In the largest action of its kind in U.S. history, Chicago Public Schools are closing over 50 schools at once. This is such a huge undertaking that it has made national and international news. I believe that there are some schools in the city that are legitimately under unrolled, but not 50 plus. Like many parents who are consumers of the Chicago Public School's product, we wanted to hear more about these school closings from the people in charge of our children's education.
The day the school closures list was released, Chicago Public School CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennet appeared on Chicago Tonight, a locally produced PBS program.
At one point the interviewer brought up how little public support there seems to be for closing all of these schools and that people are claiming that this massive amount of school closures is causing chaos. CEO Byrd-Bennet calmly replied, "I'd like to know where they were two decades ago, when the schools were beginning to fail, when the children were not being serviced." What? That's her response to anxious and frustrated parents? Where were they 10 to 20 years ago? I am one of those people claiming this action is causing chaos. Are you asking me where I was 10 or 20 years ago? Me? Not where were the CPS administrators, or where was the Board of Education, or where was the mayor who appoints the Board of Education, but where was I 10 to 20 years ago?
Everyone can slip up, say things that don't sound as good outside your mouth as they do inside your head, so I let that bizarre "where were you a decade ago" question pass and kept watching the program. A few minutes later when pressed again about how parents and community members were upset that they were not listened to by CPS, CEO Byrd-Bennet reiterated "Where were all the people who are so angry right now a decade ago or two decades ago when schools were beginning to fail?" Again with that question! Was I hearing right? Was the CEO of my children's school system actually implying that the reason for of all these schools closures was because the parents who have kids currently in the system did not have the foresight to protest the system a decade or two earlier? I am quite sure that there were parents clamoring for better schools, better services, and better outcomes ten to twenty years ago. Maybe not the SAME parents and advocates who are doing so now, but they were around, and obviously ignored.
As for that question, "where were you a decade or two ago?" I'll answer that. Twenty years ago I was single, childless, working hard by day and catching local bands by night. I was not looking past the turn of the century and envisioning massive school closings. I was focused on surviving the mosh pit. Ten years ago I was pregnant with my second child, keeping an eye on my toddler and wondering if I would ever be able to afford a house. I did have my eye on what was going on in CPS. I knew that when I could afford to buy a home, the decision to stay in Chicago would mean sending my children to a Chicago Public School. Did I have a crystal ball back in 1993 or 2003 that would have told me the list of schools that would be closed down in 2013? No I didn't.
How about some of these other advocates who are begging for CPS to please just come out and look at their school before they determine it is "under utilized?" Where were they one to two decades ago? Unlike me, I imagine many of the parents saying these closings are causing chaos in the lives of their children were children themselves 10 to 20 years ago. Many of them were probably enrolled as students in the schools that are now on the hit list. Were they at age six or 10 or 15 supposed to notice the lack of facilities, programs, safety and basic supplies? Were they supposed to find a ride downtown and inform the Board of Education that if these things were not addressed and remedied that in a decade or two things would get ugly? Were these students of 10-20 years ago supposed to do the job the adults at CPS should have been doing... managing a school district?
Since she asked, I can tell the CPS CEO another story about where I was 20 years ago. Twenty years ago I lived in an apartment building that was inhabited by some pretty rough individuals. At one point the folks above me got evicted. It was a horrible scene. Their possessions were out on the street. They were angry and violent. They went back into their former apartment and started breaking windows. I called the police when shards of glass started raining down outside. The cops showed up, and the next thing I knew there was a knock on my apartment door. I opened it up to an officer with the evicted renters in handcuffs. As the two cuffed guys stared at me the officer said gruffly "here they are. What do you want me to do with them?" I was stunned and frightened. "Arrest them I guess," I stammered. After the officer put them in his car, he came back to speak to me again. "This is all your fault you know!" "My fault?" I said, "How is this craziness my fault?" He raised his voice, pushed his face next to mine and said, "It's your f---ing fault because you chose to live in this f---ing neighborhood." Twenty years later this is what I am hearing with regards to the upheaval and chaos wracking my school district. It's your f---ing fault because you chose to send your kids to f---ing public school.