February 16, 2016

ZUMBA | What I Learned in Public School

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A large part of who I am comes from my educational experience, similar to others who have had the opportunity to get an education. My education does not only consist of what is found in books, which is something I realized early on in my educational career. Education also consists of learning more about yourself, about the world around you and building relationships. It’s really up to the individual to decide what they consider to be educational. Part of what helped me grow, and actually introduced me to systemic issues, was my public school education.

I’m a direct product of the Chicago Public School system. I attended those schools from first to 12th grade (I spent kindergarten in a Catholic school). Based on the fact that I’m now attending an Ivy League institution, it’s assumed that I’m thankful to the education that the city so kindly provided me. The truth is I owe everything to the teachers and staff that took their time to build relationships with me and helped develop my abilities. My “success” definitely was not due to the CEO of CPS or the mayor of Chicago at the time who chose them.

Actually, due to the inadequacies in the education system that the current mayor, Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), continues to perpetuate, it’s a huge surprise that I made it to where I am today. The root of all the issues in the public schooling system is budgeting. Teachers in the city constantly face low funding for their schools, layoffs, school closings, unfair contracts, etc. All these actions demonstrate that the decision makers in the city don’t care about their educators or their students. My high school, for example, had a little over 3,000 students, but did not have room for that many. By my senior year, my school had use whatever spare rooms it had to fit so many kids. I remember my first period class not even being held in an actual classroom. I also remember my freshman year where one of my classes had 36 kids in it and not enough desks, forcing me to use a spare teacher’s desk in the room.

I’ve only touched upon one aspect of my high school experience and it isn’t even as bad as a large amount of other schools in Chicago. I went to a predominantly white high school on the north side of the city, so it wasn’t as bad as it could’ve been. As much as educational institutions praise “diversity,” it still doesn’t mean they’re exempt of institutional racism.

Despite the limitations that public schools are met with, teachers still manage to make do with what they have and provide a meaningful education to their students. I’m using Chicago as an example because it’s something I actually went through. I know these issues are applicable to education systems throughout the United States, including colleges and universities. The attitude towards education has developed into thinking about profit rather than actual education. It’s an epidemic in the U.S. at this point. Everyone is trying to figure out how to make money off of students instead of actually caring for them as human beings, which is why educators are so important. They’re the ones who typically treat us like people and want to see us thrive.

Teachers were the ones who really helped me figure out where I wanted to go in life, even though I’m still working on it. I am so grateful to have had the teachers I did in the past, especially the ones from my high school. I’m able to write the way I do because of the dedication of my favorite history and English teachers. I can’t ever forget about them because they were part of my personal foundation. Every time I build a relationship with a new professor or staff member, they’re also contributing to my growth. These relationships help me remember that there will always be people who genuinely care about me as a person and care about my advancement. Whenever I see the Chicago Teachers Union having a protest or rally, I still feel that dedication and care even though I’m hundreds of miles away.

  • Travis Cuvelier

    In opposing school choice, teachers’ unions are stifling the opportunity for America to become a world leader in primary and secondary education. To argue against school choice, and charter schools, is to argue against math. Of course, limitations on these programs hurt inner city minorities the most, so it’s not a wonder that there’s not more backlash in the public sphere.


    Furthermore, teachers’ unions perpetuate the myth that by and large teachers are subjected to unfair working conditions. In fact, insofar as this state is concerned, a quick trip to seethroughny.net can dispel this myth in terms of compensation, and a google search of “NYS Teacher Retirement System” will demonstrate that they are entitled to a Cadillac retirement plan unheard of in the private sector. Thirdly, tenure is a sham, and we wouldn’t have to lay off thousands of talented educators if we could cut the incompetent ones with the highest salaries.

    Charter schools, and school choice, is good for good teachers, and it’s good for students. Good teachers will see upward pressure on wages, and bad ones will have to find work elsewhere. Furthermore, it’s even been shown (as the above Reason Magazine video discusses) that school choice improves the quality of public schools. The fact that school choice isn’t the law of the land everywhere is, in my opinion, the most normalized egregious serial violation of human rights that exists in this country today.

    • Sunshine

      Your arguement would be well and good if it wern’t for the fact that charter schools on average perform worse than their respective public schools. 37% perform worse than public schools, 46% perform the same, and 17% perform better. This is largely on account of public school teachers being more experienced and more highly educated, two key predictors of a teacher’s ability. Charter schools have pushed a narrative that cycling through new teachers is better in order to boost their profit margins.

      Secondly, please don’t come in here with that commie pinko, “wah, someone is making more money than me, that’s not fair” crap. These teachers sat down and negotiated their wages and retirement plans with their respected board of education. Both sides agreed. That’s as free market as it gets.

