“A clear-eyed view of history can make us uncomfortable. It will shake us out of familiar narratives. But it is precisely because of that discomfort that we learn, and grow, and harness our collective power to make this nation more perfect.”

-President Barack Obama at the opening of the National Museum of African-American History

President Obama’s words remind us how important it is to confront the events of Chicago’s past, even if those events are unsettling to us. That is why after working for more than a year with African-American community leaders, civil rights advocates, law enforcement, academic researchers and the Chicago Teachers Union, today Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Police Department unveiled a curriculum to teach all eighth and 10th graders about Jon Burge, the former Chicago police commander who, along with officers working under his command, has been accused by more than 100 African-Americans of torturing and physically abusing them while they were in police custody in the 1970s, 1980s, and early 1990’s.

Incidents like this pale in comparison with the countless moments of courage and professionalism displayed by our police officers, but they are part of a deplorable era that must be acknowledged.

“What happened was wrong. As your police superintendent, I condemn it. My promise to you all is that any and all torture is in our past; it will not be our future. I also want you to know that there are countless moments of police courage and professionalism, and they are far more frequent than the moments of excessive force. But those moments are wrong, and no matter how isolated they are, they undermine our entire department and our relationship with our residents, our communities – with you. As your police superintendent, I want you to listen carefully during these lessons, ask hard questions, reflect on what you’re learning, and most importantly to think about what you can do to make Chicago a better place for everyone.”   -Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson

This curriculum came about because of community action. For years, torture survivors, the African-American community and other advocates pushed for reparations for the torture. In response, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the City Council passed a measure that provides $5.5 million in reparations, as well as establishes a curriculum in Chicago Public Schools to examine the Burge case and its legacy to help prevent such abuses from ever happening again.

Once the curriculum was created, CPS piloted the program in six schools, using insightful feedback from teachers and school leaders to prepare for District-wide implementation this school year.

“Confronting the sins of the past is critical to building a better future together. It’s vital for students to closely examine past wrongs so that as future leaders they can make their community better,” said CEO Forrest Claypool.

This curriculum came about because of community action. For years, torture survivors, the African-American community and other advocates pushed for reparations for the torture. In response, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the City Council passed a measure that provides $5.5 million in reparations, as well as establishes a curriculum in Chicago Public Schools to examine the Burge case and its legacy to help prevent such abuses from ever happening again.

Tenth grade students will focus on educating others about what happened and paying tribute to those who fought for justice.

At the end of the unit, 10th grade students will be asked to create a memorial to educate the public about this time in our history and 8th grade students will be asked to write an opinion piece to express their views on how to improve police-community relationships.

“Our classrooms will be safe and respectful places for students to learn about this painful period in Chicago’s past with honest inquiry, as well as provide avenues for students’ thoughtful and productive responses. We encourage families to continue these conversations at home, especially as our country is wrenched by the ugliness in Charlottesville. We all need to help children understand the past, the present and how they can shape the future in line with our values of tolerance, diversity and respect for each other, ” said Chief Education Officer Dr. Janice K. Jackson

Given the sensitive nature of these topics, we have been intentional about preparing our educators for this curriculum. More than 1,000 CPS teachers have already participated in workshops on the use of social-emotional supports that help guide challenging conversations. We will give our teachers all the tools they need to successfully manage these conversations, and to meet even the most distressing details of this curriculum head on. We owe that to our students, especially those who continue to face issues of racism and intolerance in their everyday lives.

This curriculum came about because of community action. For years, torture survivors, the African-American community and other advocates pushed for reparations for the torture. In response, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the City Council passed a measure that provides $5.5 million in reparations, as well as establishes a curriculum in Chicago Public Schools to examine the Burge case and its legacy to help prevent such abuses from ever happening again.

The eighth grade curriculum is available here and the 10th grade is here.

Additionally, many educators are preparing to talk with their students about race, hate and intolerance because of the recent violence in Charlottesville and national conversation that has emerged. CPS provided schools with this list of supports and strategies to help educators facilitate these conversations.