As I set out to write this I remind myself that I’m a relative new-comer to the city of Chicago. I’m not fully aware of everything that takes place in this city – it is too large and too multi-faceted to know all of it’s nuances. None the less, I cram daily to learn about it’s political and social past, present, and future.
The recent strike by the Chicago Public School Teachers brought an entirely new subject to the forefront of my reading. Union contracts aside, I believe that teachers are generally underpaid and under appreciated by our society as a whole.
We bulk at the idea of a teacher earning $75,000 a year, but thinking little of a sports figure who earns millions. We cry foul when NFL referees strike and our teams fail, but think little of children who are not getting a proper education.
Teachers prepare our population for the future, kind of like infrastructure prepares our cities to meet present and future demands. A city without electric and water lines won’t grow and a city with poor education won’t grow either. So when I read that Chicago public schools have a graduation rate of just 60% I became a bit bewildered.
The people I know love Chicago. I love Chicago. I moved here, in part, because civic pride is as broad as the city’s shoulders. We relish this place, from it’s architecture and high-rises to it’s parks and museums. We thrive on our ability to get things done and be the city that works yet we pay little attention to the fact that 40% of students who attend public schools will not have an adequate education to obtain even the most menial jobs.
In denying this aspect of our city’s future, we are creating our own problems. We are creating poverty faster than we can solve it’s problems. We are creating the very blight that we’re trying to eliminate.
An under-educated population has fewer options. Without access to entry level jobs or college or trade schools the city will experience sustained unemployment levels and will see sustained levels of crime and injustice perpetuated on both sides of the economic and social platform.
These injustices lead to higher costs for the city as a whole through the increased need in social assistance, police presence, and increased economic demands on individuals and families. Chicago already has challenges with these issues yet the root cause continues exists.
Teachers and the school board cannot take the all blame. Societal issues play a large role in a child’s education. These societal issues are, however, primarily rooted in poor education and lack of access to income. It is a cycle that is being perpetuated by a broken system.
Rahm Emanuel must address this part of the city’s infrastructure if Chicago is to become the world class city that he envisions. Every business that is located within the city of Chicago must address this issue as well, because without an educated workforce, few businesses will be able to sustain their presence here.
Rahm secured millions of dollars for transportation improvements that will keep the city moving. The owners of Wrigley Field seek funding to renovate their infrastructure for the sake of economic viability. Corporations seek tax benefits as a reason to stay or relocate here. These incentives help make Chicago a city that we love.
Still, no matter how improved our trains become, how nice our stadiums become, or how beautiful our skyline becomes, none of it will matter if 40% of our students cannot find a future in their own city or any other, for that matter.
Throwing money at the education isn’t necessarily the issue at hand. The issue at hand is that the education system is broken and a city that ignores the basic education needs of it’s population will never be a world class city. It cannot. A city that ignores education will be forever caught in a cycle of repair rather than growth.
Fixing the education system is not a challenge that is unique to Chicago. It is, however, I believe, a challenge that can be met here because Chicago has a history of being able to get things done. This city has a history of making great things. Our education system must be great as well and there should be no greater priority for Rahm Emanuel than to create this infrastructure alongside every other piece of the city.
I don’t claim to have the answers to this challenge but I do know that this city is filled with incredibly talented people who know how to make things work. There is an entire floor of the Prudential building staffed with some of the brightest people in the country and they’re working on Obama’s reelection campaign. These people are passionate and I’ll bet that they’d have some ideas.
Here is one idea. How about setting up an on-line site for donations? Individuals could contribute $5 or $15 or whatever they could to help the Chicago Public Schools. Corporations could donate. People living anywhere could donate.
Obama’s campaign brought in $181 million in September alone. Half of that could be of use in creating a world-class education system for this city.
Why not take donations? Let’s let Chicago see who is really interested in this city’s future – and let’s let them out do one another for the sake of public opinion. Let’s see who’s really invested.