CPS Teacher Strike 2012: Unarmed Kids (September 11, 2012)

Courtney Sinisi (cq), left, stands next to her daughter Mia, 7, while the second grader holds up a sign in support of the Chicago Teachers Union at the CTU "strike headquarters" outside Teamster City Local 705 in Chicago on Saturday, Sept. 8, 2012. Teachers, paraprofessionals, school clinicians, parents and supporters picked up picket signs and other strike materials. Members of the CTU plan to strike Monday if contract negotiations fail. (Keri Wiginton/Chicago Tribune) B582362464Z.1 ....OUTSIDE TRIBUNE CO.- NO MAGS, NO SALES, NO INTERNET, NO TV, CHICAGO OUT, NO DIGITAL MANIPULATION...


Throughout my primary school and junior high years, I attended a little hole-in-the-wall Lutheran school called Pilgrim in Chicago’s Ravenswood neighborhood. Though I don’t have much use for these skills now (notwithstanding the occasional drunken parlor trick), I memorized the books of the Old Testament in order and recited Bible verses in addition to acquiring more progressive knowledge like sexual education and critical thinking. Believe it or not, challenging our pastor on issues of religious dogma was unpunishable, even encouraged.

I enjoyed eight years as a rather large fish in a small pond. With a graduating class of 12 students, and all of them white except for one Mexican-immigrant kid named Jose Echevarria, it was easy to achieve and maintain social and academic dominance. In the meantime, while I appreciated the humanities-centered education I received, I lamented a curriculum devoid of World Geography, advanced mathematics and rigorous scientific principles. Some topics necessarily gave way in order to save time for the Catechism.

The world appeared set to open for me as I prepared to leave a tiny Lutheran institution in favor of Chicago’s public school system (CPS baby!). As a new enrollee in Lincoln Park High School’s much-vaunted International Baccalaureate Program (I.B.), a course of study which I must point out, earned derision from a variety of Tea Party crackpots earlier this year for its encouragement of global citizenship, I had access to technology, student diversity and scholarship that I would not have otherwise gleaned by hewing to the religious lines I had been walking.

I recognize that my CPS experience does not mirror that of the City’s general student population, where the matriculation rate recently touched a new high of 60 percent but college graduation percentages fall below 10. Post-Great Recession, there numbers do not speak well of students’ ability to compete for jobs in a hyper-connected world that requires more education than ever. But let us not pretend that there aren’t mitigating factors beyond disengaged students and uninspiring teachers as certain anti-union factions would have it. Poverty and a frustrating lack of modern resources, compounded by children in gang-infested neighborhoods who do all they can just to get to school alive are certainly at play.

As the nation is now fully aware, Chicago Public School teachers voted to walk the picket line this week for the first time in 25 years. I am grateful that I was never impacted by this learning interruptus, a distraction that the City’s struggling students don’t need, but I understand that the fight between Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Chicago Teachers’ Union is about far more than pay raises. I join many of my friends and colleagues in bemoaning a state of political affairs that has rendered urban children collateral damage in this war. I respect that the Teachers’ Union feels the need to put its foot down before issues of classroom size, resources and the recent vilification of personnel render doing the job of educating impossible. It’s hard to sympathize with a Mayor who appears so little invested in the City’s school system that his own children attend high-priced private institutions.

It’s difficult to escape the impression however, that there will be no winners once both sides have laid down their arms. Educators will remain underpaid and overtaxed with too few resources. School administrators will not glean the increases in standardized test scores so desired without addressing systemic failings that put the City’s children at a disadvantage before they set foot inside the classroom. One outcome however is certain: as the strike completes day two and families without alternative childcare options struggle to provide their offspring with productive, often unsupervised, methods of spending their newfound free time, it is the kids who pay the long-term price.

May this standoff conclude with utmost alacrity. Children who have seen their parents lose jobs, homes and more deserve a break.

The Sky Falls (Literally) on the Old School (November 5, 2009)

Nanni_Poppa House

Jen and I have had an interesting day. About 3:00 this afternoon, I received a FaceBook message from an old grade school pal by the name of Barry Burman (the erstwhile Brad as he wished to be called at Pilgrim Lutheran Grade School). Barry is kind of a dorky name (I kid!). Has anyone read or heard this new story today?


The house above and to the right is the unfortunate home slammed with the errant refuse. Guess what dwelling this is? The abode of the maternal grandparents of your very own Boop and Jen. Excuse me, WTF?! What kind of weird karmic fuckery is this?

Most people are quite familiar with their grandparents homes, no doubt, but it is not an exaggeration to state that Jen and I lived here for 16 years. With two working parents who lived on the Northwest Side, and our grade school a mere block and a half from Nanni and Poppa’s house at 4242 N. Wolcott, we spent far more time in Ravenswood that we ever did in our home neighborhood (which in truth, I am not even sure the name). And what a bumping block the 4200 block of Wolcott was back in the day. Yes, I am about to go all retro on your asses. But it must be said: we Pilgrim kids who lived on that street were a bunch of bad mamma jammas.

Take for example, the time myself, Jen and Becky Jo Lauderdale from across the street (a little white blond pipsqueak of a thing) choreographed our own dance, complete with cartwheels and pelvic thrusts, to the Salt and Pepa classic, “Push It.” Or the 25,000 games of tag we played with Becky Jo, J.B. from next door, and two out of the three Burman boys from down the street. My first “french”kiss occured on that block (with Latin hottie Martin Aramburu – seriously, meow!). Jen got hit by a bike once right in front of the house, on the sidewalk, as my humongous Poppa, all 420 pounds, former ball turret gunner of him, put down his fly swatter and glass of homemade sweet tea (a most unusual turn of events) to cuss out the little “son of a bitch” who hit his granddaughter. Too many good times people.

So I can’t tell you the flashbacks I endured, and I know Jen went through the same, as we looked at the smoldering wreckage of our grandparents’ roof. True it has been 10 years since either of them lived there. They were renters and Poppa, with his morbid obesity, passed away in 1994. There was never, mark my words, a finer man. In fact I owe it to him to write more on that another time. Nanni moved into a retirement home in 1999 and died there. But even after the long passage of time, it was like stepping right back into the mid 80s when I clicked that hyperlink today. Jen and I are sitting side by side on those unmistakably tall steps that led to Nanni and Poppa’s second floor apartment. Then we were running down those same steps as fast as our little legs would carry us to overtake the ice cream truck. We rarely missed.

Thankfully, the current families who live there were unharmed. The roof will be patched up and life will go on. They will likely sue some airline or another. But for two little girls at heart today, a random news oddity literally hit too close to home.