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.

Results! Results!

I felt pretty tentative sharing information publicly because I had little proof that things would work, besides saying “this is what I am learning, here it is…”. Finally, I can say that I have some really tangible ways to connect what I have learned, and how I changed lots of things in my life to respond to being sick, to actual results.

Last year, when I was diagnosed with fibroids, I was also found to be anemic, have a low white cell count, and high glucose.  I just got my blood work results, and 10 months after the abnormal ones, I am no longer anemic, and everything else is normal. On a practical/monetary note, I actually delayed getting blood work done because I could not find an affordable way to do it, but I discovered that the Chicago Women Health Center has a sliding scale blood test ranging from 25$ to 80$.

In addition the fibroid has not grown, and it has actually shrunk slightly. The symptoms ( heavy bleeding, pain, weakness, nausea, dizziness) have also improved severely.

It is a longer road to try to get better this way, but it feels much more permanent and deep than taking the pill to stanch the bleeding, or an operation to remove the fibroid without addressing the imbalance that caused it in the first place. In the past year, with the death of Steve Jobs, there has been so much talk of how he would not have died if he had not subscribed to “wacky”, “alternative” treatment like acupuncture or diet change. It sucks to think that such dissing may discourage people from taking care of themselves in ways that could be very helpful.

For me, at least, changing my diet, exercise routine, and adding yoga and acupuncture actually helped me manage and heal from a medical condition. I’ll be happy to share more in-depth info if anyone needs it.

Sharing Information V

What I know for sure now is that not going for traditional treatment is much more complicated than I hoped, and fraught with confusion.  I was doing my regiment of acupuncture,and a gluten-free, vegan diet. Then I had to go to Chile for 10 days with school and it all went out the window. The staple foods that I ate there were freshly baked white bread, avocados, other veggies, fresh cheese (non-pasturized), and the occasional glass of wine.

I would have expected to feel sick, and I did a bit, but not anymore than you would expect being in a new place, with new foods and a hectic schedule.

Some people may be fine with the gluten-free, vegan diet, but for me it was insanely expensive, and prohibitively time-consuming. Also many foods such as almond milk, tofu and soy yogurt are very processed.

My doctor suggested that I was fine in Chile because what I ate there was very simple and unprocessed, while in the US it’s very difficult to find unaltered foods.

So the new thing is to try to eat a bit of everything, but in the most unprocessed form that I can find. I am worried it will cost more than I can afford. In the whole city of Chicago google could not find a bread bakery. Panera came up for shit’s sake! I think it will have to be the farmer’s market, but again the cost factor is a bit terrifying. I could not find much research about the idea of a “simple” diet being helpful for digestion or fibroids, but unless I find a cheap nutritionist, it might just have to be a trial and error process for now.

I also have been boiling Astragalus for tea, but it’s too early to feel any effects from it.

All for now!

begging, one more time
March 31, 2010, 10:23 pm
Filed under: rants and such | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

As I am now hearing back from MFA programs it’s once again time to deal with finances, and the humiliation of asking for money or resources all the time. My room mate suggested I should keep all the letters and documents I have written to ask for some sort of assistance so I can survive.

All the food stamps paperwork, grants, scholarships, utility assistance letters. The essay to try to get money for florence’s braces, the financial aid pleas to various schools, the letters to my landlord asking to lower rent. It can keep on going, I think.

The second step would be to interview the people around me and ask them how it is that they do what they do, especially the people I have around at school. Last night this eminent intellectual guy came to speak to my class, and he went off about class, communism, corporations, and the economy of generosity. Someone in the class asked him how he makes ends meet, and he answered that he writes, gets some commissions, and than his mother died leaving him enough money to buy a house in Paris, and save up enough to never worry about whether what he is doing makes any money.

I appreciate his candor, but it made me feel like shit, hopeless about my own predicament. After class I was talking to a classmate I really like and he frankly told me that his parents help him out with rent while he is in school, and he is 28, not 18. Again, I appreciate his willingness to share this truth, but it doesn’t give me many tools to imagine how I can live the life I want.

On one side I feel like it’s incredibly selfish and entitled to even feel like I can desire a certain life, but on the other side I am sick of seeing people with privilege being the only ones able to live fulfilling lives that are not bogged down by a constant preoccupation with survival.

SAIC offered me not even enough to cover half of their tuition for the next two years, and I had to appeal to the Financial Aid department. I am in between humiliated and defiant right now, and hopeful that they don’t totally shut me down, while being frustrated with the fact that I am still dependent on an elite, wealthy institution.

