Thursday, October 31, 2013

Does Chicago need military school?

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has plans to turn a public school in the Logan Square neighborhood into a military-themed academy.

EMANUEL: Developing an "army?"
Students in uniform, marching in formation. Learning some semblance of discipline that supposedly will make them better people in life.

I DON’T DOUBT that some people could better their lot in life through some form of regimentation. Although I’m skeptical that having people march about is necessarily going to accomplish much – unless the resources are put into the school to make it a worthy educational facility.

And that could just as easily be done without the military theme.

The key to comprehending this idea for a revamped school (currently, it is the Ames Middle School up on North Hamlin Avenue) is that it is NOT a military academy.

Its students won’t have any military obligation upon graduation. The kinds of activities offered at the school are, theoretically, the same as at any other high school.

OR AT LEAST any other high school that is underfunded and is in a community that is borderline struggling!

Under Emanuel’s plan, the Ames School would be expanded to make it into a full-fledged high school (not just the 7th and 8th grades anymore). Supposedly, there is about $7 million available through funds from tax increment finance districts that could pay for the cost of the transition.

The Chicago Sun-Times this week reported on the fact that some parents in Logan Square are upset about the change. They think it was just sprung on them. They would have liked some input into the decision.

Although being a “take charge” kind of guy is the image that Emanuel likes to portray of himself. Not exactly the kind of person who wants to spend time sitting in committees with parents who want to start micro-managing the number of stripes that will be worn on students’ uniforms.

IT SEEMS THEY have the support of the Chicago Teachers Union. Although the fact that union President Karen Lewis would be critical of Emanuel is so non-surprising.

The only real question is why didn’t she take the lead of this particular crusade?

In making his argument, Emanuel has officials who say that many parents in Chicago want the military school option. The Sun-Times reported there has been a 237-percent increase since 2005 in the number of Chicago Public Schools students who try to get themselves into a military-themed academy.

I don’t doubt that is true. The reality is that there are many mediocre- to poor-performing schools in the Chicago Public Schools system. The number of worthy students is larger than the number of slots in the school facilities that really do offer high-quality programs.

THERE PROBABLY ARE parents who will send their children anywhere except the neighborhood school that suffers the same problems as its surrounding community.

Even if it means putting on a uniform that is more detailed than khaki-colored pants and a button-up shirt.

Perhaps it is the image too many of us have received from years of watching television programs where a kid who misbehaves is threatened with the “punishment” of being shipped off to military school. Remember the episode of “The Sopranos” where actor Robert Iler’s “A.J.” character hears the school commandant go on and on about the marching and the drill and the lack of television time?

I’m just not convinced that it makes THAT much of a difference for the students who wind up at such schools.

IF ANYTHING, THERE are students who might need more discipline (and by that, I don’t mean being smacked around) in their daily ritual. Although I think that is something that best should come from the parent(s); not from the school.

If Emanuel thinks he’s about to revamp our future by having more school children marching about, I’d say he overestimates conditions. About all he’s likely to get is a batch of future parades where the military veterans watch these kids and say, “They can’t march worth squat!”


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