Two pieces of breaking news today underline how that works in politics, and why we have to pay close attention to actions marketed as victories.
In Chicago, Rahm Emanuel's office announced a "compromise" with Dyett High hunger strikers. Well, not with them with them, because they were in no way part of the deal that the mayor's office hammered out.
The mayor was up against the wall. Demonstrators made a shambles out of last night's meeting, and fifteen protesters were arrested for blocking doors, and all of that makes for terrible optics. And so today a mid-level agent of the Chicago Public Schools announced that Dyett High would re-open as an open-enrollment arts school, a move billed as a "compromise" because it includes elements of all three proposals for Dyett-- i.e. 1) from the actual members of the community, 2) from an arts group with no school-running expertise and 3) from a group that put their hand in after the deadline for proposals. The new school will be open enrollment, but operated by some of the private contractors preferred by CPS-- hired guns who have been neither invested nor involved in the development of the school.
This is not what the hunger strikers wanted. Not that anybody in the pretty press conference could find that out directly
MT @OCPress:#FightForDyett hunger strikers not allowed into #CPS to hear decision on school. (photo: @sarahdashji) pic.twitter.com/t0MTi34hCX— WBEZeducation (@WBEZeducation) September 3, 2015
Emanuel faced an ever-growing mess, and he had to decide what to save, what absolutely could not be sacrificed in salvaging some sort of end to the public hunger strike. And he decided the one thing that he absolutely could not give up was the policy of keeping community voices silent. Okay, let them have open enrollment. But don't let them speak. Don't let them have a say in making any decisions about the school. And just to make it clear, don't use their years of research and planning for the school design-- because that'll make it clear who's still in complete control of what happens in their school.
The press will announce "Dyett will stay open" and many folks will say, "Well, hey-- they won!" which turns out to be a small sacrifice in the name of keeping the Lessers silenced and in their place, which turns out to be the Most Important Goal. They'll get-- probably-- a neighborhood school-- kind of. But they'll still have no say in how it's run. Not exactly a sweeping victory (nor are the strikers fooled). But the news about an open Dyett will strip traction from any continued strike.
Meanwhile, in New York, Andy Cuomo was badmouthing the Common Core. Like Emanuel, Cuomo has been noticing too many barbarians at the gates, with MaryEllen Elia's announcement that she was going to Get Tough with opt-outers being rapidly walked back because, well, the barbarians weren't scared by her threats-- just pissed off. So Elia walked back quick-style, and today Cuomo allowed as how many experts were still saying that the Core and the Big Standardized Test (and EngageNY and a whole raft of other reformster wonderment) have Serious Problems and now he's just going to get on that right away by turning one of his handpicked Education Commissions, previously installed to help rescue his nutburger teacher eval system. The commission will kick up some folks who can
And so we find that what matters most to Cuomo is not the Core (by name) or his educational reformster baloney. Nope-- the most important thing is to get the Lessers to Shut Up and Behave.
In Chicago and New York, today's actions are intended to convince a whole lot of folks that the fight is over, the powerful caved, nothing to see here, everybody go home and turn on some Netflix. And in the months (or years) ahead, the battle over the fate of Dyett High and NY Standards will be a long, battle-by-battle slog. Emanuel and Cuomo will have sacrificed some of their stated goals, but not the most treasured goal of all-- keeping the Lessers quiet and voiceless. Maybe they think they'll relax now and quit and go home, leaving the Leaders with what the most want-- power without interference.
That's the immediate lesson today. Nobody stood up for closing Dyett high or New York's Core as a matter of deeply held principle. Both were sacrificed easily and publicly. The immediate lesson is in what Cuomo and Emanuel were not willing to sacrifice. They were and are not willing to make the sacrifice of letting citizens come sit at the table or to have a voice when policy is set. Sacrifice anything, as long as you score a PR outflanking of the commoners without having to let them speak.
Were today's announcements no victory at all? No, the Big Guys sacrificed some peanuts. Dyett will be open, and that's not nothing. And for all their big talk about education and reforms and bringing communities what they need, Cuomo and Emanuel showed their true goals-- keep the people in those communities voiceless and in their place. That's what really matters to these guys. When the house is on fire, what people grab tells you what really matters to them, and these guys grabbed scepters of power and boots for stomping on citizens.