Here is the letter I wrote, because I am sick of these things being secret, and I am sick of feeling that everyone is very good at talking about art and ideals and blah blah, but talking  about what makes it financially viable or possible is super taboo.

I am an incoming MFA in painting, and a current post bac in the same department.  I am committed to the school because of its focus on helping us become the best artists we can be, without forcing us into one mold or narrow discipline.

I am a single parent to 10-year-old twins, and the first person in my family to graduate from college. I left Italy partly to leave the abuse and dysfunction of my family, and came to the US with my then 2-year-old daughters in 2002.

I worked relentlessly, and in five years had a triple degree in art history, international studies and painting from Indiana University with a GPA of 3.9. I was working, taking care of my daughters, and volunteering at a domestic violence shelter, because I wanted to try to break the cycle that affected me so deeply. During that time I accrued significant debt in order to go to school, as I had no financial help from my family, or anyone else.

I came to SAIC after laboring to make sense of my place within the art world, which, coming from poverty, seemed impossible to penetrate financially and intellectually. However I realized that such a sense of self-exclusion only keeps the pool of people that are successfully making art restricted to the ones that have had the social capital, means and time to dedicate themselves to art making.

I was able to come to SAIC thanks to a scholarship that covered the cost of tuition. To cover living expenses, I took student loans, and now have a total debt of $35,000. In this year as a post bac I have learned an incredible amount about myself as an artist and I can’t wait to continue this process during graduate school.

As I read over the financial aid packet I realized that my biggest fear of having worked so hard, and then having to give it all up because of money, was materializing before my eyes. Tuition alone at the school is $37,000, and I was only awarded $13,400 in grant funds.  In addition $6,000 of the award is work study, which I have not had much luck with this year. I am taking 15 credits, which only leaves me a day to work if I want to have any time in the studio at all.  The pay for work study is anywhere between $9 and $11.50 an hour, which left me making only about $900 dollars per semester working 7 hours a week.

The loans offer of $20,500 in Stafford loans still barely covers tuition, and will lead me to accrue $40,000 of debt in the course of two years.

Still, I would not be able to survive, even if I accepted the Stafford loans, since they would only cover tuition.

The additional $15,000 of the award is private loans. I am not in the position to take those loans.  As I mentioned, I have $35,000 of debt between this year and undergrad because I was shouldering the cost of school completely, without any outside support, and working.

SAIC prides itself on making students the best artist they can be, but that is a paradox, if my chief preoccupation coming out of school will be “where in the world can I find the $600 a month to pay back my student loans?”, not to mention just dealing with the cost of living for me and my daughters.

SAIC also prides itself on valuing diversity, but how diverse can a school be when the only people that can attend come from a highly privileged background?

I have many documents that show my situation and financial need. I have my IL food stamps award, or my checking account statement, or my tax return, and a plethora of other documents that can support this letter. Please let me know what you need and I will be happy to provide it.

thank you

stories VS stories

today i was back at facilitating workshops, which i have not done in almost one year. i was so burned out by teaching every day that i wanted to run as far away from it as possible, but it felt good to get back into it.

this morning with beyondmedia , the organization i am working with/for, we put together a workshop for high school kids that are focusing on journalism. the particular project i am most involved in is chain of change, which aims at reducing/preventing violence by using media as a tool of resistance and organizing.

i really did not want the workshop to just be about what violence is, and how pervasive it is in our lives/community/society. i wanted people to be able to think about how violence can be prevented, resolved ans stopped.

this is the activity

Activity- ask open ended questions about personal experience with violence resolution-

    Did you take action to stop interpersonal violence? Did someone you know?
    We are looking for stories that:
    * Address, end or prevent interpersonal violence
    * Involve family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, community members
    * Do not rely on social services, police, or child protective services
    Interpersonal violence may include:
    * Domestic violence or intimate partner violence
    * Sexual violence
    * Family violence including child abuse
    We ask that storytellers have detailed knowledge of the story and can include:
    * Survivors of violence
    * People who helped or intervened
    * People who did harm
    * People who are close witnesses to actions taken to address, end or prevent
    Please include:
    *Brief description of action taken
    *Whether or not social services, police, or child protective services were involved and how.

    people totally responded, which is always surprising.

    here are a few of the stories that were written:

    The following story was written by a Chicago Public High School student during a Chain of Change workshop hosted by Beyondmedia Education at the McCormick Foundation High School Media Awards 18th Annual Scholastic Press Association of Chicago Conference on March 16th, 2010 at Roosevelt University.

