In September 1987, I was a second-grader at Luther Burbank
Elementary. Or at least I was supposed to be; officially, that
didn't happen until October, when school finally started after what
everyone now knows as a long and ugly teachers' strike. I don't
remember much; just relishing the time off like any other
7-year-old would, but regretting it when June hit and we were stuck
in (yes, non-air-conditioned) classrooms the rest of the month.
This year, it was my oldest who started second grade while we
parents looked at each other nervously on the playground, avoiding
the "s" word. We all knew it was coming, though.
And of course, it did.
As a CPS product, you'd think I would have learned my lesson.
Clearly, most of my fellow alumni did, because it's rare for me to
come across other born-and-raised CPS parents in the city. I guess
I'm the gullible one who still believes in public education. I know
this sounds a bit ridiculous, but I feel like I owe who I am to
CPS, for the academic inquiry and the ways I related with people
who are completely unlike me. That's why I stayed in the city. This
is what I wanted for my children.
Lately though, quality public education feels like some kind of
mythic creature, hunted in favor of private interests. Times are
changing, we're being told, and we have to keep up with more
sophisticated species. Like Estonians. We parents have facts and
figures hurled at us from all sides, pressuring use to take a
So what are we supposed to do? Do we give in and race to the top
(cough) or believe in the idea that public education is equal
opportunity and access for all? That's exactly what all this comes
down to, don't you think? Sift through the details and you'll find
that undergirding the debates of evaluation and recall, salary and
merit, class size and social services is a fundamental belief that
public education works. That it's worth it. That our children are
better for it. That every kid comes preloaded with potential, and
that the process of drawing it out, however tough and tiring, is a
A reward worth fighting together for.
Selena Kohng is a mom of two living in Sauganash.
See more of Selena's stories here.
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