed him. They know that there are not enough great schools here in Chicago, and that the poorer and Blacker a child is the more likely that child is to get the short end of the stick. But, the CTU is probably going to spend the next four years playing this little game.
Here’s to the parents and families who refuse to play along. We can think for ourselves. We can differentiate between this emerging Trump administration and its reckless and racist policy agenda and the high objective of creating access to a great education for every Black child without delay. Here’s to the warriors on the streets, in our homes, in our schools, and those in government who have been fighting this fight before Trump was elected and will be fighting it long after he has moved along. You may find yourself the target of “Trump” attack at some point over the next four years, but…
An original version of this post appeared on Chicago Unheard.
Chris Butler is first a husband and a dad. He has been involved across the spectrum of public engagement activities and has worked with a number of diverse constituencies in urban and suburban communities. He has also been involved in several political campaigns including his service as a youth and young adult coordinator for Barack Obama’s primary bid for U.S. Senate.