Now that Valentine’s Day is past, I’m going to be blunt. I love you but I think we have to break up. It goes back to that morning when I stood on a line for an hour and a half in a cold rain with my 8thgrader and my two younger children to gain the privilege of simplyseeingJones College Prep.
It is unconscionable to make people wait like this simply to get a glimpse of a good public school. I believe this is done on purpose to manufacture frenzy —as if we were waiting to see a new baby dolphin at the Shedd.
That was more than a year ago. I am still outraged over a system thathad 16,000 applications from children across the city for 3,200 spots last year. This is emotionally damaging to children and their families. It’s also insulting to the democratic spirit behind public education. According toCrain’s Chicago Business, 15 percent of those who didn’t get a spot left the system entirely. That’s a lot more break-ups.
My husband and I both live and work in Chicago, and have served this city through our professional lives as emergency room physician and professor for 27 years. We are urban parents who believe in diversity and vibrant city spaces. But we also love our kids and we don’t want to sacrifice their formative years to your ineptitude.
Yes, you tried to kiss and reassure me, dear Chicago. Ald. Ameya Pawar came to talk at my children’s private elementary school. He was eloquent regarding the need for parents like us to send our children to neighborhood schools because it is only through involved children and their families that local schools will improve and become truly viable options. And I agree.
But you keep siphoning off the most talented students and creating selective enrollment silos. I think these elite academies are a horrible idea. Yet after that wait in the rain, my child got into one, and we sent him. Considering the frenzy, how could he imagine anything else? Iwantto send my children to a neighborhood high school, I believe in them, but I couldn’t do it. Right now, mine is unproven terrain. I don’t want to be a pioneer.
And let’s be honest — I’d be pioneering my way into a hole. You keep boasting about opening yet another selective enrollment high school. Each time, I fall for you again, at least briefly. It’s you who makes me feel my neighborhood school isn’t good enough. Look me in the eyes and tell me you really want better neighborhood schools.
Two weeks ago, Chicago,you announced more school cuts due to the ongoing budget and union impasses. The next day, I got a letter from the principal of the high school where my son goes asking us to make up the difference. Each family would only need to give $192.
I nearly reached right into my pocket to send off a check. I’m fortunate that I can. It’s for the kids, after all. But if I do that, it puts yet another Band-Aid on a failing system.
The only message regarding this crisis that rings true comes from the nonprofit parent group Raise Your Hand:We need sustainable funding. And my check works directly against that, because then you start to depend on me and build those expectations into your next budget. Stopwith your smooth talk. Instead, Bruce Rauner, Rahm Emanuel and Forrest Claypool: Start talking to each other! Show us you can forge a plan that will carry us into the future.
Until then, I’m breaking up with you, Chicago. The romance is gone and I feel jilted. Yes, your restaurants are excellent, the energy of your streets is electric and you make my heart soar when I look down on you from a jet approaching O’Hare.
That’s the image I leave you with, Chicago, because the further that jet travels toward the suburbs, the more you make me want to keep heading there.
JulieBokser, who lives in Lakeview, is director of the First Year Writing Program at DePaul University, and a 2016 Public Voices Fellow of The Oped Project.
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