Education in Chicago: Shut up and go to school!

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Mayor Rahm meets students at Willa Cather Elementaryon the first official day of school.
  • Alex Wroblewski
  • Mayor Rahm meets students at Willa Cather Elementaryon the first official day of school.
Way back when, I knew a couple who let their children miss a day of school because the whole family was vacationing somewhere in the Carribbean and they just didn't feel like coming home to a Chicago winter.

And who can blame them?

I know another guy—what up, KP—who pulls his son, now a teenager, from school every year to watch the Cubs home opener. Cause it's tradition!

I also know parents who let their kids miss school so they could all fly to another town for a Bruce Springsteen concert.

They went to Parker—or maybe it was Latin—which explains how they could afford to fly their kids across the country to see Springsteen in the first place.

In other words, although it's commendable to have perfect attendance, there are all sorts of reason—good or bad—to miss a day or two of school.

In fact, I bet you anything that a young man by the name of Rahm Emanuel missed a day or two for one reason or another back in his glory days at New Trier West.

Which brings me to my main point . . .

As hard as this may be to believe, I'm skeptical that Mayor Emanuel's being completely truthful when he insists that he believes children should never, ever, ever miss a day of school.

Or as he put it: "I don't think we have a day, I don't think we have a minute, I don't think we have a year to waste when it comes to the education of our children.”

What I really think he means is that they should never miss a day of school if it's to participate in a boycott protesting his school closings, cuts and demolitions.

As I write, dozens of kids are joining their parents for Education is a Human Right—a one-day boycott of schools to demand, among other things, an elected school board, spending TIF dollars on public schools (as opposed to private basketball arenas) and a moratorium on charter expansions.

A lot of the parents and students will head over to the CPS central office to give the mayor's appointed school board a piece of their mind at today's board meeting.

Obviously, the mayor's not happy with this: "I do not think it’s appropriate to advocate that children stay out of school. If you want to make a statement, go to the courtroom. Don’t take it to the classroom. Children belong in school. They belong there learning their reading, their writing, their math, their colors—whatever it is."

Well, again, I'm going to have to disagree with my mayor. I'm not sure what going to court is going to do for parents, teachers, or students protesting the mayor's policies. It's not easy to get a favorable ruling against an all-powerful mayor, as the Chicago Teachers Union recently learned.

Besides, I'm not sure how much reading, writing, math, and coloring is really going in a lot of schools this week—what with temperatures climbing into the high 90s in the third floor of some of the really old brick buildings.

I never could understand this impulse to push back the start of school in a system that's not built to go year-round. You'd figure that if we're making kids go to school a week before Labor Day, we'd install air-conditioning in most of the schools.

Now, I realize air-conditioning's a luxury in a system that's so broke it can't afford music, art, or drama. But then I'd say the same thing about spending tens of millions of property tax dollars on a new basketball arena for DePaul.

The mayor's very proud that he had air conditioners installed at schools receiving students from the schools he closed. But let's be real—he only agreed to install those air conditioners to put a new spin on the school closings.

It went from "We're closing schools because we're broke" to "We're consolidating schools to give children more educational opportunities."

At this rate, if we close 50 schools a year for the next ten or so years, eventually all of the remaining schools will have air conditioners. Then we can start the new school year in July!

In any event, I don't think there's anything tremendously wrong for parents to pull their kids for a day so they can head downtown to protest the mayor's school policies.

At least the central office is air-conditioned.

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