Thursday, October 24, 2013

Chicago Public Schools: I'm Outraged!

Yesterday at grad school, I was asked to read an article from the Chicago Tribune. It was a perspective piece entitled Re-envision CPS as a democratic community (October 16, 2013). This article detailed five ways that Chicago Public Schools (CPS) could align their values to reflect democracy for the students it serves.

            Have you ever thought about how democracy plays out in schools…or how it should? Through my work at Arizona State in Literacy, I learned that the highest form of literacy happens when students are using it to make their place in the world better. As teachers, we need to make sure students that students not only understand their rights, but also know what to do if something isn’t fair. The funny thing about CPS is that they are running their district very much opposite of what a democratic school system would look like. Did you know…

1.     The Mayor appoints Chicago’s school board?
2.     School board meetings are held during school hours? (Which also means many parents are working during that time?)
3.     Chicago’s Student Bill of Rights is lacking?
4.     Many students don’t protest unfair practices because they are in fear of suspension?

Read on to hear my responses to each of these...

The School Board
            I work in Berwyn South School District 100. In our district, the board members are accountable to the voters. If things aren’t going well, the voters have a voice. In CPS, that is not the case.

As I don’t work in Chicago Public Schools, I’m not sure exactly who is appointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, but I’m guessing there is a lot of politics going on– Rahm gets his guys on the board who will vote along with his initiatives. (Does he have a background in education?) This isn’t what is in the best interest of children. School board members should be people who are connected closely to education – they have studied it, they are former teachers, they have children in the system, or they have a deep passion for doing what is right by children. The mayor appointing school board members is the opposite of democracy.

School Board Meetings
            Are you outraged? I just learned that these meetings are during the school day. I wish it would be appropriate in this forum to use words to demonstrate how livid I am about this, but as an professional, that I cannot do….

How can these school board meetings be participatory if they are happening when students, teachers, and most families are at work? How are teachers', students', and families' voices heard? I think the fact that these meetings are scheduled when no one is available says it all: we don’t value your input.

In BSD 100, our school board meetings are on the last Wednesday of each month. They begin around 7pm and students from each school are recognized each week. (I think my district does a great job of getting teachers, students, and families there in this way!) There are snacks, and breaks, and though they may be long and happen after a long day at work, it’s clear that BSD 100 values what the teachers, students and families have to say about their district. They want to do what is best for students, and they align their meetings to make every voice heard. This is democracy.

Bill of Rights for Students and Families
            In the article I read, it mentions how, CPS, “took the admirable step this year of adding the right ‘to express opinions, support causes, assemble to discuss issues, and engage in peaceful and responsible demonstrations’ to the Student Code of Conduct.” Isn’t that nice of CPS? Now students can express their opinions and get together to discuss issues? In the past they couldn’t? I’m confused.

            How could a school district forbid students rights that are given to them in our country’s Bill of Rights? How is Chicago Public Schools greater than the United States of America? Honestly, I’m outraged that these behaviors were forbidden.

I know that our district has a Student Code of Conduct, but I’m not really sure if it outlines student demonstrations or right to assemble. Honestly though, I can’t see how our district would impose a punishment for students participating in this kind of activity. Because our school board meetings happen at a time when most people are available to attend, this is at least one platform for students, teachers, and families to make their voices heard.

Responding respectfully to student dissent
            The article outlined a situation this past April when students from Voices of Youth in Chicago Education put together a peaceful protest during the Prairie State Achievement Exam. Before the protest took place, students were told that they would be suspended for participating in it and that they would not be able to make up the exam. The protest went on, but probably without the amount of students that would have participated had they not been threatened with the above consequences. This leaves me wondering: Is this a respectful way to quiet the voices of our future community members?

            I believe these kinds of warnings to students, along with what was mentioned above about the school board, school board meetings, and school code of conduct are all measures used to silence the members of our community. We are lucky in that we live in a country of where we have the right of freedom of speech – so why does Chicago Public Schools believe they should take those rights away from our students?

            The school district I work for in Berwyn educates children kindergarten through eighth grade. In the four years I have worked there, I can’t remember a time when we ran into a situation like this, but I can’t see the same thing happening in Berwyn that did in Chicago.

            I think we can do best by our students if we teach them that their voice matters. We can’t do that if we silence them with fear of suspension and keep them out of our school board meetings. I think Chicago Public Schools has a lot of work to do to help their students understand that their voice matters, but I don’t think anything can change until we push for an elected school board. We need to elect people who will work for what is in the best interest of children.

Okay, I'm done now. 

Your thoughts?


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