CHICAGO, March 23, 2013 — “The decision to deal with the 54 schools was not taken lightly, but it was taken with the notion of ‘How do we make sure that every child can get to a quality school with a quality education?’ Because you do not get a repeat on this,” Emanuel said. “And for too long we have not been able to do that for every child in the city of Chicago and for all of the families.” (Chicago Tribune)
The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), parents, Chicago aldermen, so-called activists and Rahm Emanuel bashers are in an uproar over the Chicago Board of Education’s plan to close over 50 Chicago schools. Most of these schools are in African American and impoverished neighborhoods. The race card is being heavily played.
CTU president Karen Lewis referred to the mayor as “Rahm the murderer.” The woman has no shame or credibility. She and her union want to keep the status quo of failure that has plagued Chicago public schools for decades.
Tensions and tempers are high in Chicago. Aldermen are upset because they a have long standing aldermanic prerogative to be upset. Invoking their prerogative is the only thing aldermen do well, mostly to the detriment of their constituents. The Chicago City Council has been largely absent since 1955, when it comes to school reform. Mayors since that time have tried, partially succeeded, and failed in reforming Chicago public schools and public education in general. People like Karen Lewis keep getting in the way.
The school closings were not done under the cloak of darkness or in some kind of backroom deal. Rahm Emanuel and the Board have made no secret that some schools needed to be closed. They were either underperforming or under-utilized. Some probably should have been torn down years ago. It was not a matter of if or how many. It was only a matter of when.
The Board set up a Commission on School Utilization to study and determine which schools should close. Frank Clark, former CEO of Exelon (ComEd), was appointed as the Commission Chairman. Mr. Clark is well known for his work in African American communities in Chicago. He is also one of the most respected executives in the city. He was eminently qualified to head this commission and sign off on its final product.
Mayor Emanuel faced harsh criticism for being on vacation when the announcement was made. He was on a ski trip in Utah. The trip was planned around his children’s spring break from school. So what? If he was in town, the resulting anger would have been the same. His response would have been the same too.
The vociferous critics also panned the mayor for his decision to send his children to a private school. The mayor, or any parent has the right to choose which schools to send their children. No one should be criticized for that choice. Those same critics consistently and persistently refuse to study what the exclusive private and parochial schools are doing right and replicate it. They would rather continuously replicate failure than success. In the words of the late Mayor Harold Washington, the critics are “antediluvian dodo birds.”
Rhetoric is his high. At an unrelated press conference on Saturday, the mayor refused to respond to the name calling and racial barbs. Compared to his critics, the mayor sounded sincere in his efforts to tackle a festering problem that has failed far too many generations of students, especially African American and students from impoverished families.
The only real impact the school closings have are on adults. Many teachers, principals, maintenance, and other staff personnel will be out of work if they cannot or are not allowed to transfer to other schools. That is not the Mayor’s or the Board of Education’s problem. Just like in private industry, if there is no need, there is no job. Also public service is just that, service. There are and should not be any lifetime employment guarantees. The federal government could learn a lesson or two here.
Mayor Emanuel is making a bold and audacious gamble. He, like his predecessors, is betting the future of Chicago’s children on his vision of education reform. Like his predecessors only history will tell if he succeeds or fails. He, unlike the CTU, aldermen, so-called activists, and concerned citizens, is doing something other than flapping his soup coolers.
Chicago is not alone. Other urban areas are facing the same problems with public education. They are fighting the same battle. The adults come first and the children come last. Kids do not vote or contribute hefty campaign bribes to politicians to get their way. Kids suffer or succeed based upon decisions made by corrupt adults. That is the politics the Education Industrial Complex. The complex was designed by adults for adults.
It is finally time to face reality. It is not how much money we spend on public education. It is how the money is spent, or in Chicago’s case, wasted over decades.
Some of Chicago’s aldermen are the biggest hypocrites in this fight. They claim some children will have to cross gang boundaries and may be put in harm’s way. These are the same aldermen who refuse to allow the Chicago Police Department to totally crack down and dismantle the gangs in their areas.
They are the same aldermen who use gang members to perform political work and take under the table cash from them. They are enablers and associates of organized crime. If you do not want children exposed to gangs, you get rid of the gangs. Just like you get rid of rats and other vermin.
“Chicago ain’t ready for reform.” Former alderman Paddy Bauler uttered those words in 1955 upon the election of Richard J. Daley. Those words have haunted Chicago ever since. Maybe Chicago cannot reform its government, but it can and should reform its schools. This is not a fight over who is right or wrong.
It is not a question of whether you like or dislike, agree or disagree with Mayor Emanuel. It should not be a personal fight either. It is not and should not be a racial, ethnic or economic fight. Change and reform have to start somewhere. Sometimes a line in the sand must be drawn. This is a fight for children and their future.
If Mayor Emaunel is wrong, he will pay a horrible price. If he is right, the children will be the beneficiaries. It is his gamble. It was Mayor Daley’s gamble before. And the previous mayors too. They all tossed the dice. They all won and lost.
If the vociferous flame throwing critics spent more time on education and less time fighting reforms maybe Chicago schools would be a model for the nation. Alas, it is always easier to fight for failure than battle for success.
Peter V. Bella is a freelance and photohournalist writer based in Chicago.
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