Thursday, December 9, 2010

How important is 'public' vs. 'private'

I am a Chicago native and a graduate of the public schools, but I am not of the Chicago Public Schools.
CHICO: Public, and proud of it!

So this isn’t going to be a diatribe taking Rahm Emanuel down a notch or two because he won’t immediately commit to sending his three school-age children to a public school within the city limits.

BUT I DO believe that educational quality is important, and that a public school system is an important criteria in determining the overall quality of life within the city limits. There have been too many young couples who left Chicago because their young children were old enough for school, and they didn’t trust the neighborhood schools.

It creates the image of a city for either the elite or the losers of our society, with no one from in between being capable of living there.

I know in my own case, my parents left Chicago proper two months before I was scheduled to begin kindergarten – for that exact reason. My mother, a product of Chicago’s Catholic schools, didn’t want me enduring what used to pass for discipline in the parochial schools, but didn’t trust the city’s public school system either.

Which is why although I have lived my adult life continually moving into, and out of, the city (based on various jobs throughout the years) and consider myself a Chicago native, I claim South Holland-based Thornwood High (Class of ’83) as the alma mater.

A PART OF me wonders if this makes me a part of the problem facing our urban area. Perhaps if we thought more of our home city, we would have stayed and tried to cope and address the problems facing our neighborhoods – rather than fleeing.
EMANUEL: Private? Does it matter?

Mayoral hopeful (and former school board President) Gery Chico is trying to take advantage of people who might feel the same way, making an issue Wednesday against Emanuel – pointing out he and his own children went to public schools in the city.

By comparison, Emanuel told reporter-types that he has to talk with his wife first before deciding where their three kids would go to school, if he gets elected mayor. For the time being, they remain in a private school in the District of Columbia – which makes them just like many government officials who live a few years in Washington (including the Obamas).

I won’t be surprised if, in the end, Emanuel winds up deciding that some form of private school is best for his own kids. I’m not even sure I would hold it against him, even though I realize it would be a great show of faith in the city if he did send his kids to a public school.

BUT WOULD THAT be a real gesture, or just an attempt to use his kids as political pawns to bolster his own political credibility? Which means a part of me might be inclined to hold it against him if his kids do wind up in a public school.

In short, it’s not an easy issue to address, although I do realize that a mayor has to be concerned about public education. The problems of the public school system are those of the mayor just as much as those of the superintendent and the Board of Education.

But I also realize that being a product of a public school isn’t necessarily a quintessential part of being a Chicagoan (or does anyone think a place like Mount Carmel isn’t urban?). This is a place where the Catholic church is predominant and many people for their own religious reasons would never dream of letting their kids be “tainted” by the influence of a public education.

Personally, I think it is their loss. I think my own public school education exposed me to more people and forced me to cope with different situations than I would have encountered in any kind of private school environment.

BUT IT ALSO is their choice, and I’m not about to make an issue about one’s educational choice.

Not that I expect Emanuel (who is Jewish) to enroll his kids in a Catholic school – although the modern-day reality of Catholic schools in Chicago is that many of the students aren’t Catholic. I still remember once interviewing officials at DeLaSalle Institute (a quintessential Chicago high school if there ever was one) and having them tell me about students who were Muslim.

But I don’t see the difference between a school overseen by the Chicago Archdiocese or any other private group. They all are a part of the experience of being a Chicagoan.

So Chico may be “really committed” to Chicago and think that his own educational experience is evidence of that. But I’m not sure I want to take this particular issue and attach any real significance to it.

IN PART, BECAUSE I realize my own life experience would make me unfit to live by such a standard.

But also, because I’m not sure it matters all that much. Part of what makes life in Chicago interesting is that it is a mixture of people who have made various choices on how to live their lives, even though they’re living in proximity to each other.

If we really wanted a lifestyle where everybody lived alike, we’d have been among those who fled Chicago and never set foot within the city limits under any circumstance.

That would be boring.


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