This is a column about rules. It’s about rules we are expected to follow and rules that the rulers—call them the new aristocracy, the 1 percent, the Masters of the Universe—don’t deign to notice. It’s about hypocrisy, double standards and twisted logic. But it’s really about a strike and two lockouts that on basic principle demand our support.
The Chicago teacher’s strike has more angles than Cecil Cooper’s swing. But there is one criminally under-discussed aspect of it. It would be so helpful if just one of the many politicians and newspaper editorial boards lining up to lambast the teacher’s union could explain why Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s vision for a model Chicago public school is so at odds with the education he is providing for his own children. Mayor Rahm is fighting to create a school system dominated by high-pressured standardized testing. Everyone and everything must bow to the test. Cut art, cut music, cut physical education, extend the school day and create an educational environment that revolves around filling in a bubble.
Yet Rahm sends his own children to the University of Chicago Lab School. As labor journalist Mike Elk reported, “The Lab School has seven full-time art teachers to serve a student population of 1,700. By contrast, only 25 percent of Chicago’s ‘neighborhood elementary schools’ have both a full-time art and music instructor. The Lab School has three different libraries, while 160 Chicago public elementary schools do not have a library.”
Rahm wants less art and more standardized testing for Chicago’s children, while he wants more art and less high-stakes testing for his own children. One set of rules for him and one for the rest of us.
Then there is the ongoing lockout of 119 National Football League referees. NFL owners, led by their flak-catching Commissioner Roger Goodell, don’t care that for the cost of several dozen Peyton Manning autographed footballs, they could rehire their highly trained officials. This is a league that secretes money, but the billionaires in the owner’s box can’t stand the thought of paying for competent officiating when there are replacements willing to work for less pounding at the doors.
The connective tissue with the teachers of Chicago isn’t the greed. It’s the gap. It’s the gap between the rules Commissioner Goodell and the owners expect others to follow and their own moral code. Goodell has decided to make the “health and safety” of players golden buzzwords that justify all decisions. “Health and safety” are why players should be fined $50,000 for “helmet to helmet contact." “Health and safety” are why the league leveled reckless “bounty” allegations against four members of the New Orleans Saints, despite what’s now been deemed an absence of evidence. And Roger Goodell’s care for the “health and safety” of players is why the league just donated $30 million to the National Institute of Health to study brain disease.