"600 Words by Esther J. Cepeda"
There is such a thing as going too far to prove a point.
Take, for instance, the Reverend – and Illinois State Senator – James Meeks’ misguided idea to protest school funding disparity by pledging to keep "several thousand" Chicago Public School students from the first day of school September 2 – also known as the most important attendance day for calculating federal funding – to travel all the way north to tiny Winnetka and enroll the kids at Sunset Ridge Elementary.
It’s merely symbolic, of course. In the suburbs of Chicago, kids living outside district boundary lines aren’t allowed to register for classes – even families who live next door to houses sitting within boundary lines get no slack. But symbols have power and the ones I see have more potential to harm the students involved than to help.
It’s an understandably pained response to yet another community disappointment: Chicago public school officials postponed the opening of a new elementary school on the city's Southwest Side because there were 40 fewer students enrolled than the 100 kids they needed.
But let’s just say the good folks at Sunset Ridge welcomed the crowd with open arms. How would those kids feel spending hours every day getting bused 20-30 miles one-way clear across the city just to get to school?
And once there, is it possible that the superior instruction that comes with small class sizes and about twice the CPS resources will translate into higher achievement for the kids even though many of them carry the sort of social and familial baggage completely foreign to families who live in Winnetka?
Because don’t misunderstand: there are some people who would freak out, but they’re probably outnumbered by a load of well-heeled young North Shore parents with a do-gooder attitude who are wringing their hands because their children don’t have diversity in their classrooms. I know plenty of them and they probably wouldn’t mind this cultural exchange.
But let’s be real. It is never, never, never a good idea to use children as political pawns in that amounts to a publicity war which stands to have many casualties, not the least of whom are the kids themselves.
Unless this is a pure political publicity stunt – in which case I’d say he’s sick – Meeks’ heart is in the right place. He should absolutely be infuriated that his community’s kids are being left behind. And, sure, school funding in the state of Illinois – as in many other states – creates big-time haves and have-nots but no one has ever found a better alternative. Notably, Hawaii – one of the only school districts in the U.S. that does not use property tax funds – also happens to sport one of the worst report cards in the nation.
Yes, Meeks should be mad as hell and not take it anymore. Something dramatic needs to change; we need to start valuing the next generation and proving it by providing a baseline decent education. But his crusade should seek to do no more harm than what has already been done.
Meeks: do what you gotta do, but leave the kiddies out of it.
Esther J. Cepeda writes the "600 Words" & "Pregunta del Dia" columns, and is also the Chief Marketing and Communications Officer for the Illinois Student Assistance Commission. Her views and reporting do not necessarily reflect those of ISAC. "600 words" is a registered trademark of EeJayCee, Inc., Copyright 2008. May be reprinted with permission, contact email@example.com