    A friend of mine has been a victim of sexual abuse. Her stepfather began raping her at the age of 6. Her mother knew but did not do anything about it. He had PTSD, post traumatic stress disorder, from being in the war and he had a past of violence. Not only did he rape my friend for most of her life, he was also violent to her mother and her brother, who has autism. Her mother finally left him after he beat her and my friend’s little brother and crashed her mothers car purposely. I don’t know where he is now, but thankfully he is out of the picture.

    It was a normal day after school when I was walking to the nail salon with 2 of my friends and we decided to take a shortcut and go through the alley. As we were already halfway down the alley I noticed this guy kind of walking fast towards us with a smirk on his face. The walking fast turned into him running towards us as he was unzipping his pants.I was kind of unsure what he was planning on doing, so I just continued to walk. Then all of a sudden he starts coming towards me while he was trying to take his privates out of his pants. He didn’t succeed at it though so he continued to run and who knows where he went. I was in so much shock I didn’t even know what to do. All I could keep on thinking about was how someone must be really messed up in the head in order to try and do that.

    // if you want to read more go to:

today, on the morning train, dude feeling entrepreneurial
March 22, 2010, 9:03 pm
Filed under: rants and such | Tags: , , , , , ,

does anyone want to but a one double A battery pack, two dollars?

what about two condoms, 50 cents?

three zines, one dollar?

free advice, don’t eat yellow snow,

racial/ethnic chicago animation map
February 25, 2010, 2:58 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , ,

if you click on the map it will animate the racial changes in neighborhood make up from 1910 to 2000. it blew my mind. talk about segregation!

donors choose

Florence’s ever resourceful teacher has been funding what chicago public schools cannot provide thorough an awesome website called Donors Choose. i am weary of how money is becoming the only way people are made to feel involved with social justice issues, but sometimes it can be quite effective.

or at least a better way to use a bit of tax return cash…

here is the link to her proposal

jane addams
February 7, 2010, 1:38 am
Filed under: rants and such | Tags: , , , , , , ,

i am taking a class that is based upon an historical chicago site, this semester the jane addams house. i have learned about her in bits and pieces in the past few years, but never did i understand her incredible badassness. i am sure she was not perfect, but there is still  something really compelling and striking about her story. her essay about her reasoning behind opening Hull House blew my mind. it was written over one hundred years ago, and it is so contemporary. i felt myself reflected in her thoughts, and in her understanding of society.  it is depressing in a way that in a century the conditions of people are uncannily similar, and that the solution not more evolved. it also makes me feel strange that my understanding of the world is not new, nor original or revolutionary. i still have to come to grips with the fact that to everything there is a history. ideas are not new but come from a progression of theory from the past recent, and not so recent.

i am hopeful also, because it’s undeniable that there is something essentially altruistic about people and good, even amidst all the pain and selfishness.

it made me fantasize about what is possible to do with one’s life, and the impact it can have. 

i am including the speech i read that i found so compelling:  Addams,”Subjective Necessity”

saya woolfalk!
February 3, 2010, 1:16 am
Filed under: artsy art | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Tonight I went to see the lecture by Saya Woolfalk and it got me thinking about art, the fetishism of otherness, and white guilt.

Saya makes amazing work about utopia, or what she calls “no place”. She works with ideas of fables and stories as a place where people can try different realities and possibilities. Her work used to be very much about gender and race in an overt way. She used to include images of genitalia and tropes of blackness in her art but she found that instead of questioning issues of race or gender they reinforced them.

I am sure her process is much more complicated than this, but she then decided to create “no place”, a utopia of how the world could be, populated by beings that can fluctuate through gender and color. Saya is herself Japanese, Caucasian and African American, so the sense of having to think about identity and race seems very personal. I related very much to that, the sense of being other, of not fitting, of being part of identities that are societally disconnected.

What I started wondering about once I got out of the lecture has not much to do with Saya’s work per se, but the bigger questions of people that are identified as “other” somehow being successful within the art world.

I would even venture to say that there is a sense of otherness being exotic, and desirable. If a gallery/museum/ art institution is exhibition work from a white anglo dude, than boring boring boring. It’s all about finding the most other, the farthest away from the canon. Though it seems that there is a positive change in whose voices are heard, I can’t help to also feel ill at ease.

Are the “others” just being fetishised? Are “others” becoming some sort of collective superficial riddance of white guilt? I am always weary of being seen as an exotic other, and I am especially weary of space that seems to be given to me because of it.

I have not talked to other people who are not white, not American, or straight or whatever other deviance from normalcy about feeling fetishised, or feeling used , but I am very interested to know how “successful” artists feel about this, or if it’s something that they think about.