Suspending disbelief on behalf of CPS


I’m still here.

It’s been rough going, folks, but South Side CPS Mom can’t unplug just yet.

For heaven’s sake, the journey has really just begun. Here I was thinking the collective efforts of many thoughtful parents, scholars, and writers might change the way things fell out, might get at least a few more than four schools off the closing list. How silly!

I was planning all along for this blog to go away after May 22nd. What else would there be to say? Either the CPS plan would change or it wouldn’t, the vote would happen, end of story.

Secretly I wanted my posts to make the closing list disappear, like a magic wand casting a spell. But I was really writing all along for my fellow citizen friends, so they could come along with me and learn a little about why this was happening, what’s at stake, and who’s who in the effort to free trapped children known as corporate education reform.

That’s what we’re seeing in action here in Chicago, you know–corporate education reform. That’s what’s playing out before our eyes right now. It’s what’s upheld by every politician in the United States, left, right, and center, as the way to free children caught in the stifling traps of public schools and bound to ignorance by the chains of the status quo, and if that alone isn’t enough to make you question it, I don’t know what is.

The mayor, he’s turned the page. He’s riding high on the cover of Time Magazine, happier than he’s ever been in his life, bullish on Chicago, or something, and readying for a bigger national stage. Anyway the school closing thing is out of the way now, and we can only go from height to height for our children.

Barbara Byrd Bennett takes the same tone. She addressed the City Club of Chicago this week in a remarkable speech. You can watch it on the City Club website by clicking the link. She is optimistic, exhilarated even, listing the reasons why we can now move forward in the effort to finally address the needs of the children of this city. (She didn’t mention that this particular closing and consolidation thing is not new in Chicago–rather it has been pursued pretty aggressively for the last 12 or so years; she did not mention that a couple of Arne Duncan’s new shiny fresh schools that he turned around or cobbled together were shuttered this go-round.)

She wants her audience to volunteer their time, an hour per week, with the schools. That way, there will be at least a few caring adults in the schools every week. Well, I don’t know about your school, but mine is swarming with volunteers, and they’re parents. Sure, we could use a hand now and then, but better by far than fat cat volunteers stooping to spend time with little needy children in public schools would be fat cats pledging resources and political support for public education in Chicago.

She also wants one other thing from her audience. She wants them to “suspend disbelief” as this project goes forward. Yes, we’ll need to engage all city agencies as we repave sidewalks, tear down those scary garages, and draft the firemen to walk children to school through gang war zones. And yes, we only have 6 weeks to accomplish all the rehabbing, retrofitting, and retraining that needs to be done. (Well, some of it won’t take very long–teachers at Lowell recently got an afternoon of training in how to educate autistic children–all the ones coming from Lafayette’s renowned autism program. That will come in especially handy after the state votes to lift the classroom cap size on special education and axe the requirement for aides.)

But it will all get done, and what we can do to help is suspend disbelief.

I was a little surprised by that turn of phrase at that particular point in the speech. I think maybe that phrase does not mean what she thinks it means.

So I looked up the definition. Here’s how the online Oxford Dictionaries defines it: To suspend disbelief is to “temporarily allow oneself to believe something that isn’t true, especially in order to enjoy a work of fiction.”  The online Free Dictionary offers the origin of the phrase and expands the Oxford definition like so: “‘willing suspension of disbelief’ is a formula for justifying the use of fantastic or non-realistic elements in literature. It was put forth in English by the poet and aesthetic philosopher Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who suggested that if a writer could infuse a ‘human interest and a semblance of truth’ into a fantastic tale, the reader would suspend judgement concerning the implausibility of the narrative.”

Hmm. I’m not sure Barbara Byrd-Bennett means that precisely. Maybe we citizens of Chicago should do that, maybe we shouldn’t.

But for my part, since I’m basically a positive person, a doer, a helper, a believer, I’m going to go with it. I’ll suspend the hell out of my disbelief for the whole summer, setting aside the implausibility of the narrative, and examining as many construction and retrofitting projects as I can. I’ll look into expenses and how that gaping budget deficit is shaping up, relying heavily on every citizen’s friend, the Freedom of Information Act. I’ll look into neighborhoods where folks are actually frightened of their new schools, see how it’s going.

It’s not going to be easy. I have a lot of disbelief to suspend. I’ll keep you posted.

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