The Lure of the Magnets | Letters | Chicago Reader

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The Lure of the Magnets




Dear Editor:

Ben Joravsky, PURE, and the rest of the middle-class reformers who crowd some of the magnet schools deserve what they seem to be getting [Neighborhood News, October 17]. The magnet school system they defend is pernicious. By design, the magnet schools give extra money, extra teachers, extra everything to the very students who need it least. They skim active parents from neighborhood schools that desperately need more parental involvement. They demoralize teachers and parents who are working against heavy odds to build egalitarian neighborhood schools that mix students of very different social classes and different parental-engagement levels. In the name of racial desegregation they reserve a disproportionate number of highly sought-after places for whites. They buy the participation of middle-class parents by offering more goodies for their children and an escape from fraternization with ordinary working-class children in neighborhood schools.

I watched this for many years from the vantage point of the school council of a fine but nonmagnet neighborhood school. We endured local activists who patted us on the back, said we were doing a great job, and then shipped their kids to Inter-American, Disney, LaSalle, etc. One year, in the heady early days of school reform, the board of ed sent us a list of local kids bused out to magnets. It was a who's who of notable neighborhood families with the best financial resources, the spiffiest educational backgrounds, and an inclination in many other areas (parks, crime watch, the Harold Washington campaigns) to progressive social engagement. That is, the very families we needed most--kids who would have transformed our fine school into a great school--were spirited away at taxpayer expense, beguiled by a magnet system that says to parents: if you don't choose us you are condemning your child to less than the best.

The magnet system as it currently exists deserves to die. It hasn't brought desegregation. It hasn't vitalized the neighborhood schools through inspiration or example. It hasn't furthered social justice. Paul Vallas's attempts to mitigate the worst aspects of the system deserve support. His proposals could lead to less skimming and more equitable distribution of resources and programs among neighborhood schools. The city, the neighborhoods, and most of our families would be better off.

Vinton Thompson

N. Hamlin

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