Thursday, March 21, 2013

What will you do to save the lives of the children of the city of Chicago?

Today, the Chicago Board of Education announced their plans to proceed with major school actions against 71 schools. These are not the least utilized schools, nor the lowest performing by CPS’ own flawed metrics.
This is the ultimate insult to nearly twenty thousand parents, students, educators and community members who came to community hearings to protest the closings nearly unanimously. They came to demand that CPS not compromise their children’s potential and now they have been utterly ignored. Anyone who came to any of the hearings knows that the parents both know far more about the district than the board employees responsible for the decisions and deeply oppose these actions. CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett neither attended the hearings nor listened to the community voices responding with the proclamation that “everyone understands that we need to close some schools.”

The board has made a political decision to help their deep pocketed allies that will hurt tens of thousands of Chicago students.

And what of that hurt? Let’s put it directly—real talk—if we, the people of Chicago; the ones who the schools belong to; the ones who attend, work at and send our own kids to CPS neighborhood schools allow the board to follow through on this decision, we will lose children; victims of an absurd system in which an unelected school board plays Hunger Games (much respect to Joel Rodriguez who coined the comparison and whose children’s school is slated for closure) with the lives of poor children of color even as they and many of the decision makers at central office give their own children and grandchildren highly resourced, stable educations.

Can you imagine parents from Winnetka having to come to Chicago and beg poor people of color to “allow” New Trier to stay open? Can you imagine the Lab School being labeled “underutilized” and closed?
Close your eyes for a moment and envision your own child, or grandchild. Now add their classmates and other students who go to a school. Now imagine someone sitting next to you had expressed their intention to press a button that would hurt a percentage of the children you see, cause another portion to dropout, and put another portion six feet underground. What would you be willing to do to stop them from pressing that button? Would you reason with them? Would you beg? Would you march around? Or would you do more?

Now, in Chicago, if the kids you are envisioning are rich or white, the likelihood that you would have to treat this as more than a thought exercise is very low. After all, this is a nationwide experiment on poor children of color—“other people’s children”.

Our corporate overlords have taken historically under resourced schools and placed them under constant siege in a barrage of overtesting, charterization, constant chaos and now is the moment they expect our neighborhood schools to fall.

This is unjust. It is disgusting. It is a slow genocide. It is Tuskegee and Jim Crow, and “Kill the Indian, save the man.” It is the death knell of Brown v. Board aborted before it could even sniff its potential.

And it must not stand.

What are you willing to do to stop it?

There are specific actions we must take to save these young people’s lives. They may risk your job or your freedom; are our kids’ lives worth it to you? I must admit, while my heart never wavers on these matters (as I have shown in action in the past), my mind sometimes questions.
But when it does, I think of a brave young woman. I think of Vicki Soto, who faced with a mass murderer armed with an automatic weapon, walked out to almost certain death in order to increase the likelihood of her students surviving. And I remember what it means to be a teacher. I think of my own students like Araceli Medrano who snuck into the principal’s conference room to scrawl on the data board a powerful message, “Reading scores aren’t everything. Reevaluate the rules you have imposed for next year because students and teachers agree the atmosphere is ‘suppressive’. ; we have all lost our spirits. Do not take offense; take action. Listen to those you work for” and then signed it in her own name with her graduation year.

And I am ready to protest.
And resist.
And speak truth.
And suffer punishment.
And risk livelihood, profession, personal safety,
And even life.

Rahm Emanuel and his minions—our bosses—are on the verge of becoming mass murderers. Let’s save their victims—Chicago’s children—but also let’s save them from themselves and ourselves from being accomplices.

Let’s fight to build a bridge from this dark day to the day when our schools belong to the only group who could ever actually develop the school system Chicago’s children deserve—our communities themselves. Whatever harm and danger that we may encounter together on that journey, let us dance the desperate dance of justice together.


  1. Well said! I'm working on trying to get together some visual work to plaster the city and the rally with... Brainstorming with Michele and her daughter. What to get the kids,words, drawings feelings screamimg loudly for all the see.

  2. Love it, Ellen. The depths of injustice can be the most vital teaching/learning opportunities.

  3. Right on! Well said. I'm hoping enough voices rise to stop this nonsense.

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