Chicago school closings: Shuttering these institutions is shortsighted, says one local mom
Chicago school closings are the largest number of school closings in the history of the country, and media reports haven't captured the anguish and dismay of more than 30,000 children and parents as they've lost their educational institutions.
In my neighborhood tonight, chaos will reign. My neighbor, President Obama, will be staying in his part-time home just around the corner from me in Chicago. His occasional visits bring limited parking, random ID checks, and bomb sniffing dogs to our front lawn.Skip to next paragraph
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But on warm summer nights, the street takes on a carnival-like atmosphere. Neighbors come out to chat and I sometimes get to meet people from the next block. The Secret Service agents are friendly enough, and when the barricades go up and traffic halts, people get out of their cars to stretch and enjoy the novelty of the president driving down this normally quiet residential street. More often than not, we recognize someone and invite them to join us for a drink on our stoop.
It can be inconvenient if you happen to be walking your dog without identification. But he was once our neighbor, and it’s all a part of living in this neighborhood.
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But I’m not feeling all that benevolent these days, and I may forego my usual stoop-sitting tonight. The truth is, a much more serious chaos has reigned in too many of Chicago's communities following last week's announcement that 50 Chicago neighborhood schools would be closed.
The closings made national news briefly, just like the murder of Hadiya Pendleton, the sparkly teen wielding a baton in the inaugural parade for President Obama, her Chicago neighbor. She was also a neighbor of mine and lived about a mile from my and the president’s homes.
Since Hadiya was killed in late January, the murders of 26 more teenagers did not make the news. Similarly, the brief blip last week about the largest number of school closings in the history of the country does not recount the anguish and dismay of 30,000-plus children and parents scrambling, wounded, and angry.
In Chicago, we grew up hearing that Chicago is “a city of neighborhoods,” a patchwork of tightly knit, culturally distinct, and ethnically proud communities that together make up our city. While this may be an idealized re-definition of segregation, no matter where you live, you belong to a community. This attack on the most important of neighborhood institutions has left us collectively demoralized. We see ourselves on the nightly news, segregated, characterized by crumbling schools and random violence.
Despite our pride at the notion of being a unique “city of neighborhoods,” people all over the country know about community. It’s sometimes hard to describe as it shifts imperceptibly over the years. But we feel it, and we are bound to protect it.
The divide-and-conquer strategy of closures pits school against school. In this latest round, the initial hit list of 230 schools was pared to 120, then to 61, and eventually 50, while everyone waited anxiously, breathing a sigh of relief if their school was taken off the list.
Sadly, our neighborhood middle school was not spared, although its closure was postponed for one year so the current class could graduate. Miriam Canter Middle School was named for a local activist who envisioned a racially and economically diverse school dedicated to kids precariously perched between childhood and full-fledged teen madness. Many of the devoted teachers at Canter live in the community. Last month, an article in The Nation recounted the hearings that drew hundreds of weeping teens, angry parents, and concerned community members demanding to know why they would close such a clearly successful school.