Education reformsters have a selective deafness problem when it comes to not-white, not-wealthy citizens, and that is on display again in Chicago, where community activists are staging a hunger strike this week in an attempt to get Chicago Public Schools to actually pay attention to them.
Members of the Bronzeville community have been fighting for Dyett High School since it was marked for phaseout in 2012; CPS cited academic failure. CPS stretched the closing over four years to allow students already enrolled to finish their careers there; that resulted in just twelve seniors being enrolled last year. Supporters of the school say that CPS pressured those remaining students to transfer out; CPS says it was just "gauging interest." Certainly Dyett hasn't enjoyed a great deal of support from CPS-- no infusion of resources or attempt to actually fix the alleged academic shortcomings.
Instead of talking about how to revitalize the school, CPS has been entertaining proposals about what to replace it with, including a proposal from the principal brought in to shut the place down-- that particular proposal has been considered even though it was handed in late. But the school seems marked to be one more victim of the mayor's wholesale slashing of neighborhood schools.
But here's what you need to know about the community activists of Dyett High School-- they have done everything that you're supposed to do in such a situation. They put together a proposal for a school focusing on green and leadership studies, complete with partners and support, that would have allowed the area to keep its last open-enrollment high school. CPS has hemmed and hawed and at one point said, okay, you can keep the school under this plan as long as we still hire someone to run it.
Activist Jitu Brown had some thoughts about that, as reported by Edushyster:
"Why can’t we have public schools? Why do
low-income minority students need to have their schools run by private
contractors?" As Brown sees it, handing the school to a private operator
isn’t much better than closing it. "We want this school to anchor the
community for the next 75 years. We’re not interested in a short-term
contract that can be broken."
So while CPS has twiddled their thumbs and stalled, the supporters of Dyett have organized and petitioned and called and done what people do when they are ignored-- steadily escalated. They held a rally. They held a sit-in and got themselves arrested. And CPS has folded its arms, dawdled, postponed, and generally tried to avoid making an actual decision about the fate of what used to be Dyett.
Point being-- these folks didn't arrive at hunger strike quickly, lightly, or thoughtlessly.
This website has much of the current information, links, eddresses, and pictures. There are hashtags to follow if you are twitter literate. Jesse Jackson has shown up, and that gets them some extra eyeballs (but he's not new to this particular fight). Check in. Send messages of support. This is not an easy thing, but it's an important thing.
It's a sign of how messed up we are when it comes to letting local voices be heard-- that people have to starve themselves just to have some kind of say in what happens in their own community school. I hope someone listens, and soon.