Laura Clawson of Daily Kos is one of my favorite writers because she finds the stories others miss. Usually she focuses on labor. Today she looks at a new type of charter school that caters to predominantly white students whose families are not in poverty. While these schools are still technically public schools, they charge fees that shut out lower income students. As Clawson notes, such school will cherry pick higher performing students and drive down performance at traditional public schools.
I would like to know if this type of charter school pays it teachers better or offers better benefits. Non-union charters traditionally pay at a lower level than public schools, and teachers have no union protection. I would guess that a school looking to have elite students would have to invest in good teachers. My solution to this question is easy: Shut down the charters and put resources back into traditional public schools. Put education and children ahead of profits.
[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.
Huffington Post offers a great chart that contrasts the minimum wage and productivity since 1947. The picture is stunning. The poorest working people tread water while they contribute to consistent increased productivity. According to the article, a minimum wage that kept up with productivity would be $21.72 per hour. Instead, it remains at $7.25.
Where does the extra value poor working have produced go? Maybe we should ask the billionaires.
[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.
Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich has put forth a big proposal: unionizing workers at McDonalds, Walmart, and large hospitals that currently don’t have unions. Reich’s real concern isn’t union growth so much as it is finding a way to deal with growing poverty and lost income in the U.S. It’s not just the least among us who are suffering. Reich cites a study that shows the bottom 90% of American wage earners lost 1.2% between 2009-2011. He tracks the rise in worker income in the 1950s and its decline since the 1970s to the rise and fall of union membership. Workers are losing.
Who has been winning this game? The most wealthy Americans, the same people who attack unions and the poor. Reich argues that a country with more evenly distributed wealthy would help all Americans. Unfortunately, too many people don’t share his view. We live in an “I got mine and I want more” culture. Until that changes, expect more of the same.
P.S.: Writing in Think Progress, Pat Garofalo reports that nearly 50% of Americans are one financial misfortune away from poverty. Unions would help make our society more stable and secure. Of course, so many Americans have been bamboozled by the corporate media to believe in a "freedom" that leaves them at risk and makes only the super rich more secure.
We often think of Rev. Martin Luther King simply as a champion of civil rights and racial equality. In today’s Daily Kos, Laura Clawson reminds us that King’s struggle also focused economic justice and working people. She points out that 10% of working families today are living in poverty. King put the workers’ plight in these words: “If we are going to get equality, if we are going to get adequate wages, we are going to have to struggle for it.”
King used the word we, a word often invoked in the president’s speech today. Let’s hope that this country can come together, and work together, to see that we all rise up – together.
Today’s Chicago Sun-Times featured a depressing article about the growth of low wage workers in Chicago from 2001-2011. Overall, the percentage of low wage workers grew from 23.8% to 31.2%. Workers with college or higher grew from 9.7% to 16.2%.
These numbers signify a much bigger problem: Workers are getting poorer and poorer, especially those paid by the hour. As I wrote a few days ago, politicians can make noise about “good jobs.” However, as long as the trend of lower wages continues, nothing good will happen in the economy. The working poor have no money to buy. The frightened middle save in fear of job loss or a health crisis. They don’t want to join the working poor.
I’m sick of hearing about American exceptionalism. 15% of Americans live in poverty. Millions of others work multiple low wage jobs to live just above the poverty line. Why should we be proud of this situation?
Writing at Common Dreams, Bill Quigley, a law professor at Loyola University New Orleans, examines 8 myths and truths about the working poor. His first point is striking: 10 million Americans are employed and still living below the poverty line. I won’t go over the other myths which can be found at this link.
Too many politicians, not all Republicans, demonize poor people. Those same politicians often claim to be followers of Jesus, a man who taught his follower to feed the hungry, cure the sick, and clothe the naked. Somewhere, thinking in this country has gone off the rails. I will happily pay more taxes if they are going to people in need. Instead, our taxes are diverted to corporations and subsidies for the wealthy. We do need a revolution, but, as the Dalai Lama has said, it will not be a revolution of politics or economics. It will be a revolution of values – morality.
In a speech at Harvard, Republican presidential candidate and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich suggested replacing union janitors at inner city school with the children who attend the school. He called laws that prevent children from working before the age of 14-16 “totally stupid.” He did not say what restrictions – if any – he would put on child labor.
What Gingrich doesn’t consider is how many adults his plan would throw on the street. He claims to be doing what is best for the children. Looked at more clearly, his real target seems to be public union employees who have been the targets of Republican governors across the U.S.
This proposal is foul on two levels. First, it seeks to make children workers rather than learners. Second, it would increase unemployment and income inequality he claims to want to lower by putting adults, many of whom are supporting children, on the streets. This solution would make the problem worse.
Gingrich has long been one of the most cynical politicians in the U.S. With this “modest” proposal, he has reached a new low.
Common Dreams has reprinted an AP story that focuses on the long term unemployed. In early 2010, 75% of the unemployed were receiving benefits. Now only 48% are, which means most of the unemployed have exceeded their state limits. This statistic underlies the systemic, long-term nature of unemployment. The article outlines how a lack of income hurts the whole economy, not just the unemployed. Every $1 sent to an unemployed worker generates $1.90 in economic growth. The long-term unemployed are never mentioned by our political leaders (except Bernie Sanders). These people are too often forgotten, invisible, like the rest of the poor inAmerica.
Postscript: In Daily Kos, Laura Clawson explores the deepening of poverty in America. 6.7% of American now earn less than 50% of the poverty level (less than $6,000 for an individual, less than $12,000 for a family of four). This news is beyond depressing.