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Education is a Human Right (Town Hall)

Hello everyone! Although my blog doesn’t reflect it, I did a lot of education writing over the summer when working on a research project with Block 58. Unfortunately, this isn’t ready yet, but I’ll be happy to tell you all about it once it’s published! In the meantime, I’d like to talk about some of my more recent experiences in the realm of education, starting with an event I went to tonight.

townhall

This evening I attended the Education is a Human Right Town Hall. The meeting had a great turnout, with a mixture of students, parents, community members, UIC professors, and education activists coming together to present “testimony to Amnesty International and the U.S. Department of Education on the impact of school closings, turnarounds, phase outs and disinvestment in neighborhood schools.” In addition, the Town Hall presented the people’s plan for the new Dyett High School (you can find out more by following #SaveDyett.)

Before going to the Town Hall, I expected that my post-event blog post would focus on the more philosophical side of the event. I expected to come out of this Town Hall with reinforced notions about the importance of civic capacity to our education system, and how that capacity is being continuously and purposefully undermined by our non-representative elected officials. And while there was certainly some philosophical rhetoric, and some very powerful rhetoric at that, I think it’s more important to highlight the mere facts that came out of the testimony:

Dyett High School:

  • The principal of Dyett High School is effectually attempting to trick the remaining 13 students (“the Dyett 13”) into transferring out so that the school can be forcibly phased out
  • The front door of Dyett High School has been locked so that students can only use the back door
  • Dyett High School students only have 4 teachers and therefore must take online versions of art, science, and physical education (what?!) classes

Mollison Elementary School:

  • Special education students at the overcrowded Mollison Elementary School are receiving their services under the staircases
  • Approximately 20% of students at Mollison Elementary School cannot eat lunch in the lunchroom, and must eat in the hallways and classrooms

These are some shocking and truly unacceptable facts. They speak for themselves, and I don’t feel a great need to explain why they are truly outrageous (I mean, taking PE classes online? Really?) Now, some facts that were brought up at the Town Hall concerning the political reality:

  • In 2012, 87% of voters were in favor of elected school board officials in Chicago (so, where are they?)
  • Title VI Civil Rights complaints have been filed in 12 cities thus far, and 3 now have open investigations

These are all of the facts that we should keep in mind before even attempting to contemplate the philosophical and political truths underlying educational inequity in Chicago and other cities throughout the U.S. It’s only once you’ve taken the time to hear community stakeholders state these facts and really think about the children that are living with these grievances that you can think about the deeper political implications and explanations for these grievances. Some of the great quotes from the night that point to these deeper truths are:

  • “It is about race, and somebody’s gotta have the courage to say that unapologetically.” -Jitu Brown
  • “When you close a school…you’re erasing that people’s memory.” -Jitu Brown
  • “This is a chance for elected officials to [stand with] the people and their children.” -Jitu Brown
  • The 3 D’s of Chicago school reform: destabilization, disinvestment, and disenfranchisement. -Professor Pauline Lipman

In addition to these, I was really impressed by Amara Enyia, who basically summed up the issue by saying “I know I’m supposed to spout talking points about educational policy, but I want to talk about the power that we are all born with, and what our communities would be like if we embraced that power.” While the grievances may be educational, they are symptoms of a broader problem of societal inequity that can only be conquered by communities that embrace their power, as individuals and as a collective.

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