I've always been a sports fan, and watching football has been one of my favorite pastimes. Over the last few years, however, it's been a guilty please at best and, maybe, hypocrisy at its worst. A few years ago, I attended a presentation on brain injuries that woke me up to the cost football players pay to entertain fans like me. PBS's Frontline series went even deeper into the issue, showing how pervasive brain injuries are for professional football players. The news has not gotten better.
On Thursday, a 17 year old football player, at Chicago's Bogan High School, Andre Smith, died after a game. He was the seventh high school player to die in the U.S. this season. At first, it was reported that he was injured on the last play of the game, but, according to the Chicago Sun-Times, he walked off the field and collapsed as he was leaving the field. No one knows the exact cause of death, and there will be an autopsy next week. Here's what we do know: He died playing football.
Is football so dangerous that it should be made illegal? Once upon a time, I scoffed at this question. There is risk in everything we do. Players willingly participate in the sport, which they know is dangerous. I've used all of those reasons to convince myself that football is the same as basketball and baseball. It's a game. But something interesting happens when we compare football and hockey. It is possible to play a much less violent version of hockey than we see in the NHL. Fighting is banned in the international game. Checking is limited or banned in many leagues. Unless you're playing some kind of touch or flag version of the game, football is all about violence, hitting another person with your body and knocking them to the ground. Fans like me often cheer loud when both the offensive and defensive player collide at full speed. Violent hits make us cheers, and we do not ask the question: What is happening to their brains and bodies when such collisions occur?
This blog is about career and work issues, and whether they are amateur or professional athletes, football players work very hard at what they do. They practice, lift weights, and eat special diets to maintain a certain weight. They learn complicated plays and signals that are called out before each play. Paid or unpaid, their work needs to be taken the same way we consider other workplace or work-like recreational activities. Is this game too violent however it is played? Tomorrow I am meeting two friends to watch the Carolina Panthers play the Philadelphia Eagles. We meet several times over the course of the season, but it's getting harder for me to watch football given what we now know about the price paid by those who play the game, those who are working for our pleasure. Andre Smith's death has made me question my complicity as a fan. Is it time to turn off football?
P.S. DNAInfo reports that Andre's Smith's autopsy has been completed. It found that he died of football related injuries, "blunt force trauma" to his head.
I've blogged in the past about how politicians in both parties say they want good teachers and then do everything possible to drive educators to change careers. The latest example of this trend is found in my sweet hometown of Chicago. Chicago Public Schools (CPS) have opted not to extend a contract with its teachers that would have given them a raise of 3%. Instead, CPS has said it will ask teachers to take a 7% cut in pay. Mayor Emanuel is quoted in today's Chicago Sun-Times that teachers are "working hard" and that schools are achieving "incredible results." At the same time, the mayor cites "serious fiscal challenges" as a reason for CPS' actions. Teacher's union president Karen Lewis call this action an "insult." There is good chance that the teachers could be forced to go on strike again.
For me, the real problem in this story is how it will affect teaching in the future. If we really want the best and brightest students to go into teaching, we need to think about how they react to stories like this. What intelligent, ambitious student would pursue a career that would cut the pay of people the mayor calls hard working and successful? Politicians and citizen need to ask themselves a difficult question: Do we care about saving a few dollars in taxes or educating children?
Today’s Chicago Sun-Times reports that Governor Bruce Rauner is recommending that Chicago Public Schools (CPS) use bankruptcy as a way to solve a $1.1 billion debt. If we only look at the debt, this solution might seem logical. It’s done all the time in business. No one seems to care when retired employees lose part of their pension. I hate this solution because it is a form of wage theft. In this case, I’m outraged by what the governor’s real motive seems to be.
Bankruptcy would let CPS terminate its contract with teachers. It might even let school administrators and the mayor avoid negotiating a new contract. Rauner claims to be a man of the people in saying that the people should decide if teachers have collective bargaining rights. His real goal seems to crushing one of the city’s strongest, most prominent unions.
What didn’t the governor say? He never addressed the question of recruiting and retaining good teachers. Conservatives often point to “bad teachers” as the cause of poor student performance. If that is true, the governor’s solution would seem to a blueprint for making education worse. Teaching is a very difficult job. Teachers’ salary is not that good given the pressures and hours that are required to do a good job. Take away the pension and union protections, who will want to pursue a career in teaching? We need to decide whether we are serious about having schools staffed by good, professional teachers. If we want good teachers, they need to paid well and treated as professionals.
