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Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
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Saturday, July 20

Gapers Block

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"Delegates from the Chicago Teachers Union are in need of some serious reality training... Sacrifices are always hard to make, but the kids have to come first."

-- Chicago Sun-Times editorial page, October 7, 2003

On the night of October 6, 2003, the editors of the editorial page of the Chicago Sun-Times were putting the finishing touches on their opinion piece chastising the teachers of CPS for seeking pay raises for first-year teachers and an improved benefits package.

At the same time, a kid stuck his hands deep in his pockets, keeping his eyes on the ground as he walked from the Red Line train back to his mother's apartment in the public housing projects at Ida B. Wells. Unseasonably warm, there were more people out than usual, including the dreaded crackheads he had listed on his "Greatest Fears," assignment for his English class. Squatting low on street corners, they eyed him. It wasn't that he was scared of them, especially. They were emaciated, shaking, barely capable of walking. What scared him, he had explained, was that they seemed like they weren't there at all. Like, they were there, but not there. Dead eyes. He'd never seen a shark, but it was how he imagined their eyes. Empty, hollow, and therefore capable of anything at all.

As the editors retired for the night and climbed into their cars for the short drive back to their condos, he was pulling open the steel door to his building. He could hear his sister crying from the down the hall. The walls leading up to his apartment were covered in "7-4"s, the numbers chosen for the letters they represented in the alphabet. From his living room widow, through the bars, he saw the kid who'd grown up next door standing on the corner, right there off 38th, waiting patiently for cars to pull up so he could hand them the little stamped envelopes packed with powders.

Sirens wailed, shouts raised up from the streets as he struggled through the PLAN sample test, the ACT prep, the school had issued him. The more he read, the more frustrated he became: he'd been in Honors English for two years, and had never come across this one word -- omit -- before.

The next morning, as the Sun-Times was being read with satisfaction in break rooms across the Loop, he woke up and gathered his things, for the bus ride to his school on East Pershing. He needed to get there early, earlier than the Freshman and Sophomore gangbangers, forced by truancy officers to stay in school, who sat outside by the entrance throwing rocks and abuse at the older kids who stayed by choice. He wondered, to himself, if he'd have the same teacher he'd has last week.

Indeed, he didn't. His old English teacher, a substitute, was gone, and a new one was in place. Like many of the Chicago public schools, his couldn't lure enough certified teachers to teach at a school with such a rough reputation. The Bush Administration's No Child Left Behind initiative made it mandatory for every teacher to be certified in the subject they're teaching. To bypass this, many schools hire substitute teachers and have them teach regular classes for as long as possible. So, as a result, the quality of the teachers in many schools has deteriorated even further.

As he sits in class, struggling to pay attention as kids shout back and forth, he considers the morning announcement, informing the students that the Homecoming Dance has been canceled due to the increasing number of violent food-fights in the cafeteria. He'd had a date, but would now just sit at home. As the new teacher struggled to explain the text of Beowulf, the student's mind wandered to the cafeteria itself. He wondered if the sub would let him sit in the classroom and eat his lunch, instead.

Concentrating had been more of a problem over the last week, as the class size had been almost doubled from 22 to 38, to accommodate special ed -- mostly behaviorally disabled - students. There weren't enough rooms to house them, and the school couldn't afford full-time special ed teachers, so instead certain classes were given a part-time special ed teacher to watch over the kids stuffed into randomly chosen classrooms.

The Council of Economic Advisors, the president's own team of economic advisors, has reported in their Economic Report of the President that at least 30 percent of the budget deficit is due directly to the enormous tax cuts the President bullied through Congress. In order to make this discrepancy less stark, the President has under-funded the already iffy, bipartisan No Child Left Behind education initiative by $8.9 billion, which cuts into the already conservative allocation the President promised when signed the bill into law.

This means that CPS is sorely lacking in state funds for schools, and that they cannot attract young, certified teachers, even though there are a glut of college graduates looking for teaching jobs. The teachers of CPS simply want to increase the starting rate for teachers to levels of those in District 211 -- the school district encompassing parts of Elk Grove Village, Schaumburg, Hoffman Estates, and Palatine -- in order to make CPS a competitive employer in the job market.

The Chicago Sun-Times opposed, softly at least, the Bush tax cuts, but rather than go after him and the severe under-funding of No Child Left Behind, they've decided to attack a group that is seeking to strengthen their profession. The inability of CPS to attract qualified teachers leaves children behind, and Chicago's schools are in dire straits as the Haves are free to ship their kids to selective schools in other neighborhoods while the Have-Nots watch their children trudge in terror to understaffed, under-qualified, over-populated schools. These are the same students who will be creating and working at the jobs that will fund our national security, our social security, and the very fabric of our infrastructure.

The deal the teachers' union is seeking is not for themselves. It is for the integrity of their profession. It is in the hope that that child one day sees his school as a pathway, not an obstruction.

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Naz / October 8, 2003 4:13 PM

As always, enlightening.

Lacey / October 8, 2003 5:34 PM

Agreed, it's nice to see things from a different perspective.

miss ellen / October 10, 2003 10:50 AM

i was just discussing the quality of education with someone recently. what a shame...

"no child left behind" - just another twist of words from bush, like the "clear skies" BS. ugh, ugh, ugh.


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