Daily Kos: The Chicago Teacher Revolt—- of 1933

14 Aug

“When America’s great crisis is a story in the pages of history, there will be a significant chapter devoted to the unfailing sacrifice of the Chicago teachers, who are now carrying on under inconceivable difficulties, far beyond the point which might be fairly considered the limit of human endurance.” —The NEA Journal April 1933 (NEA: National Education Association)

On the eve before the Great Depression, what the NEA called “America’s great crisis”, Chicago’s teachers found themselves in a contradictory and uncomfortable position. Although their pay and working conditions were better than the blue collar workers in the city, their work in the classroom was becoming increasingly difficult. There had been a dramatic increase in Chicago public school students all through the 1920s which left the schools scrambling for funding.

The schools were largely financed through property taxes, and powerful corporations, along with real estate interests, had been dodging taxes for decades. The system was plagued with corruption and mismanagement and by the late 1920s was bogged down in lawsuits, court actions and a business-led tax strike. To make matters worse, the appointed school board had become a cesspool of financial corruption, especially under the gangster-tainted reign of Mayor William Thompson, an ally of Al Capone. By 1929, the year of the Wall Street stock market crash, Chicago was essentially broke.

The schools in the immigrant inner city neighborhoods often lacked libraries, playgrounds or even adequate toilet facilities. The children, many of whom had only an uncertain grasp of English, were herded into overcrowded grim looking classrooms that one educational analyst described as resembling “enlarged prison cells”. Schools in Chicago’s growing African American neighborhoods were plagued by overcrowding and poor facilities. African American teachers faced relentless racial discrimination.

School administrators took over textbook choices and piled on more clerical work. They introduced a blizzard of standardized tests which one critic said reduced teachers to “automatons” and students to “mechanized memory machines.” The superintendent abolished the Teachers Councils, which had given teachers a voice in educational policy.

But even as they were being treated like cogs in a soulless machine, teachers were told to uphold: More…

via Daily Kos: The Chicago Teacher Revolt—- of 1933.

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