Friday, July 22, 2011

Rahm kept his “promise”

Regardless of what side of the equation you come down on when it comes to public school versus private school, there’s one thing we can say about Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
EMANUEL: Sending his kids to the South Side

He didn’t lie to us back during the campaign season.

EMANUEL TOOK CRITICISM last year when he said he and his wife, Amy Rule, were considering sending their three children to private schools in the city, rather than have them attend a school in the Chicago Public Schools system.

Now, it’s no longer being considered. It is fact. Both the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times used their websites to report Thursday that the three Emanuel kids – who finished the old school year in Washington, D.C. – will transfer this fall to the Lab School that is affiliated with the University of Chicago.

Much is being made of the fact that the Lab School is the same school that Barack and Michelle Obama sent their daughters to, back before he got elected president and they moved to Washington.

But that school has been around and included so many more among its alumni (retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, former Paramount Studios head Sherry Lansing and presidential advisor Valerie Jarrett, just to name a few) that it has become an integral part of the city’s character.

I REALLY CAN’T say I’d blame Emanuel for wanting his children to attend that school.

But there are those who now want to lambast the mayor for not showing a sign of faith in the Chicago Public Schools by sending his children there.

I couldn’t help but notice the Sun-Times account included quotes from former mayoral opponent Gery Chico criticizing Emanuel, reminding us that this was a campaign issue.

Although I have to admit that hearing a repeat of his criticism, along with his reminder that he and his daughters attended schools in the Chicago Public Schools system, came across as sour grapes.

I’D HOPE THAT Chico isn’t still feeling this intense about the issue. If he did, it would say something more negative about Chico than it does about Emanuel.

Personally, I don’t think many people in Chicago are going to hold it against Rahm. Unless they’re the kind of people who for politically partisan reasons want to trash him. In which case, it wouldn’t have mattered where he sent his kids to school.

The fact is that for people who are determined to live in Chicago no matter what the circumstances, the whole “public” versus “private” debate is one they carry out in their own families.

In fact, a part of me has always wondered if the quintessential Chicago “experience” also has to include a stint in a private school – most likely one run by the Catholic Archdiocese in Chicago.

IT JUST SEEMS that, whether for religious reasons or other factors, a lot of people decide to pick educational alternatives for their children other than the Chicago Public Schools.

Which is a problem for the city. Because those schools can cost money, and not everybody is capable of affording the tuition. Many don’t even want to hear the word “tuition” until it is time to think of paying to send their children to some sort of college.

If anything, that is the reason why the suburban part of the Chicago area is twice as large as the city proper. Many parents wanted that public school option, and felt that it was only doable (and affordable) in a suburb.

It creates the phenomenon of parents desperately trying to move to select suburbs that happen to be included in school districts that are more respectable. Perhaps if the Chicago Public Schools were more respectable overall, we wouldn’t have so many young parents with four-year-olds deciding it is time to leave Chicago proper.

IT IS FOR that reason that Emanuel ought to be making a priority of trying to work with the Chicago Public Schools to improve their overall quality. That ultimately is what will keep more people in the city. I don’t necessarily see it as being hypocritical that Emanuel talks of wanting to improve public education, while sending his own children to private schools.

If anything, the Chicago experience is that mixture of people who were educated both “public” and “private.” There are advantages to each.

And while there are some interesting programs within the Chicago Public School system that offer students opportunities to learn, there simply aren’t enough quality slots for the large student body.

Which is what creates the masses of public school students who are sloughing along in mediocrity. And which is what needs to be addressed, and resolved.

IN FACT, THERE’S really only one issue I have with the idea of Emanuel’s kids attending the Hyde Park neighborhood school.

Personally, I welcome them to the South Side (even though one can argue that Hyde Park is really a world in-and-of itself). But if the Emanuel family plans to keep living in that Ravenswood neighborhood home that just recently became vacant (their renter finally left), that is going to be a long haul for those three kids every day.

Unless there will be some sort of mayoral driver with a city-owned car transporting those kids half-way across the city to get them to school. In which case, THAT would become the controversy.


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