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Hoped to miss class today? Guess again

The Chicago Teachers Union is on strike, but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn something important.

Striking members of the Chicago Teachers Union picketed in front of Milton Brunson Math & Science Specialty Elementary School.
Striking members of the Chicago Teachers Union picketed in front of Milton Brunson Math & Science Specialty Elementary School, 932 N. Central Ave., on Thursday morning.
Sun-Times

Don’t be scared. The flat, floppy, beige thing that some adult just handed you is called a newspaper. It’s how people learned about stuff long ago, before phones. Don’t bother dragging your finger across the page—the text won’t change, and you’ll only smudge your fingertip.

Fun fact: Phones used to be called cell phones, because they communicate to a network of towers that cover hexagonal areas, or cells. The towers hand your signal off from one to the next as you move past, say, on your way to school, were you going to school. Though you may not go today because Chicago teachers and staff are on strike.

Welcome to the Chicago Sun-Times Virtual Schoolroom. I am Mr. Steinberg, and I’ll be your teacher for the next six minutes, or until you lose interest and wander off. Though if you stick with this to the end, I will share the secret to writing well.

And yes, writing well is something you will need to do someday. Not a column in a newspaper, God knows, but maybe an email to a potential employer or a love note to a special someone. If it’s poorly written, the job or heart you seek might go to someone else.

First, a lesson in the value of school. We are going to conduct an exercise. I’d like you to pair off — you can enlist your brother or sister if nobody else is around, or the parent who handed you this newspaper (a compound word, formed by combining “news,” from the Latin nova, or “new” and “paper,” from the Latin papyrus).

This is why kids hate school, isn’t it? All this irrelevant information. You don’t find it cool that the term we use today, paper, echoes back to ancient Egypt, papyrus, leaping across 2,000 years in a single breath? No? Not even a little bit?

See, this is why teachers are always pushing for more. Teaching is hard.

Where were we? Writing well. Words are important. Powerful people already know this. They carefully choose their words, trying to promote their perspectives. For instance, the mayor’s press office is calling this strike a “work stoppage,” perhaps in the futile hope that maybe history won’t record, “five months after she took office, Lori Lightfoot faced a disruptive teachers strike...”

Back to today’s exercise. First, find another person. Then locate a bucket and a rag. Put some soap and water in the bucket. Then ask the other person to rudely point out the dirtiest spots in the house. Then you clean those places with the rag, while the other person watches, closely. Do that for half an hour.

Done? Good. Because that’s what your whole life will be like if you don’t graduate high school, a fate that 22 percent of your classmates and maybe you too will face.

People who drop out of high school earn far less than people who graduate. They screw up far more: you have a six times greater chance of going to prison if you don’t get a diploma.

Okay, time is short. On to writing well. Two things.

First, cut down instead of writing up. What does that mean? Most students write to fulfill the assignment and then just stop. If a teacher asks for 100 words on “What I did during the strike,” they begin, “During the strike I had fun. I went over my grandma’s house and she gave me a news paper...” Nineteen words down, 81 to go. That’s one way. A better way is to write long: 120, 140 words. Then trim 20 or 40 out. This will make your writing tighter and sharper.

Second, get someone to read your work. That isn’t cheating; it’s how professionals do it. That second person might say, “You have ‘news paper’ as two words, but it should be one, ‘newspaper.’” Then fix it. Crazy, I know, but that’s how it’s done in the professional world. The world you want to belong to even if you don’t know it now. School will start again, and you need to figure out what you want to do in life rather than let someone else tell you what to do, work that might include a bucket and a wet rag. Trust me. That gets old really fast. As will you. Don’t waste time. Get busy.

chicago teachers strike
Jennifer Yen (center), special education teacher at Alexander Graham Bell School, joins the rally as Chicago Public Schools teachers picket Thursday morning at Lane Tech High School, 2501 W. Addison St.
Colin Boyle/Sun-Times