A Spectacular Failure

49536119.jpgThe Delicious
apple is a beautiful specimen, with its oversized promise, and the waxy shiny
skin.  But it is an inferior apple,
mealy and unsatisfying.  It is a
compromise, and eating it results from diminished expectations or a lack of
choice.  Chicago is like that
apple:  dazzling, beautiful on the
surface, but letting the city's residents down in myriad ways.

I do not have
to contend with the day-to-day vagaries of city life.  I am planted in the green belt of suburbia.  My schools are good, the town is mowed
and well managed, and the schools are rock-steady.  We do not dazzle out here, but we can do without the
drama.  My sons all reside within
Chicago, and they take the pecking of city life in stride.  Parking tickets, sewer back-ups,
littered neighborhoods, security issues- these are minor abrasions on their
tough young hides.  City life has
not drawn blood with the pecking yet. 
I expect that it will, if they live there long enough...like when they
have children, and wish to send them to safe and excellent neighborhood

Yes, I am a
suburban wimp.  I could not make it
through the Fenger tape-where young people bludgeon each other-without turning
away.  What I saw was hopelessness
from kids, and blindness from the adults who are charged with their safety. Who
can conceive of the emptiness that lets this happen?  All accounts are that the mix of students from the
neighborhood and Altgeld Gardens was unsteady.  The final dismissal of the day required Altelgeld students
to walk to transportation, with menacing interaction.  All hell broke loose after a day that included a
shooting.  And now a Derrion Albert
is dead, bludgeoned, kicked and abused by a pack of mad dogs. 

 How do young
people become so immune to pain?  It
is almost a cliché:  daily
violence, absent fathers, gangs as substitute families, hunger, no role models
of success except drug merchants.  They
wither by living a life that makes going to school life threatening.  And remember- these kids are going to school- they are still trying
to chase a dream.  Chicago Public
Schools has an enormous burden, but they have a responsibility.  If this mix of neighborhoods was
volatile, they had a duty to provide some inspiration and leadership to get the
kids home.  Some ideas:  dual release times, school busses to Altgeld,
better trained security and a much more integrated relationship with the police.  Kids want a reason to trust the
police:  put a police liaison in
the walls that functions as an advocate and not an adversary. Yesterday the Chicago
Public School District imposed some of these ideas.  Where were the visionaries in education as kids were
threatened on a daily basis?   No wonder CPS kids don't dream in
Technicolor any more. 

There will be
no teachers willing to risk their lives if the schools are not a safe place.
Kids cannot learn if they are focused on survival.  The parents who turned the memorial into a shouting ordeal
on Monday gave a very poor example, and did little to honor Derrion or comfort
his family.  Kids are the seedlings
for the future of city.  It is time
to stop being blinded by the shiny surface and start working at the root level
here in the city.  Barren fields are never a goal.

Dreams by
Langston Hughes

Hold fast to dreams

For if dreams die

Life is a broken winged bird

That cannot fly. 

Hold fast to dreams

For when dreams go

Life is a barren field

Frozen with snow. 




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  • I don't know anymore. Though actually never did. What is the answer and what oh what turned these 16-year-old boys into monsters with no regard for human life.

    Janet, I believe your boys were singing in Madrigals at that age.

    I don't think it's the fault of the CPS, but yet, when did school stop becoming the great equalizer.

    It used to be that even if you were poor or didn't have a dad or whatever, at least you had school.

    Mmmm. Maybe CPS bears more of a burden that I suspected.

    Janet, I was turning to you for your wisdom and experience as a mother and teacher.

    I don't want to ignore this just because it happenned south of Roosevelt and I live on the North Side, but it's overwhelming.

  • In reply to Shasta:

    Last week Alex Kotlowitz, author of There are no Children Here, proffered the theory that emergency rooms were the new frontier for turning kids around- because so many Chicago kids end up shot. That is the saddest notion I have ever thought of.

