Saturday, March 23, 2013

That's It! We're Leaving!

Did you ever misbehave enough where your mother just brought everything to a screeching halt, grabbed her purse, and you by the scruff of the neck, and marched out of a place with those words?

"That's it! We're leaving!"

The long walk to the car often included some of these fine admonitions:

"I cannot believe you!"

"That's the last time you'll ever see the inside of a [grocery store, laundromat, cousin's house]!"

"I've had about enough of you, missy/mister."

and the ever-fabulous

"You just wait'll I get you home."

"You have no one to blame but yourself."

This last one was usually in a seethe so toxic you were already getting sick from the smoke.

Of course, one week later you were in the same darn laundromat faced with the same decision about whether or not to use the carts as vehicular tools of destruction. Sadly, too many of us make the wrong choices here.

The same is true in the school-closure-planning-teacher-contract-botching-standardized-test-taking mess we allow to pass for school administration in Chicago. And it's why so many people grab their collective purses and their children and head for the door when they're confronted with having to place their children into this system.

Of course, those are the people with purses and the options to move. Many do not have either. Many, many, many do not.

I'd say just as many of us don't care. We do not give a hoot what's happening in some poor neighborhood on the other side of town. We're too busy desperately trying to keep our own situations from becoming disasters. That's the truth.

The additional truth of racism is a truth that exists everywhere, so I'm not going to parse it out here for purposes of this conversation, but please do not fool yourself into thinking that if all the kids on the Southwest side of Chicago were caucasian and of European descent they'd be in this situation. They would not.

That's fine. We can only do what we can do. But then please don't get all worked up when one issue is highlighted in the news and you have to pay attention in order to chat intelligently with co-workers at lunch. The fact is schools in Chicago have been failing for a long, long time. Teachers and their contracts have been a mess. Buildings have been half-empty in some cases and kids have been spilling out of closets in others. You know darn well when you avoid certain parts of the city it's because you're afraid to go there. But you also know children live there and have to go to school there. So don't act surprised when people freak out over having to walk their children four blocks in another direction, across myriad traps and urban land mines, just to get their children to school. Please be genuine and act like you know and don't care. That's the truth.

And policy makers? Please don't act like you care and have always cared. I'm fascinated by folks who have been in the same jobs for 20+ years publicly declaring their outrage over problems that have persisted for over 20 years. Um. You don't see a connection there? What problem could I have had with my budget or my leaking roof or my broken appliances that I would not have had to address? What client could I have failed to serve for over 20 years and still think I'm going to get paid? This disconnect between what a policy maker's job is and what the results of his/her labors are is something we ought to chart and publish every day until people get it. At least, however, have the decency to stop degrading our relationship with this dishonesty. (Other dishonesties, fine, but this one, please. Just stop) You don't care, you act like you don't care, your speeches that you care are impotent, and I keep electing you because I don't care. That's the truth.

Friends in the problem-solving and advocacy business? Thank you. Yours is the one voice in tune in this chorus. Please forgive me if I'm not always at your side, holding a banner or rocking a voice. I hope I'm helping in other, still meaningful ways. Please also forgive me when I question your methods or your reason. Don't be mad if I disagree with your conclusions. Sometimes I'm afraid to say I don't agree with one point or another because I don't want to be kicked off the progressive train. But the reality is that some of our "oooh - we could do this!" ideas are pie-in-the-sky unachievable. I want to first do what we can do and then do what we dream we can do. That's not a condescension or an admission of weakness. That's a pathway, a stepping stone.

And before we take one more step, we need a comprehensive city plan. We need a plan that addresses public safety, transportation, education, commerce, building, environment and all the other bits and pieces that go into building (and sustaining) a healthy metropolis.

The way we do it now - one panic attack at a time - clearly is not working. Our transportation is a disaster, our infrastructure always under construction and yet still always a mess, our schools are suffering, our communities are fragile, at best, and commerce in Chicago? We have whole sections of the city that don't even know what a department store would look like.

So the haphazard way CPS has managed this school closing situation is no different than the haphazard way they handled the start of the school year and the teacher's contracts. It's in line with the chaos that is our city government, no different than the slop they serve as a budget in Illinois. It's the poor cousin to the disaster that is our federal legislative branch.

CPS is no better and no worse than any other of these bureaucracies.  And we're the ones to blame.

That's the truth.

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