09/18/2012 02:51 pm ET Updated Nov 18, 2012

An Open Letter to Chicago's Teachers

More than four decades ago, in 1968, New York City schoolteachers went out on strike.

I was 6 years old, entering the first grade, and my immigrant parents fretted each day those first two weeks of the strike.

They were Holocaust survivors, without college educations, who came to America in search of a better life for their children.

When public schools closed down for this strike, they saw all they struggled for in emigrating to America, slipping away.

They knew little of the issues that divided teachers and the politicians who ran our public school system.

As a youngster, all I knew at the time, was that I had nowhere to go each day. Nowhere to sit in class and embark on my educational journey. No one to guide this first generation American in his quest to climb the upward mobility ladder.

After two weeks, my mother decided she could wait no longer for the teachers and the politicians to settle their differences. Her young son was falling behind so she enrolled me in the local parochial school.

She was forced to scrape together a few thousand dollars that she and my father did not have just to make sure their son got an education in a country they believed was the antidote to their teenage years of misery in Holocaust torn Europe.

I'm sure there are many Chicago parents and children who now feel the same way my parents and I felt in 1968. Searching for other options. Feeling trapped. Realizing that their children are innocent victims in a bruising game of political football.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt once said that strikes by public unions are "unthinkable and intolerable" because they harm the public good.

He was right.

Chicago's teachers and their leadership should continue to battle for what they believe in. As a former public school teacher and parent, I actually disagree with some of their goals but will defend their right to pursue it.

However, they should immediately end their strike and get back in the classrooms for the sake of the children. And their parents.

Don't drive kids out of the public school system. Don't deprive kids of any more days of lost classes.

Don't punish poor children or immigrant families who know that public education is their best chance of climbing the ladder of success.

Open the schools. Go back to work.

Our children can't wait.

Tom Allon is a former public school teacher and the Liberal-backed candidate for mayor of New York City in 2013.


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