Sunday, July 7, 2013

Speech for 7/4 Rally: The Fight Against Austerity

Below is the copy of a speech I gave during a rally against Austerity outside Mayor Emanuel's home.  Here are a couple links to news coverage of the event here, here, and here.

Hello! Happy Independence Day! 

My name is Katie Osgood and I am a teacher.  I teach at a psychiatric hospital here in the city, working with students from all over the Chicagoland area and of all ages including hundreds of CPS students.  And in my hospital, I have seen directly the impact of Rahm Emanuel’s terrible school policies.  We are seeing higher rates of depression, suicide attempts, school refusal, family conflict, anxiety, and aggressive behaviors all directly related to current school policies in this city. 

To put it bluntly, CPS’s policies are hurting children.  When you viciously close schools, slash budgets-including taking money for social workers, smaller classes, arts, music, and gym, when you fire trusted teachers and staff, all these things hurt kids.  And in the middle of all this, our mayor has the gall to cut mental health services and close mental health facilities.  But you see, the chaos of our system is intentional.  The people in charge call it “creative disruption,” a business term.  They want to let market forces determine where schools will stand, and maybe make a buck or two in the process (ahem UNO charter schools) -which means throw up a charter here, close down another school there, and they even generously say they will close the underperforming charters too.  Gee, thanks.  

They treat schools like shoe stores in a strip mall-not historic institutions that are grounding communities.  I have met countless children who are lost in this madness, going to 3, 4, even 5 different schools in as many years.  Here is the pattern I keep seeing: Students start in a neighborhood school, the school is closed or the parents are lured to a charter, the charter very quickly pushes out that student due to behavior problems or disabilities-I am hearing frightening horror stories coming from these charters-and they bounce back to another neighborhood school which may be closed itself. Kids learn to hate school, to fear it.  Under this system, children become liabilities, bad assets to be dumped with they are not deemed profitable.  You know what, kids know when they are not wanted.  And it is heartbreaking to watch kids get beaten by school reform.

This is madness.  Children need stability, they need connection, they need strong ties to their neighborhoods and communities.  They need schools that are funded to work and be successful.  They need fully certified, experienced teachers! (Have you heard how our CPS school board just expanded the contract with Teach for America tripling its funds in the middle of a “budget crisis”?  Teach for America is a program which gives non-education majors a short, five week crash course in teaching and then places them in our highest needs classrooms.  After firing hundreds of experienced teachers and staff, our Board is bringing in MORE uncertified, untrained novices. Parents, DEMAND that your child’s teacher is certified and qualified. You have that right!)

And these policies are most damaging to our students with special needs who are the most deeply impacted by the bad policy coming from the 125 Clark and our 1% Mayor.  Mayor Emanuel is deliberately enforcing policies that hurt children.  Do you know what we call people who deliberately hurt kids? (---- )
I have seen my CPS students and colleagues in the schools become weary and be beaten down with exhaustion and demoralization.   The longest school day coupled with the longest school closings process ever, was impossibly tiring.  Hearing after hearing, bad news on the heels of bad news.  Crazy budget cuts on top of everything else.  Rahm and the other bullies at CPS want this.  They want to wear us out, beat us down, keep us too tired to speak up.

But will they succeed?  NO! Because what they will never understand is that we are fighting for flesh and blood children, children that WE know by name. They are OUR precious sons and daughters, OUR students, who fill up OUR schools in OUR communities.  (Who’s schools? OUR schools! Who’s children? OUR children!)
I wish we could say that this was just Rahm and his twisted mind.  But it’s not, this is part of a greater attack on teachers, on schools, on low-income communities of color, on public education.  It’s happening all over the country, the world.  But let me say this, Rahm may not have started all this, and it may not be just him leading these attacks, but you know what? I think he’s a good place to start the offensive!  Take back our city!  Take back our schools! Let’s make Rahm be a One Term Mayor! (One Term Mayor One Term Mayor One Term Mayor!)

Today is Independence Day.  So we declare independence from a mayor-appointed school board made up of millionaires and business elites.  We need an elected, representative and who represents US!  We declare independence from a regime of high-stakes testing that takes away joy and creativity from our classrooms.  We declare independence from a city budgeting system that gives money to private school stadiums to politically connected charter operators but starves our public schools. We declare independence from a 1% Mayor who cares more about the interests of the rich than Chicago’s students.  (When public education is under attack, what do you do? STAND UP, FIGHT BACK!)

So thank you, and Happy Independence Day.