[On Sundays, this blog looks beyond jobs, resumes, and interviews in “Sabbath.”]
Let’s Play Two
Ernie Banks loved baseball so much that he’d say, “Let’s play two.” This week I had the pleasure of enjoying two plays at Edgewater’s Raven Theatre. Last night I saw Horton Foote’s A Trip to Bountiful and, earlier in the week, I attended Our America, a program that Raven put on with students from Senn High School.
I knew nothing about A Trip to Bountiful before yesterday’s performance. I knew Horton Foote was a playwright, but had never seen any of his plays. After yesterday, I will make it a point to learn more about this talented artist and attended productions of his plays. The play is set in 1950s Texas, and, on the surface, it is a story of family dynamics. Deeper it is a story about the change in American culture as people moved from the country to the city. Mrs. Watts is the center of the play. She lives with her son and combative daughter-in-law in a cramped apartment located in Houston.
Over the course of the play, we learn that Mrs. Watts has suffered greatly throughout her life. Still, she remains a woman of integrity and values. Her goal in life is simple: To return to the rural city where she was raised, a swampy patch of dirt called Bountiful. The only thing better than Foote’s writing is the way Raven’s actors bring the play to life. As always at Raven, the stage and the way it changes throughout the play complement the acting. This play runs through November 17, and I highly recommend it.
Earlier in the week, I attended Our America: Ghetto Life 101 & Remorse: the 14 Stories of Eric Morse. This performance was based on two NPR radio documentaries in 1993 and 1994. In the first act, two young teen age boys, LeAlan Jones and Lloyd Newman, chronicle what it was like growing up in the Ida B. Wells housing project. An energetic, diverse group of 12 students from Senn High School interpreted the boys' experience. While showing the horror and fear of living in a world where people literally get their face shot off, the student actors conveyed the humanity of people who are intelligent and loving despite the challenges of urban poverty.
In the second act, Jones and Newman interviewed neighbors to investigate the death of Eric Morse, a five year old boy who was pushed out a 14th floor window after refusing to steal candy. He was pushed out of the window by two boys age 10 and 11. What was even more shocking in this section of the performance was the breadth of sympathy that Jones, Newman, and the Senn student actor bring to life. I simply remembered this case as a savage murder. Remorse challenges the audience to consider all aspects of the situation, including the punishment given to the killers. The stories told by neighbors and relatives show that morality is not simple and punishment can outweigh the crime. Three cheers to the students of Senn High School and Raven Theater for bringing this story to the stage. The only downside is that the production was only staged for two days. Later in the year, before Christmas, Raven will join with local schools to put on Seedfolks, a play about urban gardening and its significance to the local communities.
Raven Theater is a great example of how local theater can bring life to a community. Since the 1990s, Raven has produced classic and contemporary plays by American playwrights. It also shares its space with smaller theater companies and community groups. It offers programs for children and teens. Community theater helps build a community and keep it strong. Edgewater is very lucky to have Raven Theater.
With little public notice, Chicago Public Schools has put out a call to open new charter schools. Recently the system closed 50 schools, which meant the loss of many teacher jobs. The system also cut school budgets, which led to more job loss.
Most charter schools are non-union (None are represented by CTU). While some of these schools do a good job educating students, they offer teachers little job security or respect. The highest paid people in the charter system tend to be chief administrators who often make as much or more than the head of CPS.
My worry is that – over time – the quality of teaching will go down. It’s a difficult job in the best situation. If pay is cut and benefits are minimal, who will want to make the sacrifice needed to be a teacher? Why will the smartest people chose teaching if other professions offer more reward?
I’m on a mailing list from the Chicago Teachers Union, which is a great source of information not heard in the corporate media. Today, I received the following analysis by Kenzo Shibata, the union’s New Media Coordinator:
“Why do Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the Chicago Board of Education and Chicago Public Schools officials blame Springfield for the district’s budget woes? Why is the target of their concern being shifted to state legislators? It polls well but makes little sense. Let’s examine why.
FACT: The Illinois General Assembly has provided Chicago Public Schools with every opportunity to make their budget work by giving the district a 13-year break from paying pensions. FACT: The district has failed to lobby for a more equitable funding formula, search for new revenue streams or reform programs like TIF that could work better for school districts and redevelopment.
