The pivotal moment in the CPS closings for me

Being a Chicago transplant in Milwaukee I like keeping my finger on the pulse of both cities.

Recently, some friends and I have danced around the discussion of the school closings in Chicago. One friend, a former teacher, said that she feels teachers are extremely misrepresented. Knowing quite a few of them and hearing her stories from the classroom, I’m inclined to agree with her.

Another friend, who’s sociopolitical viewpoints are typically opposite of mine (good for broadening my mind and flexing my discussion muscles) said that she thought it was ridiculous for teachers to ask for a 41 percent raise when nobody asks for a 41 percent raise anywhere (oddly enough, a pilot friend of mine just got a 41 percent raise — weird, no?) and I understand the viewpoint, but I disagree.

In my humble opinion, teachers, firefighters, social workers and community activists should be paid gobs of money, because they’re growing our children, shaping the next groupthink, keeping our community safe, keeping our selves safe and reinvesting in our neighborhoods. But what’s interesting is how these 4 tangible touchpoints all lie at the heart of the school closings in Chicago.

If the mission of humanity is to keep our children safe, healthy, educated and alive, they need access to things like shelter, good food, opportunities to be educated and appreciate their lives. There are so many points of intersection between these pillars that no only contribute to what kind of an adult a child will become, but also how they will live their adult lives. Without community spaces, like schools, communities become at risk for being ‘bulldozed.’

After 506 murders in 2012, the city is struggling to rein in violence. Closing schools disrupts children’s educations, but also their routines. Something as simple as crossing another street can put a child in a dangerous situation in a different turf. A shakeup in the schools can coincide with a shakeup in gang violence. –Chicagoist, CPS Parents, Students Fear School Closings Will Bulldoze Their Community (April 5, 2013).

Roberta Iverson’s 2006 book, Jobs Aren’t Enough, really drove this point home for me. Her research detailed exactly how much our lives depend on how we were brought up, how we were educated, how we were taught to think about education and ourselves, as well as how much access we have to resources impacts our views of our selves. If you haven’t read it, it’s a fabulous read detailing how families are placed within their cities (Milwaukee, Seattle, St.Louis, New Orleans and Philadelphia) because of what they’ve had access to along the way.

If you’ve been paying attention, you’ve put it together that these school closings are to cut back on city expenditures over the coming years but at a serious cost. I find it startling that few people have asked what the ACTUAL cost to the population will be. What’s the opportunity cost of closing 52 elementary schools? And what does it actually look like? If you ask RAD (Radicals Against Discrimination), they’ve taken the time to show you. The activist group took the time to overlay the schools slated to be closed with the poverty and crime map in Chicago. Lo and behold, all those schools are located in areas in dire need of public assistance, or even a community organizer or 12.

I look at these areas and see not an opportunity to close schools and make cuts, but an outcry for reinvestment in the neighborhood. Whether through community organizers or government assistance, these areas need clear assistance plans and arguably MORE of an investment in the schools to keep the population in these areas stable at the very least. No parent wants to send their child to a school that has a reputation for underperforming, but no parent from other areas of the city will want their child bussed into these areas branded as dangerous and inadequate. Instead, the reinvestment effort is especially needed for the children, for the teachers, for gathering of resources and the opportunity for community members to step up and grow their community.

If you think this is insanity, you need to watch Gary Hustwit’s documentary, Urbanized. The film’s primary focus is on how cities are built and how they service the people who live in them. But at one point in the film, the director interviews Mark Covington, a resident of Detroit (at 42:12) who began a community garden as a way to provide fresh produce to an empty area of the city that used to be alive, thriving and rich in neighborhood culture.  Covington’s project grew from showing residents how to regard their food to how residents regard their neighborhood. You can make the same argument about the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago.

Is your head spinning yet? This is the amazing thing about cities, they work with so many systems and structures to keep people in a certain place. Chicago has an immense opportunity to change this for 52 communities. Instead of making the investment — because it all comes down to money — they’re pulling up stakes and abandoning the education of at least 30,000 children in an urban space. If those families can, they’ll move their children elsewhere, if not, their children are at the mercy of whatever structures are in place on a local level.

On Facebook, a friend of mine said it comes down to money. Tax people more or remove access to education. Without access to education, what kinds of roadblocks are being put up that will prevent the overall growth of the urban culture? I’ll ask you to watch this video and tell me if you’d rather see children educated and put more money toward it, or if you’d rather look at the bottom line. I don’t think I have to tell you what I think is the correct answer.

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