David Omotoso Stovall knows how to hold a crowd. Watching him engage the audience at Seminary Co-op on a January afternoon, it is easy to imagine him connecting with a classroom of teenagers at eight in the morning. Stovall is a professor of educational policy studies and African-American Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), but he also teaches a class on “Education, Youth, and Justice” at the Greater Lawndale High School for Social Justice (SOJO). His talk at the Co-op centers around his book, Born Out of Struggle, which documents his involvement with the school’s creation.
Rarely does the American public school system treat the arts with as much respect as it treats the “core” subjects of math, English, social studies, and science. When it comes time to slash budgets—something that seems like a regular occurrence nowadays—the arts programs are usually the first ones to go. The Chicago public school system has not been immune from these financial constraints, and the notion that the arts are dispensable has informed much fiscal policy. However, thanks to landmark legislation in 2012, the CPS board incorporated the arts as a core subject in schools, thereby cementing its importance to the Chicago public school system.
Update (2/7/17): Today the Senate voted to confirm Betsy DeVos as the 11th Secretary of Education. In a rare maneuver, Vice President Mike Pence cast the deciding vote after the Senate deadlocked at 50-50.
We will spend whatever it takes. Whatever that cost is, we will pay it.”
My head was spinning at 12:30am when I knew the unexpected would happen. The last thing I typed before I went to bed around 2am was the first thing I would say to my eleven-year-old son and my eight-year-old daughter when they awoke:
Chicago Public Schools budget cuts are nothing new, and it was hard to be surprised at the announcement in August that funding for more than 900 positions had been cut this year. What’s easy to miss in these continuing cuts is just how quickly important school resources can vanish. The presence of school librarians has been shown to improve everything from standardized test scores and childhood literacy rates to graduation rates and professional development, yet librarians have been disappearing from CPS.
On the afternoon of October 24, around 150 student activists and allies halted traffic on Michigan Avenue at Adams Street in front of the Art Institute of Chicago during a protest that called for improved funding practices for public higher education. Erica Nanton, an organizer and Roosevelt University alumna, quipped, “Paintings do not come before people.”
As I begin my twenty-first year as an educator, I can honestly say I’ve never before felt the need to defend my profession as I have the last few years. When I started teaching at 22, I got lots of praise for choosing this career. But these days, I’m always on the defensive against so many people who have a negative view of teachers in Chicago Public Schools.