It is a fairly standard piece of Alinskyite strategy: make the argument about personalities rather than principles or results. Find an enemy and make the whole fight about him or her or it. As progressive icon and “Rules for Radicals” author Saul Alinsky himself put it, “pick the target, freeze it, personalize it and polarize it.” For a teachers union that wants to avoid any talk about the realities of the Chicago Public Schools, there is a simple way forward: find one or more unsympathetic personalities and make it all their fault.
The slickly produced cartoon blaming the “fat cats” of the “Litter Box Crew,” including “the Rahminator,” “Bill the Fence” (aka Bill Gates – get it?) and “Penny Pincher” (Penny Pritzker, CEO of PSP Capital Partners and Pritzker Realty Group) follows these same tenets. Can’t get enough? The Chicago Teachers Union, or CTU, has a whole litter box full of these. And yes, the Koch Brothers are in there, too. This is who CTU is setting up to take the blame for all the ills surrounding public education in Chicago – the successful, implacable foes of the unfailingly virtuous union.
CTU created the video in preparation for an upcoming fight between the union and the Chicago School Board, this time over school closings that were practically guaranteed the minute the two sides settled on a new contract last September. The contract awarded teachers an average raise of 17.6 percent over four years. In a district facing a $1 billion-dollar operating deficit next school year, there was no way raises could happen without sacrificing elsewhere, including closing schools.
The whole idea that a collection of fat cats is colluding to exploit Chicago’s schoolchildren is implausible. The “Litter Box Crew” is intensely divided; put conservative heavies David and Charles Koch in a room with former Obama Chief-of-Staff, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and you’re far more likely to wind up with a catfight than a conspiracy. If they have anything in common, it is that they tend to have money and they are a bit less enthusiastic about handing it over to CTU than the union would like. That, and they see some value to providing parents in poor neighborhoods with alternatives to the public schools that barely graduate half of the children that matriculate.
The big driver forcing school closings is CTU itself. Ignoring economic realities as it demands higher wages, the union is pushing CPS into bankruptcy. And by undermining academics as it insists on watering down teacher evaluations, the union is making charter schools more attractive to both poor parents and wealthy philanthropists. Self-examination was never part of the Alinsky program, and it seldom makes for a good cartoon, but the union really has itself to blame for the predicament it is in right now. Those who truly care about public schools or teachers might want to ignore the fat cats and turn their attention to state laws that have given CTU so much power.