Sunday, January 15, 2012

Mama Feelgood

This is in honor of my queen, Missus Knowitall, who always knows how to make Misstra feel good, even when the world tries to push me off The One.

And for those that don't know, this is Lyn Collins, one of the funkiest sisters to ever step to a James Brown groove.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Life after death at ACT Charter School

You want to think of it kind of like a food court.

In my second year of high school teaching at the Academy of Communications and Technology (ACT) Charter school, I was wondering about the long term vision the ACT board had for this place I had come to love. The place where I felt like I finally had a place to grow as a teacher. There was talk amongst the teachers of starting a union, but an administrator was explaining to me how this action wouldn't fit with the new dominant paradigm at ACT. No longer was my school simply a school; it could be best understood as a food court.

As one of the longest standing charter schools in the city, ACT was uniquely positioned because they had the ability to "self-replicate" or create more "campuses" without having to get additional charters from the city. As charter management organizations chomp at the bit to dive into the Chicago public education racket, our school, as unsuccessful as it was considered by some, was extremely valuable.

With a friendly, mustachioed-smile, my administrator used his hands as visual cues to draw out the familiar layout of a food court.

Let's say you have Burger King over here. Pizza Hut in the corner. Maybe a Taco Bell. All of those restaurants are going to rent space in your food court. But they are only going to feel comfortable in certain types of food courts. If you have a union in your school than the other franchises aren't going to want to move in. 

Dread bloomed in my chest as I realized how shady and ill-conceived the plan sounded. My fear was compounded by the earnestness of my administrator. He was carefully explaining the strategy like my apprehension was due to a lack of comprehension. No matter how he shifted his hands around and talked about "the best interests of our students," I couldn't arrest the thought that the whole thing was educationally unsound, and slightly immoral, but it also just seemed like a dumb idea. 

After we were told that unionizing might cause members of the support staff to lose their jobs, we decided to cease unionizing. Instead we agreed to investigate an alternative teacher bargaining structure that is used in some of the state's top schools. But by the time February came around, we got word: the ACT board was pulling the plug on our operation. 

A community meeting was held in the church next door. I had previously visited the pews for graduation or the day they let the students watch Obama's inauguration, but the poorly lit basement gave a funerary sense to the event. It smelled like melted funeral candles and cut flowers. Milling near the entrance were two large men in vanilla cream suits, smiling and handing out fliers for Hope Academy charter school. Their lack of ironic self-awareness was terrifying.

My administrator thanked everyone for coming out and reassured us that everyone would get to speak, but said that he would also be "respectful of people's time". Students, parents, and teachers lined up in a neat row to speak loudly and passionately about the school. About the children they had sent there. About the things they had learned at the school. About the family they felt they had there. About the few educational options there were on the west side of Chicago. About how little control they felt over a decision that affected them most of all. And there were a lot of questions. Some of them answered, some not. When the board spoke, all of the members drew from the same word bank: Student's best interests. Tough choices. Appreciation. Reality. Options. Achievement. Funding. Suspension.

The students left angrily before the board completed its ceremony. My administrator raised his hands skyward and pleaded with the children to show respect, but they were gone. The vanilla cream men rushed to dispense their recruitment fliers to the departing stampede. Shortly afterward, Bruce Rauner, the chairman of the board, the gavel was struck and the decision was official.

And that was supposed to be the end. Well, the end--not considering the long painful demise that was the Spring semester at ACT. Local charters scavenged the school for students, teachers, computers, books, desks, even our building. Once we left, we thought that would be the end of our school.

Until about a month ago.

Buried in a Chicago Tribune story about a school board update about "district reorganization" was this note:

The district also is furthering its long-standing practice of merging underused or underperforming schools into facilities occupied by existing schools. CPS proposes:
Moving the Academy of Communications and Technology into a shared building with Nash Elementary. ACT is a charter school that was closed last year because of academic and financial concerns, but it is reopening next year under the management of KIPP, a nationally recognized charter operator.
In the words of Bernie Mack: Sommamaabiiich

What that means is the school will open again in the Fall under KIPP, a national charter management group. If ACT holds true to its food court dictate than the new school will likely have little in common with the structure and culture of its namesake. The only thing that is sure to survive is the entity's ability to self-replicate. 

