Thursday, October 22, 2009

Compounded Disinterest -OR- Unsweet Caroline

Where it began? Before my time. Above my pay grade. Was in the winter. Then in the spring? Then came a summer. fall.winter, spring, summer, fall, winter, spring, summer, fall, winter,spring,summer, fall, winter, spring,summer. fall.winter, spring, summer, fall, winter, spring, summer, fall, winter,spring,summmer, fall, wintersummer. fall.winter, spring, summer, fall, winter, spring, summer, fall, winter,spring,summmer, fall, winter, spring, summer. fall.winter, spring, summer, fall, winter, spring, summer, fall, winter,spring, summmer, fall, winter, spring, summer. fall.winter, spring, summer, fall, winter, spring, summer, fall, winter,spring,summmer, fall, winter....

Prior to December 4th, 1969 Proviso Township High School had issues. The events of Chicago in 1968 caused a regional exodus. Invasion/Succession aka White Flight was a pandemic. Locally, American and Continental Can companies had shuttered their Maywood operations. Western Electric's Hawthorne Works began its downsizing vanishing act. Many of Chicago's ethnic enclave neighborhoods moved en masse away from the source of their fears creating new ethnic suburbs and subdivisions. They left behind empty storefronts and never looked back except to confirm how the old neighborhood had fallen.

Within the larger instability, Proviso High School tried to pretend it would all blow over. After all, their concern was limited to grades 9 through 12. Their function was to prepare a largely blue collar region's students for the workforce. Like many high schools in similar circumstances in the area, each day was a series of small vignettes played out between black/white, old/young, predator/prey. In the larger community it was mere uncertainty. Confined within school walls where the focus was focus, condensed dramas were daily experiences.

Between that Tuesday and Wednesday in December everything changed. Proviso graduate Fred Hampton was killed, assassinated, murdered by the police in his apartment on Chicago's West side. When School opened on Wednesday everybody in the pressure cooker of Proviso East high school lost their minds. A full week of tension followed. Exacerbated by attempts to dismiss, downplay and ignore reality and pretend that everything was normal. Of course, it was normal to have armed troops
in and around the school building. Of course it was normal to turn what could/should have been a teaching moment happening in an educational institution into an authoritarian nightmare. Fuggedabotit! We won't discuss it, talk about it, and students are ORDERED to stop immediately, sit down, shut up and learn!

What's the big deal? It was the 60s fergawdsake! Crap like this happened. Get over it! What does that have to do with anything today? What's different about Proviso?

Good questions. Ones you might think would be of interest to the community, but nearly 40 years after the fact, nobody with a platform is asking. The community in this case is actually 10 stand-alone incorporated communities who are still not talking about what happened 40 years ago.

Since that "fire drill" in December of 1969 after which half the students didn't return when the school reopened in January, half have remained missing and the administration still isn't talking about it.

40 years ago, in time of great upheaval, they circled their wagon. Proviso East was ceded, but THEY still controlled the district. Lucky for them to have had the foresight to build Proviso West. East for THEM and West for US? That "policy" bought 10 more years, until a federal judge ordered the district to reconcile the racial disparity between the two schools.

In what might well be the most bizarre resolution/justification ever accepted, the district told the judge they would move the boundary between the two schools and white flight would take care of the imbalance. On paper, the schools confirm that prediction. Both schools are 90%+ minority. In the district at-large, the population hovers around a 50-50 split. No fewer than a dozen private high schools encircle the district to service the customer base. Finally, five years ago, the district facing the extreme sanctions and consequences of NCLB, opened a magnet high school (to postpone/delay NCLB accountablity) and creamed the crop.

Lest you think I'm just a crank... 15 years ago, before "Friday Night Lights" made him a celebrity writer, H.G. Bissenger graced no less than the NY Times Sunday Magazine with We're ALL Racist Now. That "expose'" prompted much agita and oration signifying nothing. Solving nothing. Offering NOTHING.

Bloody. Scar and scab-covered. and still mostly toxic, the schools remain. Brownfields of education through which children without options still pass. Not surprisingly, a very small number of each year's crop beat the odds and secure their own education within the wasteland. The A students, who would do well anywhere, can and do manage.

Next question? Why do the people put up with it? The short answer THEY DON'T. They buy their way around it. They move away from it. They drop-out and get G.E.D. diplomas. Unfortunately, the legal challenges to rectification are insurmountable.
Legislatively, you just can't allow people to change things on a whim. You can't have them tearing down institutions that don't work, can't work and can't be fixed, because that might threaten the whole structure.

Proviso High School District 209 will continue to exist because it exists and is protected by law from external forces. "If everyone just sent their kids there, it would be an average, typical high school.", but that's not likely to happen... ever.
It's a poison well. Would you send your child to drink from it?

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