Back to School (Again)

Chicago Teachers Strike 154 by peoplesworld on Flickr.

Not preparing for Pentecost.

For the last week and a half, street corners all over Chicago were blanketed with screaming people in red T-Shirts. No, they aren’t Bull’s fans (at least not primarily). And no, they aren’t preparing for Pentecost (much to my chagrin. But who really gets amped up about Pentecost in September?). These red-clad protesters were Chicago Public school teachers, whose recent strike ended last Tuesday.

The strike forced public schools throughout the city to close their doors, leaving thousands of children at home, and their parents in the lurch. The issues regarding the contract were complicated and contentious, and I won’t revisit them here. But during the strike, teachers, parents and administrators all got a voice. But there is one group that wasn’t often heard–the students.

We might think that school closures are a student’s dream–like the glee that comes from a much need February snow day.  Snow days are like happy miracles that offer one more day to prepare for a test, finish a paper, or procrastinate just a little longer while riding your sled like Calvin and Hobbes.

But during the strike I was speaking with high schoolers from a Church youth group I help with. The conversation was by no means gleeful. A few days before the strike, the students were complaining about not having enough time to eat lunch, or they ripped on the kid that wore a Pokemon backpack, or swooned over the cute boy in Math class–remember high school?

Still, when I asked them if they were excited about having a reprieve from Geometry, they shrugged their shoulders and responded with a mixture of indifference and resignation.

They might feign an air of indifference, but actually be more concerned than they let on. One girl noted that although she hates school, she knows that her future depends on it. Another mentioned that going to school is the only way she gets to see her boyfriend. In other words, they need school more than they want to admit. It helps make them social beings, and deepens their humanity by sharing knowledge with them.

The strike is now over. And while my students will probably not sing “Back to School” like Billy Madison above, they know that school matters and it is where they belong.

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