A Chicago Public Schools strike then and now

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 stance.

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 reward.

A reward worth fighting together for.

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