FACT: The city and the Chicago Board of Education’s answers to the revenue crisis have been to cut, and this year, the cuts will have a devastating impact on classrooms across the city.
FACT: Pensions are NOT the problem.
The problem is a pronounced lack of leadership from the mayor and his handpicked Board of Education.
The state legislature, beginning in 1995, provided CPS with the tools to plug its budget issues and time find new revenue streams and reform the TIF program. The timeline looks like this:
1995—The Illinois State Legislature gave then-Mayor Richard M. Daley the ability to use the once restricted pension levy for operating costs to ensure balanced district budgets. The school district enjoyed a 10-year “holiday” from making any payments into the pension fund. The fund prior to 1995 was funded above 100 percent. It wasn’t until 2005 when the fund dipped slightly below 90 percent that the district resumed payment.
2010—The Illinois State Legislature gave Chicago Public Schools a pension holiday that provided the district with more pension relief so the classrooms in Chicago would not feel any negative financial impact. CPS also was granted additional federal funding from a stimulus appropriation; the district still laid-off more than 1,300 teachers despite pension relief from the state and an infusion of money from the federal government.
2012—The Illinois State Legislature gave CPS an extension on the deadline to publicly announce which schools were slated for closure. CPS stated that schools needed to be closed because of a looming budget crisis and that closing schools would help stymie the deficit.
2013—The Illinois State Legislature did not move on the moratorium on school closings proposed by Chicago legislators, citing that the state wanted to provide newly minted CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett with the opportunity to govern the district. In short, the consensus was that the state legislature did NOT want to micromanage the school district.”
Shibata’s analysis leads us to ask again: Did teachers cause this problem? No. Why are they being asked to pay for it, to suffer during their retirement? We need to remember that Detroit is the blueprint. Chicago looks like it could be the next stop on the bankers-rip-off-workers express. We need to stop this train – now.
On this said day, when the mayor of Chicago has closed nearly 50 schools, Daily Kos links to a great profile of education reformer Michelle Rhee. The former head of Washington D.C. schools, Rhee makes strong decisions that seemed based on belief rather than fact, especially the belief that teachers’ unions are the biggest problem facing public schools. Instead, she favors an unproven market model that depends on charter schools. There is no clear evidence that charter schools perform better than traditional public schools. In other cases, as Diane Ravitch documents in The Death and Life of the Great American School System, reforms have clearly failed, only to have billionaires pour more money into some new model as well as funding union-bashing PR. Is this reform really about children or busting unions?
A group of parents in Chicago have filed a suit to stop Chicago Public Schools’ plan to close 54 schools. The suit argues that students in special education programs will be negatively affected in a way that violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
In reporting on the suit, The Chicago Sun-Times quotes CPS chief Barbara Byrd-Bennet, who said: “We have a shared responsibility to do everything we can to ensure a bright future for every child.” These words sound wonderful. However, they contradict the action being taken by CPS.
I live near Trumbull School, which is being closed because of alleged “underutilization.” The school’s problem is that it hosts several special education classes, which are capped at 14 students per class, half the expected number of a general education class. Several experts have said that the school is not underutilized if adjustments are made for special education classes
More importantly, CEO Byrd-Bennett claims that she wants a “bright future for every child.” If this is the case, why not bring students from neighboring schools (Chappell, McPherson) to Trumbull, which would lower class sizes at three schools, rather than packing classrooms at two schools? It’s no secret that students learn better in smaller classrooms. Empty seats at Trumbull would seem to give CPS a chance to give more students a chance to realize “a bright future.” Why close such a resource?
The only logical reason seems to that CPS wants to shed jobs. Is that what is best for the students and their future? I don’t think so. If the city can find money to build a new arena for DePaul near McCormick Place, it should be able to find money to keep schools like Trumbull open. Do what is best for students. Invest in schools and teachers.
[On Sundays, this blog explores diverse issues in Sabbath.”]
School Closings in Chicago – Reform or A Trojan Horse?
Today’s Chicago Sun-Times features a great analysis on school closings in Chicago. A chart that accompanies the article shows that students from over 1/3 of the will be moved to schools that are ranked no better or even worse than the ones they are leaving. The chart also indicates that several of the schools have met performance goals. Is this how education is “reformed”?
Mayor Rahm Emanuel is featured in a separate article in the paper. Unlike those officials who say the schools are being closed because they are “underutilized,” the mayor only talks about giving students more opportunity: “We look at it and viewed it as what we can do to have every child have a high-quality education regardless of their neighborhood, regardless of their circumstances, regardless of where they live.”
