It’s the Monday after Thanksgiving, time to get back into the classroom. School leaders everywhere will work hard to get students and staff refocused on the labor of love that is education.
But, there will be something significant competing for attention in Chicago schools this Monday. A lot has happened since the last time teachers and students in the city saw one another. A dashcam video was released showing a White police officer (Jason Van Dyke) shooting a Black 17 year old (LaQuan McDonald) 16 times in about 30 seconds. It became clear to everyone in this city that authorities fought for 400 days to keep news of the shooting out of the public. Anger boiled over into protests that climaxed with over a thousand protesters shutting down the Magnificent Mile on the busiest shopping day of the year.
I can’t help but to think about my many friends in the education reform movement in Chicago. I think about how strong the temptation will be to try to get back to “business as usual”, to bunker down and focus on academic outcomes. And I would be remiss not to put forward a word of caution. What happened in Chicago over this extended holiday weekend is real. It’s happening all over the country. The students and communities we serve are involved. They don’t have a choice. And education reformers must be involved also.
Education reformers have an opportunity to bring some unique perspective as the broader community takes on a system (law enforcement) that has failed and victimized poor communities of color for generations. We have some experience with that.
Now, I’m sure I just called down the wrath of many an “anti-school-reform” readers, but that’s just the point. Ed reformers know how it feels to take on the status quo. We should be helping this burgeoning movement develop the thick skin and focus they’ll need to deal with #BlueLivesMatter and #WhiteLivesMatter and #AllLivesMatter. They will be ridiculed and mocked by those who do not want to see change. Ed reformers can help this movement be ready.
Understand too that important members of our school communities are brought into this movement. Excessive aggression towards African Americans by law enforcement has been a reality in this city and nation for a very long time. It is a heavy cloud that always rests just above our heads; a little extra fear of driving or going out on the weekend.
Now, we see a glimmer of hope. Maybe, this is where it all changes. You might be surprised to discover just how many of the students and staff in your school or network were on Michigan Avenue this past Friday. But, even those who didn’t join the protest are hoping that it produces a real change.
In moments like these, silence and inaction are not very different from the acts of aggression and violence that have been committed by bad actors in police uniforms. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said:
“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends”.
Listen to me, #BlackLivesMatter is not a distraction. It is real life for large segments of our #EdReform world. Don’t ignore this one in the name of “focus.” Get involved because of something more important and more powerful. Get involved because of love.
Chris worked as deputy campaign manager and field director for A+ Illinois where he developed a strong, statewide field operation including over 500 organizations and 50,000 individuals around the state working to bring adequacy and equity to Illinois’ school funding system and as the director of advocacy and outreach at New Schools for Chicago, a leader in school reform in Chicago.
Chris is a 2006 graduate of the Ministry Training Institute and holds a degree in civic and political engagement from Northeastern Illinois University.