Friday, May 24, 2013

What goes on in Chicago—should be exposed to the world: An Interview with Paul Horton

[Paul Horton is a History teacher at the University of Chicago Laboratory High School]

The following interview was posted by Michael Shaughnessy Education Views Senior Columnist on May 18, 2013 in Commentaries, Daily, Editor’s Pick, Insights on Education, Teachers

Michael F. Shaughnessy - Paul, what the hell is going on in Chicago?

Fifty-four schools are targeted for shut down and 90% are in African American communities within the city. As you may know, the public teachers in Chicago struck last year and made our mayor look bad. Most teachers think that this is payback now. Our County Commissioner, a former history teacher, just called the hearings to close the schools a charade. Our mayor has taken heavy campaign contributions from some people who are heavily invested in charter schools, and they are starting to worry about the return on their investments.

Our Mayor is under heavy pressure to close schools if he wants to continue to raise money for his party and a possible future run for Illinois senator. Most political analysts are thinking that our mayor will run for president in the next cycle following a potential Clinton term.

He is very ambitious to make things happen to build a record of accomplishment. The problem is that his decisions about schools might not be the best for the kids of Chicago. He appoints Board Members for the city schools, and he is their de facto dictator. He does his best to let his superintendent do the talking, though, to give the impression that he is not in charge.

The Superintendent, Barbara Byrd Bennett, is very good with handling the press. She has command of her Broad Foundation script, as she is a Broad Foundation Administrator School graduate, like her immediate predecessor and Arne Duncan. They are all well-schooled in the Broad Foundation lingo.

Layered on top of this is a situation in the Woodlawn neighborhood (where I live) involving the encroachment of the University of Chicago into a neighborhood that it has an interest in gentrifying, located south of its campus. The University has purchased a lease on the best and biggest public school from the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) in the Woodlawn neighborhood, Wadsworth School.

The students from this school will be forced to attend a school five blocks to the southwest without a green space play area. The move will bring together students from three elementary schools and into a school packed as tight as sardines without adequate play space. The high school that the University is taking for its charter high school, on the other hand, has plenty of park space and several new playgrounds appropriate for elementary age kids. In another case, students will be asked to cross the most dangerous gang boundary in Chicago every morning and afternoon to accommodate a shutdown.

Tell us about the demonstration.

The demonstration brought together parents, teachers, and students from the neighborhood and all around the city. It was staged at a very busy intersection along the gang border where the kids will have to cross next year to go to their new school. It was also staged after school and during the shift change of the University of Chicago Hospitals nearby. Thousands of people commute through this intersection to begin their after-school commute. The apex of the protest involved students, teachers, and parents sitting down in the street with blood-stained shirts to call attention to the potential violence at that intersection next year. Innocent people are often caught in gang gun battles in and around this intersection. A few months ago a two-month old child was shot and killed in gang crossfire in a child seat in a parked car near this intersection. We have a lot of worried parents who don’t like their kids crossing this intersection at any time.

Have you spoken off the record to any police—what do they have to say?

Most of the police I spoke to were very sympathetic regarding the protests because the mayor is hostile to unions in general. The only cop I talked to who did not share this opinion was the afternoon Grand Crossing Precinct Shift officer who responded with a “no comment.”

And our brave firefighters—what is Rahm Emanuel proposing?

The firefighters I have talked to are upset that the safety corridor plan developed by the city to protect students making this and other commutes to new schools will move them away from their (fire) houses and, in some cases, trucks. They feel that this is a public safety issue and that it violates their contract. The firemen have suggested that the mayor hire more cops to take care of the safety corridors.

I heard you were interviewed. What happened?

I was picketing and representing my Union local, AFT 2063, at the protest and a TV reporter asked me for an interview, so I talked to him.

Do you have a link?

 
What have I neglected to ask?

This is “the City of Broad Shoulders” and we aim to teach the Broad Foundation that they cannot steal our schools or harm our kids. The people of Chicago worked for a hundred years to build these buildings, and the public needs to continue to invest in them. We don’t like the idea of private companies profiting from public property that we have invested in. We don’t like not having a say in how and why this happens. What we have here is classic machine politics. The aldermen will support the mayor because he controls who gets what and who doesn’t. The aldermen have been told to shut up and, with a few exceptions, they are shutting up.

from Diane Ravitch’s Blog: The Scoop on Chicago Privatization

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