By Michelle Gunderson
Today is the last day of school at Nettelhorst Elementary, a neighborhood school in Chicago. And as I say goodbye to my students and start packing up my room I’m aware of what I am NOT packing up. There are no test prep materials, worksheets, or textbooks going into any of my packing crates. How is this possible in a world gone mad with over-testing and the nationalized curriculum that is the Common Core?
The faculty at my elementary school has formed strong relationships based on social justice unionism. We use the structures put in place by our union to negotiate curriculum guidelines, workplace issues, and the fair and just treatment of children and adults. In the recent union election our school voted 100 percent for the Caucus of Rank and File Educators (CORE). As a faculty we’ve formed cohesion based on a shared concept of social justice, and this is a trend I would like to see move into more schools around our country.
In an age where business interests seem to have more and more control over the classroom, educators find themselves with few allies and politically isolated. The movement from business unionism to social justice unionism is a reaction to these outside forces. Teachers are collectively organizing to fight for the rights of their students as well as workplace justice for educators and by extension other workers. In order to do this, groups of teachers are working to transform their unions.
The movement towards social justice unionism is of utmost importance to educators who are no longer willing to have corporate education reform and the privatization of education occur before their very eyes while their unions stand by, or even worse, participate in these reforms. Teachers see the co-opting of terms such as “achievement gap” and “accountability” being used to justify harsh and devastating measures taken against schools, communities, teachers, and children. The movement towards social justice unionism is timely and growing. It is the hope of many teachers, through the structure and power of their unions, to regain power and to once again be invited to the table in forming education policies that affect their lives and the learning of their students
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The assembly at Free Minds, Free People entitled “Igniting, Supporting, and Sustaining Social Justice Unionism” brings union activists together in order to share common understandings about social justice. We will find a space to share our stories and concerns as well as building a network of support that empowers. We invite you to help build this movement.