Is it just me, or are you also finding yourself thinking, “Wow, there sure is a lot of bonkers political junk threatening to jack my kid’s education these days”?
Of course there’s dumb stuff like arguments about whether or not kids should be told the truth about their bodies in sex ed (duh, yes). There are national conversations about whether art matters that make this artist mama want to open up her bottom lip and swallow her own head (and film it, because that would be a killer piece). And, hilariously, there are earnest discussions about whether or not kids should be allowed recess (because, really, why would an 8 year old have trouble sitting still for 6 hours? headdesk). Weird as this all is, I don’t find it nearly as frightening as the question many families are facing. Namely, “are they going to take my kid’s school away?”
As a mom in Chicago, I knew finding a school that’s a good fit for Ida would be challenging. Hell, I’ve considered homeschooling as a possibility. School is a huge factor in where and when my partner and I are trying to buy a house or apartment; now, in a good neighborhood school attendance boundary – Pierce, Chappell – I’m looking at you. But behold! A new level of mayhem! Because school officials (oh! Hey, Rahm Emanuel!) have decided to close a bunch of allegedly underperforming neighborhood schools – a whopping 13 percent of schools in the district. In fact, the school that our current apartment puts us within the attendance boundary for is closing. This is not a huge deal for my family right now, but if I bought a house in/for a school district and that school closed? I would throw a tantrum that would scare the pants off my 3-and-a-half year old. And her tantrums are (I’m sorry, I have to) tantamount to none.
In the bigger picture, some families are left with no choice but to send their kids traveling across busy streets and through competing gang territories to get to whatever new school they’re assigned to. These school closings will create veritable school deserts akin to the food deserts that also plague many of these same neighborhoods. I don’t know much, but I know that’s way too many deserts for anyone living in an urban metropolis to deal with. The kids most severely affected by these closures are the children of parents without the resources either financially or otherwise to get their kids into better schools. Some of the neighborhoods desperately need the anchor and even the community space that the school provides. Isn’t stopping this kind of bullshit why we decided, you know, as a nation way back in the day, that public school was a good idea? After a while, we even decided to let the ladies participate!
And then there’s this gem. At least two Indiana Head Start programs held a lottery to determine which three-dozen unlucky 3 and 4 year olds would be kicked out of preschool. Yeah, you read that right. Head Start’s budget was cut, so, you know, what can you do? Uh, I’d like to suggest doing almost ANYTHING ELSE rather than randomly putting the kibosh on a tiny child’s education. Can you imagine the childcare nightmare that suddenly fell into the laps of those parents? Can you imagine explaining to your baby why she can’t play with her friends at school anymore? “Some rich, powerful grownups decided that you’re not worth it, sweetheart. Now chin up! Follow your dreams! Contribute to the world!”
In the midst of this, I’m thinking a lot about the way that leaders are so quick to bolster their arguments for financial reform and social policy – anything really – by reminding us that we’ve got to think about the children. I don’t think anybody ever got elected by saying “You know what? Fuck those kids. Fuck their working moms. Fuck families!” But behold, here we are. I’m not sure how else to take these stories about the state of the mere availability to education – we’re not even talking quality here – other than as a big fat “fuck you” to moms, dads, kids and the communities we live in.
And I know I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I can’t imagine a mother raising her had to vote for kicking kids out of preschool. It’s time. It’s past time. We need to get louder, stronger, and become the people in charge. Because I’m not okay with living in a world where our kids’ educations are expendable. And just like I told my husband when he pondered aloud concerning the price of batteries for the mechanical swing which was the only place Ida slept for more than 20 minutes during her first months of life: I don’t care what it costs – it’s worth it.