That cake right there is my idea of a proper #ByeRahm cake. Super happy, but also bawling, not necessarily all from joy.
You see when I heard the news, I went from utter disbelief and elation to remembering so many years of terrible things that I ended up sort of traumatized.
I don't think that I am unique in this. So many, many people have been working so hard and so long against this mayor of the few, the rich, the powerful, the beautiful, and the white. And those folks have been through a lot of pain. They still are! There are folks rallying and organizing against this mayor's actions--even now.
I have a feeling that before all is said and done this dude we've just been set free of is going to be lauded to the skies and back. Look--even Forrest Claypool, fired as CPS CEO in no small measure of disgrace for making illegal alterations to special education, emerged from the whole experience as if he was basking in the glow of a lifetime achievement award. That's how it goes here. I'm not looking forward to it.
Early indications are that Rahm wants to be remembered for his impact on education.
Oh yes, I think he will be remembered for that. Just maybe not in the way he wants.
It's up to all of us who lived through Rahm's tenure to keep the memories alive--the real ones. Here's my part: Rahm's greatest CPS, uh, hits.
The closure of 50 schools. This chaotic, criminal mess was why I started this blog. Here are the open letters to Barbara Byrd Bennett and the Chicago Tribune following the first school closure hearings that kicked everything off. Later I realized all those hearings were a sham, just part of a process the Broad Center recommends when a district undertakes mass school closings in order to cut costs. Such meetings are for people to "feel heard," although no one ever responds or answers any questions or resolves anything. We sat through many rounds of these. Years later, still they go on. I was recently at a similar hearing concerning NTA, the majority-black, successful elementary school Rahm decided to hand over to majority-non-black South Loopers for a high school. That foreordained, futile vibe you get from these events is impossible to avoid, as all major decisions actually have already been made and no comments actually impact the outcomes.
The closure process was every bit as terrible as you can imagine--actually, probably worse, and I wrote about it obsessively in every possible way I could think of until the hour board of ed voted to shutter the schools (which they managed to do without even naming the schools the vote was intended to close).
Research undertaken since the closures has shown they did not improve anyone's educational experience, they only caused a great deal of "institutional mourning" in children, that is to say, grief. And the board who enacted this policy was summarily dismissed after CEO Byrd-Bennett was nailed for corruption and the optics of their unquestioning approval became a bad look for Rahm.
The decimation of school libraries in CPS. Rahm owns this entirely. Right after he became mayor the number of school librarians began a steep decline. Last year's budget allowed for 139 librarians in a system with over 600 schools--only 25 of 167 high schools have a library. Imagine! High schoolers with no access whatsoever to a library. This, folks, is the norm in CPS, thanks to our mayor. I wrote about this problem after I met a librarian who lost her job at DuSable, a building that served three co-located CPS high schools. Her students protested until they got her back. Almost nothing is more important for student literacy and success in neighborhoods affected by poverty than the availability of books. For his entire term Rahm has neither noticed nor cared about this.
A perfect snapshot of Rahm's attitude toward libraries in the schools is captured by the story of a community center and parent-run library at Whittier school in 2013. Rahm's CPS decided they had better plans than a library for the real estate, so one fine Saturday morning when Alderman Solis had said he'd meet community members concerning the building (there were a lot of the aforementioned "community hearings" on this situation), the families were greeted instead by locked gates and bulldozers. In a couple of hours the thing was done, building and all its contents in a dumpster, and the next year a playground and a soccer field for use primarily by the neighboring private school Christo Rey were dedicated. (No worries about the lack of books at Whittier--in May of 2014 a Christian bookmobile came by once.)
The near-death of Walter H. Dyett High School and the near-death of the Dyett Hunger Strikers. Again, 100% on Rahm. I wrote too many posts on this to link (but here's the first). Disinvesting a school in a black neighborhood was certainly not new in Chicago with this mayor. But he brought this conflict to new heights. Rahm's refusal to meet with members of the community, as well as utter shenanigans around Requests for Proposals for the school, as well as a Rahm-beholden alderman and yet more absurd community hearings, created not just an unjust situation, not just a PR nightmare, but also almost irrecoverable health crises for the Hunger Strikers, who went to this extreme measure in order to get a meeting with their mayor. Over 34 days he never met with them. Though the cost was terrible, Dyett remained open. Whatever Rahm's agenda was here was never made clear, but he lost that round, and the community has a whole bunch of actual, real life heroes.
The traumatization of children. To highlight this is not to say that "all CPS schools are garbage" and that good things don't happen in them. To remember this is to acknowledge the real confusion, sorrow, and pain experienced by thousands of kids over the past 8 years as a direct result of Rahm's policies. The kids who were subjected to school closures. The already exhausted kids who were given a longer school day in schools that received no money to pay for this change. The kids who travel on transit for hours a day--3 is not uncommon--because of CPS's "choice" district model. The kids whose IEPs were disrupted, denied, or ignored by CEO Forrest Claypool's illegal and secretive systemic changes to special education, kids who were really harmed--who lost needed transportation or aides at the swimming pool or classroom assistance. The asthmatic or diabetic kids who needed care in schools with only occasional outsourced nurses. The kids from families who chose to opt out of unnecessary standardized testing (in CPS, kids take about 25 such tests per year) and were shamed at school and questioned in isolation about whether teachers paid them to do so. The kids who suffered sexual abuse at school and whose cases were mishandled and ignored by CPS. The kids whose school resources were cut by the millions of dollars' worth, who lost teaching staffs in the double digits, whose school social workers had to meet with them under staircases, who lived in neighborhoods that Rahm's other policies contributed to so much other destruction and disruption. The kids who took much of their free time to organize rallies, attend board of ed meetings, and protest it all--the terrible food contracts and criminal janitorial downsizing and continual disinvestments--time these kids should've been able to do normal kid things. Yes, it is possible that what did not kill them made them stronger, but it is also possible that Rahm's casual disregard of the real human costs of his school policies simply left many of our kids with a lot of scars.
This was a head of the district who prompted a feverish, by now years-long campaign to get an elected school board and end mayoral control of schools.
That is Rahm Emanuel's legacy at CPS.
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