If the mayor is sincere in these words, he should be very troubled by the information put forth by the Sun-Times. While some students will be moving to much better schools, many more are moving to schools with similar performance ratings. There is also a question of cost. According to the mayor’s most vocal critic Karen Lewis, head of the Chicago Teacher’s Union, it will cost the system $1 billion dollars to close the schools, which is the same amount the system claims is its current deficit. Lewis and her colleagues contend that this round of school closing is a Trojan horse that the mayor and his allies are using to open even more non-union charter schools.
No one wants children in poor performing schools. No one wants to waste money heating and maintaining schools that are half empty. However, it’s hard to trust politicians in any city when we see how charter schools can be new tools for the connected to wash each other’s hands. Over the past few months, the Sun-Times has published several articles about conflicts of interest at Uno, Chicago’s largest charter school organization. Uno’s head was a key player in Mayor Emanuel’s campaign. Will Uno benefit from the school closings? That would be an interesting question to have answered.
Here’s another question: Why can’t Chicago fund its schools? I grew up in Cleveland and saw that great city’s decline first hand. Over the last two years, I’ve been to Detroit twice and have experienced to a small degree that city’s challenges. Those cities have an excuse to close schools. They embody the rust belt and millions of lost jobs that have left northern industrial cities. Chicago doesn’t have that excuse.
I attended a production at Chicago Shakespeare Theater yesterday. Before going to the play, a friend and I rode Navy Pier’s Ferris wheel, which offers a magnificent view of the skyline, a panorama of skyscrapers that are filled with business that are making money. I could also see large condo developments in the south Loop, all of which were built in the last 10-15 years. How can schools be poor in a city that is so rich? Why can’t we have schools with small class sizes if our city has so much wealth circulating in it? We need to ask the mayor and his staff some of these questions. All children do deserve equal opportunity. Whacking at schools with an axe doesn’t seem to be the best answer, just the most simple answer.
[“Sabbath” is the blog’s Sunday feature that looks beyond career to broader issues that affect our lives.]
Good People and a Bad Fight
I took a great walking tour of the Six Corners neighborhood today. It was hosted by Forgotten Chicago, a group of young people who are passionate about the city, its history, and neighborhoods. That’s what I wanted to write about today until I got home and learned the Chicago teachers strike was not settled, until I read comments on Facebook that first made me mad and then frustrated.
One of my friends blasted the union. Another said no charter school teacher is qualified. Both of these positions are wrong. Yes, the union might be faulted for some things, but the Mayor’s team must be put into the equation (something Chicago’s corporate media usually fails to do). On the other hand, some charter school teachers are as qualified as anyone in CPS. The problem is that the charter system pays teacher less and provides them no protection. If teachers aren’t treated as professionals and paid a good wage, what qualified person will want all of challenges that go with the job? How can we have good schools if we don’t have qualified teachers?
Both of the people I cite above are parents, good people frustrated with a situation that is very complicated. I can’t imagine what it’s like for parents to scramble to find day care for their children. Add to that problem the cost, and there is cause for some parents to be very anti-union. It’s important to remember that the Chicago Teachers Union is not acting in a vacuum. The mayor and his school board have not shown a true sense of urgency in solving this problem. They blame the teacher and call the strike a “choice.” However, their actions are also driven by choices. As Ben Joravsky of the Reader outlines in his latest column, the mayor and others in the system have not treated the teachers with respect.
I went to public schools in Cleveland for six years. Most of my teachers were highly dedicated and taught us lessons that went beyond testable facts: how to think, how to act morally, and how to respect other people and ourselves. Good public schools are essential to real democracy because they are the place where young people from all backgrounds learn to live together and gain the skills that will enable them to compete in the world, which is the essence of democracy.
No one wants bad schools or incapable teachers. That’s not what this bad fight in Chicago or national education “reform” is about. Some people – powerful people – want to bust unions and replace public schools with charter schools and vouchers. They claim the system is broken and only they can fix it – like the Wizard of Oz. I’ll put my faith in dedicated educators like the public school teachers of Chicago. They are fighting for their professional rights. More importantly, they are fighting to preserve the kind of education we need to maintain our values of equal opportunity and democracy.
P.S. David Sirota poses 4 questions that should be considered in evaluating the strike.
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