Editorial: The hypocrisy of 'Choice' in Chicago's public schools

Two contrasting sets of events were on display in late January, and viewed clearly the two indicate just how much hypocrisy is being poured into Chicago's continuation of privatization, union-busting, and the repeated chanting of "Choice! Choice! Choice!" by our city's corporate school reformers. In both cases, parents clearly wanted to choose real public schools instead of the "New Schools" being forced down their throats (and the throats of their children) by the Daley administration and its corporate bankrollers. The most dramatic contrast between the wishes of families and the "Choice" crazies came on January 31. That day, three or four thousand Chicago families, after being harangued for weeks with robotic phone urging them to attend a thing called the "New Schools Expo" at Soldier Field ("Free parking!") wandered around a cavernous corporate space (United Airlines apparently owns it) getting pitched by charter schools and a handful of other "New Schools" entities. There were pep rallies and seminars on why Chicago's families should choose "Choice!" over public schools. The entire affair was pitched and executed like some major product introduction, say for a new brand of toothpaste.

At the same time, ten miles to the south at Ninos Heroes Elementary School in South Chicago, parents and students were repeating, for the third time, their unanimous choice of a school for themselves and their children. Chicago's Board of Education is poised to close Las Casas Occupational High School, the only public high school in Chicago providing a therapeutic environment for severely emotionally handicapped students. Everyone from the Las Casas community -- from Alderman Sandy Jackson to the President of the South Chicago Chamber of Commerce -- said "No!" to the closing of Las Casas. Yet a small but powerful cabal of people look to be poised to destroy Las Casas. The "independent" hearing officer for the Las Casas proposal had gone out of his way to paint the record in favor of the Board of Education proposal, despite the facts that all the facts (not to mention the wishes of the students and their families) point against the proposal to close Las Casas. Officials from CPS (mid-level $100,000-per-year bureaucrats) scrambled to make the absurd case that Las Casas was "too expensive" to continue to serve its students as a public school.

Fact is, Las Casas has proved best for these students, as the testimony proved over and over.

But the parents and students are not being give the choice of a public school. Instead, they are being forced out of a program that's been working and forced into a privatization scheme that many of them have already rejected.

Against the backdrop of the tragedy that looms for the people of Las Casas, the hugely subsidized orgy of "Choice! Choice! Choice!" is shown for the hypocrisy it represents. In Chicago, the majority of people have chosen the city's public schools. Only by relentless bullying -- and by spending millions of dollars in corporate backing -- can the "Choice" zealots get away with their privatization, charterization, and union busting schemes.


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