Monday, September 7, 2015

Why Dyett Still Matters

First, just in case you missed it in the PR flurry-- no, the Dyett hunger strikers did not "win," and yes, the hunger strike is still going on.

The twelve parents and community members who began going without solid foods over three weeks ago are still standing up for the same issues they were standing up for when this began. The Chicago school system, run by the mayor and not by any sort of elected school board, would like to close the school and replace it with one more privatized education. Or maybe they would really just like to replace it with a nice parking lot for the Coming Someday Obama Presidential Library.

What they don't want to do is listen to the community. So last week they announced that Dyett would stay open as a "compromise" school in a process that would continue to lock out community voices (which was aptly symbolized at the big press conference when the strikers were literally locked outside). This is a loose definition of "compromise," like a mugger who says, "Well, if you don't want to give me all your money, let's compromise and you can just give me most of your money."

The hope was that the public would listen as far as "Dyett will remain open..." and then just stop paying attention, which is the kind of cynical bullshit that gives Chicago politics a bad name. But it was at least marginally successful for five or ten minutes. Supporters were posting links to the news and tagging them "Victory." Eric Zorn, who unleashed a Trib column's worth of asshattery on the strikers, followed up with a non-retraction retraction that declared the strikers victorious and advising them to enjoy their big win and go home, which pretty well exemplified the reaction that Chicago Big Cheeses were angling for.

In retrospect, it seems likely that school chief's hint earlier that Dyett wasn't even necessary was a bargaining tactic, a set-up so that taking the school away from the community instead of flat-out closing it would seem like a generous concession by CPS, and not simply what they had intended to do (and what the organizers had been striking about) in the first place.

So why should those of us around the rest of the country be paying attention? Because this is a bald-faced, shameless display of everything wrong with the reformster privatization movement. It's not simply that non-educators will hand over a public school to other non-educators to commit amateur-hour educational malpractice. The handling of Dyett also displays plainly how the privatization movement is not just an attack on education, but an attack on the democratic rights of people who are not white, not wealthy, and not well-connected.

This is about shutting the community out of the process, about making sure that the people of Bronzeville have no say in any of this, about a political process so devoted to locking community members outside that it considers giving them half-assed lip service as a major concession.

Peter Cunningham, former Arne Duncan mouthpiece and an old Chicago hand, took to his $12 million website to tut-tut at the strikers, suggesting that they "honor the public process," a variation on the old "why don't these protesters just work within the system." But that's what's particularly notable about the Dyett community members-- they have done absolutely everything that the system asked of them. They have played by the rules for years and years, from developing a solid plan backed by community members, respectable institutions, and capable professionals. They submitted a formal proposal (and they did it on time) and they waited patiently while Chicago Public Schools hemmed and hawed and stalled (in a process that wasn't very public at all). Even when the Dyett strikers finally took action, it was not disruptive or destructive to anything but their own bodies.

If anybody can offer advice about what the Dyett folks could have done better, differently, I'd be thrilled to hear it. But the only other option that folks seem to want them to exercise is "Shut up, go home, and let your Betters decide the fate of your neighborhood school without all your yammering in the background."

Dyett cuts straight to the central question of turnovers, takeovers, achievement school districts, charterization, and privatization-- why, exactly, should rich and powerful people with no real ties to the community have more say in how the community's schools are run than the people who actually live there?

Jitu Brown put it pretty plainly--

You are not better than us. You are not smarter than us. And you do not love these children more than we do.

And so we have to ask reformsters: Do you want to argue one of those three point? Because that should be an interesting conversation. And if you don't contest any of those assertions, then on what basis are you taking over the community's school? Even if we let the assertion that the school is failing slide, the question remains-- why are you stripping the community of a voice in its own school? Because you're better, you're smarter, or you love the students more? And if it's not one of those three, then what is it?

What gives you the right to suspend democracy for a community?

Dyett still matters because the issue is not resolved and the strikers have not yet won. Dyett still matters because the fate of Dyett will have a huge impact on that community. And Dyett still matters because the issues being battled there are the same issues faced by every community in this country where the rich and powerful have decided to suspend democracy for certain communities.

Follow #FightForDyett on twitter. Check in with websites like this one. You can donate to the organization here. You can get a national perspective from articles like this one. And if you're in the area, there's a Labor Day rally at 5:00 PM. Spread the word. Speak out. Dyett matters, and the folks who are standing up for that school are standing up for all of us.


  1. For anyone in the Chicago area today, there's a rally at Dyett at 5:00 today.

    Thanks for keeping up with this - it means a lot that people across the country are paying attention.

  2. Thanks for that reminder. I'll add it to the piece.