CN March 28, 2013

This week brought us the imagery of a large-scale rally in the Daley Center in opposition to Mayor Emanuel’s proposed closing of more the 50 elementary schools.

When the Mayor returned from vacation, he announced that the time for debate had ended, and that he was moving forward with the closings.  But there are still required public hearings for each school on the list. It’s highly doubtful, though, that the hearings will change policy.

“They had 28 public hearings in February,” explains Catalyst-Chicago’s education reporter Sarah Karp. “and now they’re gonna have 150-some public hearings. It kind of dilutes the opposition, because to some degree people feel, well, I was there, I went to two public hearings, my school’s still on the list, what more can I actually do?”

Despite opposition from the CTU and many community leaders, Karp says the record on past school actions hasn’t been positive. “I of course don’t know the future,” she says.  “I can say that in the past, we’ve closed about 73 schools over the past decade, and for our upcoming issue (of Catalyst) I did an analysis of the neighborhood schools that are now in the communities where those schools closed. And 2/3 or them are all-black, still racially isolated. They’re under-performing schools, the lowest rating CPS can give, and they’re under-utilized.”

Karp also explains that in certain parts of the city, such as in Lawndale, large numbers of charters have been opened in recent years. In fact, more than 50,000 charter seats have been added to the CPS roster in the past decade. “Did those charter schools make the neighborhood schools more competitive? Because that’s sort of the idea. You know, you bring in the competition. And it’s not happened, actually,” she reports. Instead, the traditional schools “just become less competitive because now they’re dealing with the kids that can’t get themselves to the charter schools.”

Mike Lenehan, author of Ramblers, also joins our panel this week to talk about his new book.

“Loyola is the only Illinois team to ever win an NCAA championship. They won it 50 years ago in a dramatic, very memorable, come-from-way-behind game against the two-time defending champions, and it was one of those memorable Chicago sports moments,” he explains. “But to me what makes it interesting is that Loyola was in the forefront of the racial change that basketball was undergoing at the time, and so was Cincinnatti, the team they played in the final.  So when people tuned into this game, they saw that most of the guys on the floor were black – seven out of ten – and that was a most unusual sight. It had never happened before at the tournament, and had probably never happened ever.”

The kind of racial change that exploded onto television screens during that tournament was historic, but critic and writer Neil Tesser, also joining our panel this week, says it was part of a pattern. “This had to come from sport,” he says. “Because sport  and the arts have always been the places where merit mattered more than color. And they’ve always been the places at the leading edge of integration.  Jackie Robinson in baseball, and this book about college basketball, which was hugely more popular than the professional game at that time.  And music – Benny Goodman and his Carnegie Hall concert in 1938.”

Lenehan relates an amazing, but long-forgotten episode in Mississippi, where informal policy maintained that no Mississippi state-supported teams were to play against integrated teams. But Mississippi did eventually play in a tournament. It just required sneaking the team out of the state to do it. And Lenehan says bringing black players into the game didn’t just change history – it changed the game.

“Before African-American players took their rightful place in the game it was a much slower, floor-bound game of patterns, and Xs and Os, and moving the ball and the bodies around in order to get a shot,” says Lenehan. “When black players came in and brought their athletic skills and playground sensibility to the game, that’s when things began to change. And I would argue that’s when basketball started to become this multi-gazillion-dollar conglomerate that it is today.”

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About Ken

Ken's the host of Chicago Newsroom. A former news director, reporter and radio program host, he's also a past Vice President of the Chicago Headline Club.
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