Inspired by C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, the Staples Letters are a series of essays in the Weekly written in the form of letters from a veteran teacher, Staples, giving advice to a young teacher, Ms. T. All events in the Staples Letters are drawn directly from real-life experiences in Chicago schools, and names and identifying details have been removed in the interest of privacy. Though fictional in form, the letters are used to address a variety of issues in education, from quotidian classroom considerations to national policy.
On Wednesday, June 13, the 8th grade class from Philip D. Armour Elementary gathered in the backroom of Bridgeport Coffee, five blocks north on Morgan Street from their school building, to celebrate the maps they had created of Bridgeport. For eight weeks, in collaboration with the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum at the University of Illinois at Chicago, the students had perused archival collections of Bridgeport and other neighborhoods and learned about the ways in which maps represent communities. “Mapping the Neighborhood,” the name of their exhibition, featured maps of varying scale, focus, and artistic style in an attempt to answer a question: how is Bridgeport changing?
Last August, the Illinois General Assembly passed SB 1947, an education funding bill aimed to make funding more equitable, which also allotted $75 million towards a tax credit scholarship program for low-and middle-income students. Added as a compromise amendment to SB 1947 and called the Invest in Kids Act, the state’s first tax credit scholarship program is, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, one of the largest in the United States. With the new bill, low- and middle-income students can now pursue private educational opportunities—instead of being limited to attending an underperforming public school district in Illinois—through donations from families or corporations to one of Illinois’ nine Scholarship Granting Organizations (SGOs). SGOs then portion out their donated funds to cover all or most of the cost of tuition for low- and middle-income students who apply for these private school scholarships.
The charter school movement—which largely started in the 1990s with earnest mom-and-pop efforts to provide quality alternative education options—has resulted in a system of “educational sharecropping” for many of Chicago’s students of color, David Stovall argues in a new essay. A professor of educational policy and African-American studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Stovall traces in his essay efforts on the part of business interests, political opportunists, and outright criminals to decentralize the city’s public education system and spread the use of charters, largely on the South and West Sides.
Three students—an apprentice violin-maker, a veteran, and an aspiring novelist—sit around a sparse but cozy room in a college residence hall in west suburban Naperville. The eclectic trio makes up about one-tenth of the student body of what is now called the Shimer Great Books School, a program of North Central College and the latest iteration of a storied 165-year-old Illinois institution. Just this past September, campus building Seybert Hall became Shimer’s central administrative locale after the school was acquired by North Central. Prior to that, it independently operated as its own accredited institution for about a decade while renting space on the Illinois Institute of Technology’s (IIT) Bronzeville campus.
Inspired by C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, the Staples Letters are a series of essays in the South Side Weekly written in the form of letters from a veteran teacher, Staples, giving advice to a young teacher, Ms. T. All events in the Staples Letters are drawn directly from real-life experiences in Chicago schools, and names and identifying details have been removed in the interest of privacy. Though fictional in form, the letters are used to address a variety of issues in education, from quotidian classroom considerations to national policy.
In my first few years of teaching, I loved my students so much that it seemed almost impossible for any other educator to care about their kids more than I did. But after having children of my own, I realized that while I still love my students, I’ll always love my own children more. Although I’ll always go way above and beyond for my students, there is nothing that I wouldn’t do for my own children.
I don’t say these things lightly. I’ve made a conscious effort to work for my students and the community. I’ve constantly worked to create a curriculum that teaches my students to question power structures and to work to create change when inequalities exist. I’ve written countless articles about my students and ways to improve our schools. I’ve been arrested for fighting to keep Chicago Public Schools (CPS) from closing fifty schools in 2013. At times, this commitment to my students has put me at odds with my administration, incited fear of write-ups, and produced threats from strangers. These risks sometimes make me question my desire to defend my students.
But like any parent, I would do anything for my own children, risk more, and ignore idle threats. My drive to protect my children and their well-being, education, and opportunities is stronger than anything I’ve ever experienced. It’s like that moment when you have children of your own and finally realize how much your parents actually love you. It is a window into the emotions of a decade’s worth of my former students’ parents. I now know more completely what those parents wanted for their kids, and wonder if I had fought hard enough. Did I fight as hard as I would have for my own kids?
During my first year of teaching in Chicago Public Schools, at Corliss High School in Pullman, a colleague and I started a boys’ volleyball team. We had only three volleyballs for practice, but the biggest problem I had was an essential one—I had a net that could not be raised.
In 2013, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) closed fifty public schools largely on the South and West Sides—the largest school closing in a single city in American history. Four months before, trying to head off the public backlash that quickly followed regardless, the district self-imposed a five-year moratorium on school closings. That moratorium lifted this year and in March, CPS consolidated four Englewood high schools into one and voted to close the level 1+-rated National Teachers Academy (NTA) elementary school to turn it into a neighborhood high school for the South Loop and Chinatown.