BEYOND MERE SURVIVAL


Chicago school closings and the allure of the cost benefit analysis

Much as been said about the Chicago Public Schools closings that are being voted on in a few days. In this cacophony of voices I felt reluctant to write, although I found myself in daily conversations with my daughters, my students, friends, co workers and strangers. I am in the somewhat unorthodox position of being a parent to two children that have attended 3 different Chicago public schools in the 3 years we have been in Chicago, I teach at a non for profit public charter part time and at the City College, and I live in front of a school that will receive students from two of the schools slated for closing.

I can think about the problems with school closings from many different angles, but what has been conspicuously absent is a look of the effect of the closings beyond a cost benefit analysis. One of CPS’s main arguments is that it is broke, and that it needs to cut on cost. The media has reacted by questioning the actual savings that will derive from closing schools by analyzing numbers, and coming up with their own figures. What about the loss of quality of life  that these 46,000 children (and their parents/guardians) will incur?

My daughters experience changing school was largely driven by factors besides the academic strength of the schools they were attending. Last year we commuted 3 hours daily by car, and they had to wake up an hour earlier than the previous year. It was extremely stressful and it deeply impacted our family dynamics, finances, and their overall happiness, in addition to affecting their school work. These negative impacts will be felt by the children affected by the school closings, and reverberate within their families and communities. We are talking about thousands of children, in neighborhoods that are already lacking infrastructure, and where violence and poverty are high.

Being poor already breeds instability and the closings will be another forced change that interrupts the continuity a school can provide. Speaking from experience, we had to move four times in 3 years in the city. Three of those moves were because of rising rents and having to find cheaper living spaces, and one move was caused by the violence we experienced at the hands of a neighbor. I know that my situation is mirrored daily for others who are single parents, working poor, and marginalized. Increasingly this is a dynamic that touches more and more people as the city prioritizes a funneling upwards of money (hello refurbished Navy Pier, and new DePaul stadium) toward corporate interests, at the expense of everyone else.

Chicago has been declared the most segregated city in the US again last year, and the school closings exacerbate further the tension and inequality already present. The media and CPS talk of “West Side” and “South Side” fuels a rhetoric of a separated city, one where we are not invested in each other, and can say “it is not my problem because I don’t live on the South Side, I am not black/latino/etc”. In this hyper individualistic scenario where we retire in our respective corners by declaring “It’s not my problem”, we all lose. Martin Niemöller‘s poem comes to mind when I look at the erosion of the quality of life in Chicago, as violence and cost of life go up while services are cut and children shut out of their schools.

First they came for the communists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.

Then they came for the socialists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for the Catholics,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Catholic.

Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak for me.