By DASCHELL M. PHILLIPS
Teachers For Social Justice held its 12th Annual Teaching For Social Justice Curriculum Fair Saturday at Kenwood Academy High School, 5015 S. Blackstone Ave. Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis and others who played pivotal roles in this year’s school reform fight were keynote speakers at the event.
Lewis led the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) in a seven-day strike in September. The union was striking against policies of the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) involving teacher salaries, longer school days and other school conditions. Once the CTU contract was resolved and the strike ended, Lewis said CTU would continue to address other issues that Chicago Public Schools face. She said the social justice model – bottom up approach – would be the best way to address CPS school reform.
“We need to own our own curriculum, our own professional development and determine what the system will look like,” said Lewis, who said school reform should not be determined by “billionaire dilettantes who claim to care about our children.”
Lewis, who was the closing keynote speaker, said to teachers, parents and community members in the crowded high school auditorium, many who had been in workshops at the school since 10 a.m., that they should start doing real research on who is making decisions about education and why.
“‘Whose school? Our school’ should be more that just a slogan we chant,” Lewis said.
“We have to take back the place where ideas are born. We should be the ones who say what school reform should look like.”
Lewis said children shouldn’t be treated like numbers and the money that is going to corporations that create tests should be going into the classrooms to enrich instruction.
She said the profession of teaching takes commitment and should not be used as a short-term experience and the teacher evaluation process should be transparent. She said teachers should also be able to be a part of the evaluation process.
“I want everyone to be evaluated —administrators, chiefs,” Lewis said. “Let’s rewrite the roles.”
Lewis said concerns about education should also include parent development.
“[CPS] keeps talking about a longer school day. I think schools should be open until 8 or 9 at night with classes for parents,” said Lewis, who said she disagreed with a previous longer school day proposal from CPS that would have children in class longer using online tools instead of receiving instruction from teachers.
The opening speakers at the fair were Brandon Johnson, a social studies teacher and an organizer for the Chicago Teachers Union, who played an important role in the CTU strike; Lorena Jasso a parent of a student at the Social Justice High School, who was active in the fight to win back the school’s democratically chosen principal after CPS removed her in early August; and Aquila Griffin, a student at Dyett High School and student leader with the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, who participated in the national Journey for Justice to Washington, D.C., to demand a moratorium on school closings.