Governor Rauner’s Latest Sickness Is Hurting Our Schools

Log onto any social media platform and search for #notaprison.

Unless you are a certified Bruce Rauner apologist, one thing will be abundantly clear; the governor is suffering from a serious case of foot-in-mouth disease.

Foot-in-mouth is a condition that is commonly found among leaders with some sort of visible, vocal platform (elected officials, organizational leaders, even parents). It is contracted when the leader stands on that platform and says something offensive, regrettable and plainly stupid.

Governor Rauner fell into his latest bout with the disease at a Chicago event yesterday morning as he was using the public appearance to once again go on the attack against Democrats in the legislature and the Chicago Mayor. As the attacks against his fellow politicians began to flow, Rauner moved past attacking politicians and went into attacking teachers and parents and children. Here’s the quote from Rauner’s speech:

The simple fact is that when you look objectively at the state of Chicago Public Schools, many of them are inadequate. Many of them are woeful, and some are just tragic. Many of them are basically almost crumbling prisons. They’re not a place a young person should be educated.

Crumbling prisons? Ouch.

I don’t know about Governor Rauner, but I’ve had to visit family members in jail before. And I’ve been in a lot of Chicago public schools. It is simply not a fair comparison.

But, that’s how foot-in-mouth disease works.

Leaders who lack a positive vision are most at risk. Early indicators of an episode include functional ineffectiveness, lack of results and reckless blaming. Especially the blaming. When you so much time blaming others for your own ineffectiveness, eventually you have to find new people to blame. Before you know it, you’re comparing the hard work that teachers, parents and students are doing in schools every day to prison.

Foot firmly implanted in mouth.

You can also know that a leader is at very high risk of contracted foot-in-mouth disease when he or she begins to demonstrate a profound grasp of the obvious. Lacking a vision for the future or any practical solutions to the problems they face, leaders in Illinois love to overstate obvious challenges with increasingly provocative hyperbole in an effort to replace the attention one might hope to receive through visionary leadership with plain old shock value.

This is certainly true in the case of the governor. Sure, there are tremendous problems in Chicago Public Schools and we certainly have to deal with them. But, does it help to insult the families we are ultimately trying help? Does refusing to find a compromise that would allow adequate and equitable funding flow to the schools bring us closer to a solution? I don’t think so.

Luckily for Governor Rauner, foot-in-mouth is a curable disease. The cure: Find a practical way to work on the problems you complained about so much that you contracted the disease in the first place. Then get to work on making the solutions happen. You’ll find that you have much more substantive things to talk about than comparing schools to prisons.
But, time doesn’t cure this disease. Trust me, that foot will be back in your mouth in no time unless you get to the real work of fixing this state and funding the schools.

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Chris Butler is first a husband and a dad. He has been involved across the spectrum of public engagement activities and has worked with a number of diverse constituencies in urban and suburban communities. He has also been involved in several political campaigns including his service as a youth and young adult coordinator for Barack Obama’s primary bid for U.S. Senate. Chris worked as deputy campaign manager and field director for A+ Illinois where he developed a strong, statewide field operation including over 500 organizations and 50,000 individuals around the state working to bring adequacy and equity to Illinois’ school funding system and as the director of advocacy and outreach at New Schools for Chicago, a leader in school reform in Chicago. Chris is a 2006 graduate of the Ministry Training Institute and holds a degree in civic and political engagement from Northeastern Illinois University.