Friday, March 29, 2013

How “local” are Chicago schools? How many of them are really worth saving?

I can’t help but see all those hundreds of people who protested in the downtown area this week against the closing of their neighborhood schools as being a big misguided.

I understand they feel like their neighborhoods (many of which are lower-income) are being slighted. There’s also the very real factor that the street gangs have too strong a hold on their neighborhoods, and that the shifts brought about by these closings will cause some of those students to have to venture through hostile territory just to get to school.

I SUSPECT THAT will wind up being yet another factor used by students to decide to ignore school altogether – which causes so many long-range problems that it’s not funny.

But the bottom line is that many of these schools being cited for shutdown are troubled facilities that may well be far beyond redemption.

They probably are too far gone to ever amount to anything that could provide an adequate education. Expecting anything in the way of reform at those facilities may well be a pipe dream.

Totally unachievable.

I CAN’T HELP but wonder if those people who are picketing to keep their decrepit local schools open ought to be fighting instead for improved facilities – even if they have to be elsewhere.

Could the desire to maintain an aging local school wind up leaving those parents and their children with nothing of substance?

Now in the interest of disclosure, I’ll be the first to admit I’m not the best person to be commenting on this issue. In my case, my parents moved out of Chicago just two months prior to my being old enough to begin school.

The explicit reason was that my parents did not want me in the Chicago Public Schools. And my mother, a product of the school system maintained by the Catholic Archdiocese, had her own bad memories that made her not want either my brother or I to attend a Catholic school.

WHICH MEANS MY brother and I (who moved back to the city proper later in life) were in a position where our parents could afford to move about in search of communities where the local public schools were at an adequate level that our educational opportunities were acceptable.

Unlike many of these parents who were in the streets of the Loop on Wednesday to express their opposition to what they see as Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s callous disregard for their interests.

Many of them are in life circumstances where they are stuck in whatever particular neighborhood they happen to reside, and where shipping the kids off to a distant school just is not a realistic option.

Because the reality for many urban kids is that going to school is all about a sizable trip every day – off to a facility that has nothing to do with their neighborhood so that they can have the same chances that youths of upper-scale suburbs take for granted.

I HAVE A pair of cousins who are a couple of decades younger than me, which makes their experiences closer to relevant to today’s youths. I remember being amazed at the trip they would make when in high school from the Beverly neighborhood to the Whitney Young Magnet High School just west of downtown.

Such a trip is not at all unusual. Children who are circumstances where they can be choosy often elect to make a lengthy commute to avoid the problems that exist at many of the neighborhood schools that Emanuel would just as soon obliterate – as though closing the schools makes the children and their problems go away!

They won’t. While I think the parents are short-sighted if they think things should remain at the status quo, my fear is that city officials are merely trying to blotch out evidence of the problems that confront our young people without doing anything to resolve it for the long-term.


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