Chicago Public Schools: Almost 45 years and counting

I'm a product of the Chicago Public School system. It sounds weird when I say it out loud, but it's true. I may even be the poster boy for CPS. My parents and most of my friends' parents went to CPS. That really sounds weird.

I'm no super-success story, no prototypical wonder boy. Just one example of what Chicago schools are. Or were. Or could be. The undeniable fact is that wherever I go, whatever I do something that snuck into my subconscious lo those many years ago resonates deep within. I imagine it's the same for most people, which is why it matters. It matters very much.

When I graduated Stephen Tying Mather High School in 1968 A.D.D. was a yet-to-be-invented affliction. Back then kids with an annoying inability to pay attention were dismissed as a trouble makers. Class clowns. Goof-offs. Back then kids took IQ tests and if yours happened to creep closer to 200 than 100 and you were making trouble, your mom spent almost as much time in school as you did.

It wasn't perfect, but they were always trying. Always moving forward. During my last two years of grammer school CPS switched from split-years (6A, 6B, 7A, 7B, etc) and E, G, F and U for report card grades to full years (6th, 7th, 8th grade, etc) and A, B, C, D and F as a grading system. I skipped a grade here and there, maybe 3A and 6B. It was a long time ago. I think they just wanted me out. Fast.

Looking back, I know that teachers tried and I know that I was trying. Very trying. Teachers liked me more than I realized and they were more fair to me than I deserved. I also didn't realize that school was a safe haven, trouble only existed when I created it. I could walk safely to and from (it was uphill, both ways) and I could stroll the hallways mostly unimpeded. I was provided with appropriate books and supplies and offered every opportunity available. I came away with memories.

I learned Spanish (Me gustaria hablar español con fluidez) from Miss Greene. I remember being herded into the auditorium in 7th grade, a 26-inch TV set up on a rolling stand, Walter Cronkite reporting on the shooting of JFK in Dallas, Texas. I remember Mr. Rosengarten updating the news, standing in front of the TV saying, "The President is dead".

Mather was a crowded high school, most freshman spent their first year in a subdivided section of their grammer school. Those of us who placed out of General Science had to travel to Mather during 6th period to take Biology during 7th and 8th. I got stuck taking 5 subjects, which took up the first 5 periods, so my 6th period was described as "Travel/Lunch". I had 40 minutes to get my butt over to the high school and scarf down whatever passed for lunch. Maybe a Brontosaurus burger.

Carl Myrent, who died in 2010 was the assistent principal. We spent some quality time together. Often, Mrs. Abrams was invited. Mr. Daniels was a pretty good Chemistry teacher who was into Hapkido and Kahlil Gibran. I hated high school, but it was a part of me then just as it is a part of me now. Whether or not I took advantage of them, opportunities abounded.

The teachers strike last September uncovered many issues facing public schools in America and Chicago Public Schools specifically that had been simmering for years. It's clear that public education is failing many students, mostly in urban, lower income areas. I don't think anyone planned it that way, just as I don't think anyone planned for Detroit to become a post-apocalyptic wasteland. One of the culprits is probably just the opposite, poor planning. That and the immutable force of economics. Either way, I was not persuaded by CTU President Karen Lewis' arguments and remain skeptical of her commitment to what should be the focus of any educational system, the students. It's not her fault, by definition her loyalty lies with her constituents.

Campaign 2008 uncovered another nasty truth, education in America is under seige. One of the major political parties seems determined to slash and undermine education at every opportunity and in any way possible. If we do not understand the value of education to us as a nation, competitive in the world marketplace, we have learned nothing. If we are not for our children, we may have become nothing.

It seems that Mayor Emanuel has made some hard choices. Cutting under-utilized, under-performing schools to streamline expenses and offer increased educational opportunites for students may be a hard pill for Karen Lewis to swallow. Sometimes the cure is worse than the ailment. If I were a teacher, I might appreciate Ms. Lewis speaking on my behalf. As a parent, I'm not so sure. What I am sure of is that every child deserves the foundation and the memories that the most recalcitrant of students will carry with them for the rest of their lives.

Given the opportunity and the tools, juvenile delinquency can morph into some semblance of contributory citizenship. Oh, yes it can. And that's exactly what I plan to tell Mr. Myrent if I ever see him again.

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