How Chicago Public Schools Failed Me (and So Many Others)

I often get into conversations with individuals regarding where they plan to send their children for high school. During these conversations it is difficult for me to grit my teeth and not give my personal opinion of Chicago public schools (CPS) as a whole. I want to say to these people, “wherever you send them its just a different name for the same subpar educational institution.” Actually sometimes I do tell them and that’s why I can’t make friends. Nevertheless, I have good reasons for my disdain of CPS.

A Good Start and Flawed Policies
I was actually lucky that I went to a decent grammar school for grades 1-6. Teachers at Chappell Elementary cared about their students and weren’t focused on teaching to the least common denominator. Aside from administrative staff that were less than kind to us (I will never understand how adults can be mean to children) the school was definitely a place you’d want to send your child. However, all that changed when my mother moved to the Roger’s Park neighborhood and I was forced to go to Senn High school, which had grades 7-8 in addition to housing a high school. Chicago at that time mandated that students had to attend schools in their neighborhood (I believe this has changed recently).

Senn: Hellish Prison or Prisonish Hell? Discuss.
Senn at that time was more of a primer to jail than an institution of learning. From my first day at the school I realized that a majority of the students were bused in from the impoverished neighborhoods of Chicago. I suppose this was an honest effort to help them avoid subpar schools in their own areas. However, the unintended effect of bussing was to spread underprivileged children to schools unprepared to meet their needs. Needless to say that gang fights, drug sales, and shootings were common at Senn.

At Senn I experienced the very worst of what CPS had to offer. Senn had no windows outside of the classrooms, no AC, and lunch periods that resembled bacchanals in hell. Additionally, my “peers” were allowed to disrupt classes at will and with complete impunity. I remember getting into at least 3-5 fights per year at Senn. At one point I was told by a school administrator to not show “fear” or that other students would take advantage. As Hobbes would say, life at Senn was  “nasty, brutish, and short.”

I had to put up with teachers who weren’t much better. Each teacher was special in their own unfortunate way: some teachers slept, some teachers read newspapers, and some teachers just left the classroom for an entire period. Truly, with the students who existed at Senn at that time, most teachers would not have been able to do their job anyhow. Overall the school was a disappointment and an injustice to everyone who stepped into its dark corridors.

I ended up transferring to a high school in my old neighborhood after finding someone who let me pretend that I lived with them. At that point I was a “demo” sophomore and nearly 18 years old. Unfortunately Senn had done its damage and after 2 years of continuously failing grades I dropped out of high school in 2003.

Times are different now in Chicago. In addition to regular CPS schools we now have charter schools and more magnet schools than before. Getting into these schools can be tricky. If your child is smart enough he can test out of his local area school and into a charter/magnet school. Also, you can try your luck with the lottery system some charters/magnets have and perhaps get your kid into a better school that way.

Needless to say most of those with means avoid this whole game and just put their children into private schools. Knowing what I went through, if I can afford it, I also plan to put my child into a private school. If it is an option to avoid CPS schools (and their 34% high school dropout rate) then I do not see why I would even give it a second thought.

Ultimately I was able to graduate college and get my masters and I am very proud of that fact. However, I was the exception to an all-too-common rule and I do not want my struggle to be my child’s as well. I want my child to do well because of the solid foundation I laid for him and I never want to say, “my child did well despite going to CPS.”

And with enough hard work on my part I won’t ever have to…





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