Although I loved my school, it was by no means perfect. Maybe it was best that the school closed if there wasn't enough money or we weren't helping students achieve up to expectations. But something feels downright sinister about the reopening. During the closing meeting, all the people in suits kept using the word suspension to describe what was going on. Like they had already moved on to plan B, which didn't involve most of the people in the room.

And that's the way public education is being transformed now. It's people in suits, armed with word banks and multi-colored graphs, making decisions for communities that have little to no voice in the matter. Without that input, these new/old schools will be doomed to replicate the failures that came before them.

**Bruce Rauner Update: It's worth mentioning that Bruce Rauner was the Chairman of the Board of ACT school. In exchange for a donation to the school, he took a controlling stake in the fate of the school. After he deemed the school untenable, he made the decision to close the school.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Ace of Spades

So, now that Rick Santorum and Ron Paul are getting serious consideration as Republican presidential candidates, can we officially stop the charade and just punch NeO's ticket for 2012?

I was convinced that it would be George W. Bush who would benefit from the incredible political leverage the death of Osama Bin Laden would provide. Before the election of 2004, I was convinced that Bin Laden would stumble out of a CIA spider hole somewhere, just in time for the Iowa polls. President DwB and Vice President Chixon would ride in on an F-16 and blow him to kingdom come.

In those days we knew not to trust the dominant narrative. We knew something was funny with 9/11. We knew the first Iraq was a business transaction, the sequel an inartful jack. We knew that the Bin Laden could have been killed at Tora Bora, but was not. And even when GwB was able to get reelected and talk about how he didn't think about Bin Laden, we still worried that the Bin Laden card would be played in June of 2008, launching the tortured man and his be-speckled caretaker to the White House. We held our breath and didn't exale until NeO was sworn in, basking in the glow of Aretha Franklin's hat.  And then we kind of forgot about Bin Laden.

NeO was destined to be one of the most unpopular presidents of all time. Not only was he a brother, but the high and low swings are just a part of governance. You earn political capital and then you spend it. Along the way you have to break some promises and call in some favors. Perhaps bury some bodies. But the key is to have an ace in the hole. And wouldn't you know it, he sho nuff did. One suspects that the same interests who put Bin Laden off limits nearly ten years ago gave the green light for NeO to drop him in May.

It was perfect. It played right into NeO's invincible narrative. In the clutch, the man doesn't lose. He lion-strutted up to the podium and told everybody that he had killed the ghost, with two helicopters and a couple dozen SEALS. Driveright. Rightfootplantlefthandsweep. Perfunctory crossover. Rise up. Wristflick. Game.

The outcome of the 2012 election was announced that night in May, no disrespect to the DOA Republican candidate who stumbles out of Iowa. Before Bin Laden was Byron Russelled, it was really over when they said NeO raised more money than all of the Repugs combined. In the American political equation, the one with the biggest checks gets the keys to the house.

But why do I not get a good feeling about NeO in his second term?

Well, there's the fact that the gap between rich and poor is wider than it's ever been.

Or the fact that more immigrants have been deported under NeO than any previous president.

Or the fact that the Justice department was involved in the selling of illegal weapons to Mexican drug cartels.

Or the ongoing race to sell public education to private corporations.

Or more secret wars in Africa.
60% of the world's uncultivated land is in Africa. What does this emblem look like to you?

Or that as people were concentrating on their New Year's celebrations, the president just signed a law permitting the indefinite detention of American citizens. That's right, the son of slaves just alienated the citizens of this country from their inalienable rights. Of course those rights were only really supposed to apply to White males, but even they are getting screwed on this deal.

NeO, as much as I want to love him, is just a card dealer for the elite, working at a casino where the house always wins.