Teachers, students and parents protest the plan to close 54 Chicago public schools. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast.)
I've been watching a lot of adolescents cry these days. First it was twelve-year-old Jasmine Murphy, on a media bus tour led by the Chicago Teachers Union to demonstrate the devastation likely to follow from Mayor Rahm Emanuel's plan to close fifty-four schools. She was relating how she felt when the elementary school she loved and in which she had thrived was shuttered in 2011. Then, this week, all over town, Chicago Public School bureaucrats have sat before hearings to hear public comment on each individual school set to close this coming September. In my neighborhood, Hyde Park, I joined seventy-five or so community members who sat—and, angrily, stood—in an auditorium at Kenwood Academy High School, six blocks directly east of Barack Obama's family home, to address the closing of a middle school next door known as Canter Leadership Academy. The whole thing pretty much went down like this. Picture a tough-looking black teenage boy. His name is Shane Ellis. Shane takes the microphone for his allotted two minutes. He begins listing all the schools he's attended in Chicago. He says, "Of all these schools, Canter is the only one that showed it actually cared." He relates a story about the principal telling him that given all the things he's been through in his life and with his family it's a testament to his depth of character that he can carry on at school all.
It is upon that recollection that Shane breaks down. A pal approaches, comforts him; Shane breaks down again, overcome, overwhelmed, beside himself. He can't continue. He leaves the hall, head hung low. That's how much losing his school means to him.
Imagine stories like this happening again and again and again. That was how I spent last Friday evening. An earlier hearing a week ago about the same school drew two hundred community members and was, I'm told even more passionate than this.
The question of whether a school like Canter closes down, as the school board wants, or stays open, as the community overwhelmingly desires, will provide a case study for whether the mayor's school closing plan can truly serve the city's children, parents, teachers in any sort of humane way. It also offers a window into the larger meaning of what the billionaire stats-besotted ideologues driving what our benighted political discourse insists on labeling education "reformers" have in mind for the rest of the country. By the Gradgrindian statistical reckoning of Rahm Emanuel's school board, Canter's closing is an open and shut case: it is a "Level 3" school, the system's lowest rating; if it closes, its students will be spread across two schools all the way across the neighborhood that both rate as Level 2. Which, on paper, looks like an obvious improvement. At the hearing, though, it becomes plain that absolutely none of the stakeholders involved—students, parents, staff, and assorted community members, all of whom unanimously and passionately speak against the closing—see this as an improvement. What they tell is the kind of stories statistics don't know how to register.