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Opinion: In fable of a giant, CPS kids and teachers get crushed

Michael E. Brunson, recording secretary of the Chicago Teachers Union, answers questions at a press conference supporting the Financial Transaction Tax Act. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

A wise older woman once told me a tale that offers a charmingly unique perspective on the creation of this world.

Somewhere high on a hidden mountain, she said, a giant is sleeping. He has been sleeping for a great number of years. And this world that we experience — and everything in it — is nothing more than his dream: figments and creatures of his imagination.

OPINION

I told the wise older woman that the giant’s dream seemed to me more like a nightmare. I look around and see so much injustice: greed, unending folly, violence and suffering. I see people sifted and sorted like widgets and treated accordingly. I see lost souls and broken lives. Dreams are supposed to be pleasant, aren’t they? This dream is a nightmare.

But then, I realized, it all depends on where you fit and what role you play in the giant’s surreal cosmos.

The giant’s dream is peopled by some who gloriously but anxiously revel in wealth and power; by others who are ground down by anxiety and misery; and by fewer and fewer people who sit in the middle, watching and commenting as if untouched. And all think: “twas ever thus.”

The charmed few in the giant’s dream go by many titles: hedge funders, stock traders, private equity investors, corporate moguls, philanthropists, professional managers, CEOs, economists, media pundits — the list goes on. I’ve heard them called “the 1 percent.” I’ve heard some called “the 0.1 percent.” They sit atop a magnificent pyramidal financial-economic-political-social structure. They are ensconced in splendorous glory, while those closer and closer to the base of the pyramid are crushed under the weight of all who are situated above them. Life sucks at the bottom.

Imagine, now, where Chicago Public School students and their parents fit in this pyramid. Imagine where public school educators fit. Imagine where the majority of Chicago and Illinois taxpayers fit. And imagine how high up, at the very top, sit the very wealthy in a flat-tax state. Imagine where wealthy investors at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange sit.

Imagine all this as you ask three questions:

  • Who bears the ponderous weight of those who sit above them?
  • Who has already given the most?
  • Who should sacrifice first?

The teachers, paraprofessionals, and clinicians that work in Chicago’s public schools have already sacrificed blood, sweat and tears over and above the hard work they put in educating and caring for our students every day. And, yes, they have sacrificed with salary cuts and compensation modifications in the past to help shore up a broke-on-purpose public school system. Meanwhile, more than 100 million contracts change hands at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange daily, with fees being paid to the handlers, but no taxes paid to the city or state!

Further, there are those in Chicago and Illinois who can brag like Warren Buffett that they pay less in taxes than the much lower-wage assistants who serve them.

When it comes to sacrifice for the greater good, why not start at the top of the pyramid so all can witness the true magnificence of the glorious who sit above? Why not flatten this inequitable and onerous pyramid into a fair and equitable field of dreams?

And yet our sleeping giant on a mountain, this humanoid behemoth, continues to dream his dream of injustice: oppression, repression, inequity, misery and discrimination.

Well, anyway, back to the wise older woman. With a gleam in her eye, she delivered the punch line to her tale: “The giant is about to wake up!”

Michael E. Brunson is recording secretary of the Chicago Teachers Union.

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