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Let's Move! Disaster

Here's what happens your students are invited to an event featuring the First Lady.

George Schmidt Comment:
Can you imagine having taken your students to an event like this, especially if you had built them up for the chance to spent time with the first lady (whom many of them admire). This isn't the first time that Michelle Obama has lent herself to a reactionary infomercial here in Chicago. In May 2012, during the NATO summit, she announced she was taking the spouses of the NATO leaders to her "old neighborhood" to see the schools and the community where she grew up. Instead of taking the world leaders to the Bouchet Elementary School (where she attended school for nine years) or to Whitney Young High School (which gave her the high school education and counseling that got her Harvard and beyond) she took the spouses to a charter school (Comer campus of "Chicago International Charter Schools") for an infomercial for charter schools.

As people in Chicago know, the first lady grew up in the South Shore community, attended Bryn Mawr Elementary School, a real public school (the name has since been changed to Bouchet; it's the same school) and then went to Whitney Young Magnet High School (the same school my son Dan graduated from, only he was Class of 2007), another real public school. I asked around, and the teachers at Whitney Young told me that she has never been back, even though some of the real public school teachers who taught her are still around (or, in the case of the retiree whom I help represent in the union, readily available).

One last thing about the First Lady and the President: As some of you have heard, the primary organization that pushed to have the endorsement for the U.S. Senate seat go to Barack Obama 7 years ago was the Chicago Teachers Union (which did lots of phone banking for him and even had some office space available to him back then). Without the CTU, Barack Obama would not have been in the U.S. Senate to deliver that speech that launched him in 2004. Almost as soon as he was launched, however, he made sure that the part of his history involving the unions was erased from his memoirs. By the time The New York Times did its big story about Obama's Chicago roots, the unions did not exist. It gets even more interesting. In the State of the Union message, you may remember, Obama did that litany that some thought was "progressive" --

Seneca Falls

For those of us in Chicago, he deliberately left out the "fourth S" -- and the one that had at least to do with his political ascent: "South Chicago."

In that alliterative version of reality, the "Fourth S" would have represented the unions. South Chicago was one of the the centers of union organizing during the CIO years, and union workers died in South Chicago during the "Little Steel" organizing at the "Memorial Day Massacre." It would have been easy enough to add that reality to the others that were alliterated into the speech.
But like the omission of the real public schools from the First Lady's NATO visit in May 2012, the State of the Union message by the President in January 2013 had that deft level of dishonesty we've come to expect from the guy who gave us Arne Duncan and "Race To The Top."

By Leah Putnam

If you are a parent, imagine that you take your child on a trip and they are very excited. Now imagine they have to wait on a bus and stand in straight lines for three hours straight. Then imagine after one hour of "fun" that they have to sit around and wait for three more hours that bus to pick them up. Oh, did I mention that are not allowed to have a morsel of food the entire time? Now, multiply that by 25 to 35. Sounds fun right?! That's a little bit what the day was like for CPS students, parents and teachers at the Let's Move! Campaign.

When offered the chance to participate in the Let̢۪s Move! campaign, I thought it would be a lot of fun and jumped at the chance. After all, my students have been working very hard to prepare for next week's ISAT test and deserved a to let loose a little. Had I known what this event entailed, I would have definitely taken a pass.
The day began with the buses picking us up from our school. As we arrived at McCormick Place, we passed bus after bus after bus, full of students. Our bus took its place at the end of that line, and we waited for over 45 minutes to reach our destination. I thought the 90 total minutes in a school bus full of children would be the extent of my stress, but I was a bit naive at this point.

As we entered McCormick place we were ushered immediately to metal detectors and our bags were searched. We didn't bring food or drink as was requested, so the security check went by flawlessly. Then we waited in another line, this time for t-shirts. When my 10 year old students received their XL men's t-shirts, I did my best to tell them with a straight face that the shirts would shrink and the girls could maybe wear them as a dress.

We were moved to a location in a large concrete room with thousands of children. We were told to keep our students in three straight quiet lines. The students stood there for almost an hour. Then, the students were ushered into a giant room with a stage and told they had to be very quiet, that there was a "surprise in there for them." 6,000 kids quiet? Good luck guy. As the students went into the room, they were all assigned to stand in different areas. The students framed the stage on three sides and the media was seated on the four side of the rectangular square. As the commercial, I mean event, began each athlete was introduced. They all had a 1-2 minute motivational speech that was so cheesy that none of the athletes really seemed to connect with the students and the messages did not resonate. It seemed like one giant Nike advertisement. Finally, the first lady came out. Although she was stunning and her message was powerful, her back was to the children. She was facing the media. I couldn't help wondering, who is this event really for? Then I realized my students were just a backdrop to this campaign/commercial.

Finally, the exercise program began. I enjoyed watching Bo Jackson trying to keep up with the squat twists and Rahm Emanuel's teeny tiny t-shirt. My students were not enjoying it at all. Not because they are not fit, because it was 1 pm (2 hours past their usual lunch time). They were dropping like flies, most of my students were sitting on the ground by the time Jordin Sparks started singing.

Around 1:30 pm the concert was over, everyone was corralled back into the very large room we started in and went back to where we were originally waiting. They began calling buses, starting with 1-10. Imagine my thinking when I looked down at my wrist band and saw "bus 291." The next two and a half hours broke my heart as my students continually came up to me to tell me that they were hungry and ask why this was happening. We teachers feel responsible for our students and there was nothing we could do but wait. We were at the mercy of this poorly run event. Some students entertained themselves by making their t-shirts into a ball and throwing them around, some laid down on the ground miserably. My pregnant coworker was dehydrated and hadn't eaten in 10 hours. It was mentally and physically exhausting for every teacher, parent and student stuck at McCormick Place. Many of the parent chaperones had to make various arrangements for their younger students that they could no longer pick up from school. Many of our students are responsible for their younger siblings and our school had to make arrangements for these children. Some of those parents had worked the night before, and had to go back to work when we returned. The after school programs we teach were either cancelled or taken over by other teachers.

At 3:52 we finally departed from McCormick Place, exhausted, deflated, and hungry. This event was clearly not about the children, because their needs were not put first.

Politics and big business before children; was this event an eerie foreshadowing of what is to come for education in Chicago?

Leah Putnam is a 5th Grade Teacher in the
Chicago Public Schools.

— Leah Putnam, with George Schmidt comment
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