      The reason why choice does not create better schools is because no one can figure out how to measure school success. They rely on standardized testing, and incentivizing good test scores is different than incentivizing good education. It’s what leads charter schools to the many unethical practices they commit from expelling weak students before tests, having parents take IQ tests as apart of admission, and outright cheating. If our goal was to create highly profitable schools, a system with choice would be beneficial. But that’s not the goal here. So how about we focus less on these simulacrum forms of debate on education and instead focus on pedagogy and look at how successful education systems work.

      • Travis Cuvelier

        For one thing, charter schools on the whole cost less, and even you admit that 63% of them are at least as good as the public option.

        As for your second point, let me be clear that in no way to I begrudge teachers their right to get paid what they’re worth- my point is that teacher’s are not underpaid.

        As for “both sides sitting down and negotiating” that’s sort of a crock, as teachers do not have the “right to work” without joining the union, and there are other statutory restrictions that give teachers unions special privileges when it comes to negotiating with *public sector* bodies.

        Regardless, unlike me comparing my salary to a private sector colleague, in this instance we are all paying their salaries and enabling tenure- since we’re hypothetically the ones on the other side of the negotiating table, it seems we have the right to complain.

        If you watch the Reason video, it seems to be pretty apparent that the vast majority of statistics seem to indicate that school choice is better than no school choice. At a bare minimum, we need to stop assigning schools based on geography- even choice among public options is better than no choice at all.

        • Sunshine

          I am going to have to apologize. I don’t really want to spend 36 minutes watching the video. So I’ll have to concede to the notion that there are statistics which support the idea that choice has improved school districts. But I would hope you would acknowledge that there exist plenty of statistics that show the opposite. We probably read very different sources, but the ones I have seen seem to be overwhelmingly against charter schools. So hopefully we can agree that different statistics display different stories. At some point I will get around to watching it. I would hope you would find time to read Diane Ravitch’s The Myth of Charter Schools.

          I also agree that charter schools cost less. But getting costs down isn’t what I would hope the goal would be. And it certainly isn’t the goal when it is enabling people to rip off the system to make a profit. I’m from the Albany area, the city with the country’s highest percentage of charter school students. And it seems like at least once a year a charter school leader is being prosecuted for embezzlement or fraud or some other attempt to steal tax payer money. As someone who pays quite a bit of taxes myself, I would like more money to be contributed to schools. And I would like a lot of those taxes to go to teachers. So that they make a wage that encourages them to stick with the profession and so that the district can hire enough to keep student to teacher ratios in check. This is based on evidence that points to the most effective teachers being ones who have worked more than 7 years in the field and have received graduate education on the field of teaching. Higher wages are the only way to induce people to choose this as a career option. I imagine this is just a point we will disagree on.

          As for the collective bargaining aspect, each contract is approved by the board of education. A group that is locally elected. So as tax payers we do have a say in how they are paid. I also fail to see how “right to work” plays into this at all. I genuinely do not even know where you were heading with that. I guess that teachers are coerced into paying dues? Even states that prohibit public employees from unionizing(Alabama, you still see organizations that represent teachers, drawing funding from the teacher’s themselves. The idea that teachers do not want to be apart of unions is laughable. And the idea that teachers would be better off and thus paid more seems to contradict your earlier arguments that charter schools are cheaper. Teachers also have a much harder time collectively bargaining compared to the private sector. They are not covered by the NLRA, and thus do not have the right to strike. The threat of which is any unions largest leverage at the bargaining table. And yes, at the literal bargaining table are teachers doing the negotiating. They go up against lawyers hired by the city and frequently get embarrassed. Think Knicks circa 2005 with Isaiah Thomas trying to outwit Leon Rose.

          And also College Professors have tenure, public school teachers have Right to Just Cause Termination. The issue is that since we don’t know how to properly evaluate teachers, how can you establish grounds on which to fire them.

          There are a lot of reasons why I don’t think choice benefits the education system. Money spent on advertising as opposed to education, issues with establishing enough funding, and the fact that people just don;t choose schools based on performance. Every time a public or private school is closed, there is always a big backlash because no one wants to lose friends and other things. Where friends go makes up a big part of that choice. But the bigger issue is how misguided this entire conversation is. Very few people understand actual pedegogy. If went around and asked people, “what does it mean to be educated?”, people wouldn’t be able to say. What books does someone need to have read, how much algebra should they know. These are the types of questions we need to answer to improve our educational system. Debates like charter schools give us the illusion of being informed without actually being informed. They look like informed opinions, which absolves us from having informed opinions. We need to focus on the real. What do kids need to know and how do we best teach them that.

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