    We need to start far younger- stretch school days and years, create safe schools with success potential for all kids. Kids need more options in music and art, more reading and writing. They should be able to imagine beautiful places, and visit public institutions where they meet beautiful paintings and waddling penguins. If they conceive of life outside of the gunfire and poverty, perhaps they can maintain interest in their books.

    Kids need light bulbs and lamps. They need blankets and warm clothing. Food. Their own books. Parents who help them and love them. Teachers who inspire them. Police and administrators who protect them and care enough to be patient and positive. The list is big, and the job will take a generation. But we have to try- we need to start doing something.

    Because violence is shoehorned into neighborhoods that so many of us are able to avoid, we feel safe. The rage spills over, though. We need to start.

  • In reply to Shasta:

    I can always count on you Janet.

    You are right. It is not simply CPS, or the families or the communities but ALL of them (rather US) who must set aside our egos stop blaming each other and work together.

    What greater cause is there than children and our nation's future? Shame on us NorthSiders/Suburbanites/Affluent folk for becoming so self-absorbed.

  • In reply to Shasta:

    So very sad. Sometimes I feel so distanced from these things because I too live in suburbia. But I have a daughter and granddaughter now in the city and I am drawn closer. I wish I had an answer. I wish someone did. Kids are kids. Why do they need to be drawn into the ridiculousness that is the adult world?

  • In reply to Shasta:

    Do you really think you can attract more young adults to teaching when you are advocating longer school days/and longer school years? Teachers are overworked and underpaid as it is.
    What needs to occur is interventions with parents in these neighborhoods to encourage them to be better role models for their children.

  • In reply to sdavern:

    I was a teacher and I am empathetic about the rigors of their day. But there is more safety in school than at home. NO learning or homework can happen when there is not a quiet place, a decent light, food on the table, and blankets to sleep under. Whether the kids are there for extra curricular activities, computers, reading improvement or languages- YES- I think we need more work. These parents are scraping out a life in the most dire conditions imaginable. Tossing the hot potato will not work. We will pay with additional staff now, or we will pay in social destruction and incarceration in the future. Someone has to care enough.

  • In reply to sdavern:

    I wouldn't be so quick to call fellow suburbanites self-absorbed. My mom moved around the North Side a bit, my dad grew up near Kelvyn Park. They would have liked to raise us as city kids, too, but as the 70s drew to a close, the schools had fallen apart, and the neighborhoods were following behind. What can a young electrician and his wife do to fix a broken city by the time their toddlers are ready for school? They could have paid to educate us privately, or they could spend the same money on a place in the suburbs, and get the schools in a package deal with the safe, quiet neighborhood. Fighting to fix the city is a noble thing, but I wouldn't have appreciated the kind of risk and misery that would have come with it. That's a hard call to make, to put civic duty ahead of your children's very childhood.

    We do need to step up to fix these problems, all of us, and everywhere. Chicago's surely not alone. We do need to be willing to spend from state coffers, as "disproportionate" as that may be, to fund the proper programs and address the special needs of our cities. For city problems don't just stay city problems forever... as appalling as it was to learn the street gangs had spread into the suburbs during my high school days (Latin Kings over in Glenview?!) it's worse that they've gone national. (The Gangster Disciples are here in San Diego. Isn't that lovely?)

    If we built a safe, nurturing environment around all our schools, it would go a long way to stave off the flow of youth into hopelessness and violence. Merely encouraging parents to be better role models isn't enough. Many would surely like to, but who's got time to model a role when you're working two low-wage jobs? Then there's the addicts. If we can't fix these parents' problems, what's left but to make the schools the stable shelter for their children?

  • And terrifying.

  • In our sheltered lives, it is hard to image what could possibly provoke such a reaction yet it happens day after day after day. The sad part is there probably is not an answer because the problems are just too complex and deep-seated. Who takes responsibility? But by the grace of God.

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