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Pump up the jam

May 7, 2010

We were rumbled by thunder all night. AJ apparently got up at 1:30 a.m. and stood at my elbow until Mr. Spy shagged him back to bed. I wouldn’t know. I slept through the whole thing.

This morning, the thunder had stopped, but the rain was still coming down hard, so I drove AJ to school. Driving down the winding roads of our neighborhood was like going through some preternaturally green cave. The huge bank of ancient lilacs that line the road where the mansion used to stand (our neighborhood was once the estate of a wealthy family you may have heard of) were bowed nearly double with the weight of their enormous blossoms and the rain filling them up. After I dropped AJ off, I scuttled off down a side street toward the supermarket. I passed a kid in AJ’s grade who was walking down the sidewalk in the chilly morning rain in just a T-shirt, his slicker off and tied around his waist by its sleeves, his face turned up to the sky. I remember doing that. I also remember the feeling of sitting through the morning in wet clothes, the way you’d slide around on your chair. The supermarket parking lot was so waterlogged that a muskrat was lumbering in and out of its puddles.

I came home to a full inbox. I’m getting emails from people I haven’t even heard of, all wanting to stage a peaceful protest. I’m learning that the email summaries I send out to my little group of parents of gifted students are getting forwarded and forwarded and forwarded again. The word, it is clear, is out. I’m still a little skeptical. These parents are angry and they want to say so. Maybe that’s enough for a protest, but I’m not so sure. I’d feel better if there were a clear set of goals. Building a consensus is likely to be a challenge. The discussion of when and where to do this is heated. Some think it should be on the local highway, where the greatest number of people will see it. Others think parents should stand in front of their neighborhood schools so people who live nearby but may not have kids in the district can see what’s happening. Others think it should be done at the next board of ed meeting, which we know the press and union reps will attend and where we would have a chance to speak to the board. Others feel that we need to make more of an effort to target the union, because they feel like that’s the main problem. Many think the kids should join the protest. Some think we should stage a mass signing out of the kids from the schools to do it, because that would get noticed. Others feel that taking the kids out of school is sending the wrong message about how we feel about public education.

It’s all very interesting. I have some opinions of my own, but I’m staying out of it for the moment and am just trying to listen to what everyone is saying. I do think that it’s important for the parents to make a public statement of some kind, to let everyone know that this matters intensely to us, and not just to the handful of parents who show up at the board meetings month after month. But what can we accomplish besides saying, “We’re here and we’re mad?” And some of this anger, at least, should be directed at the state of Illinois, which owes us millions of dollars. They didn’t cause this problem, but they have definitely accelerated it. How can we get them to pay attention? Is it even possible?

Last night was Open House night for all the K-4 schools in the district. It was cold, so we drove this year. It looked like any other open house, with groups of parents and grandparents walking at a reasonable pace while their children ran up and back and all around them like puppies, trying to move them along. We went first to AJ’s classroom, where a fabulous stack of work was piled up on his desk for us — research about the state of Illinois, creative writing assignments, his Flat Stanley project. We moved into the hallways and looked at all the incredible art projects, which lined the hallways and covered the walls of the gym. I wondered what next year’s Open House will look like, since the art teachers have been fired. AJ’s music teacher stood smiling in the hallway with the gym teachers talking to families as they walked by. They are all fired too. AJ’s music teacher changed her curriculum for the third grade for the next few weeks so she could teach them recorder. This usually happens in 4th grade, but they won’t get to do it next year, because there won’t be anyone to teach it to them. I stopped in the library to talk to the librarian to see if she’d heard about her classroom assignment for next year. She’ll be teaching 5th grade at the middle school. “How do you feel about that?” I asked. She taught lower grades a long time ago, but has been a librarian for the last 20 years. She’s only got a couple of more years to retirement. I know she’d been hoping she could at least stay at AJ’s school. “I really don’t know. It’s a big change. But at least now that I know, I can start thinking about it.” I told her the good news was that at least we’d get to see her again in a year.

We didn’t even stay for the raffle. We stopped in the cafeteria for ice cream, which this year had been donated by a local business. All around us was the normal Open House chatter. Talk of the schools’ problems is still happening in hushed tones, in corners where it might not be overheard.

Maybe it is time to make some noise.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. May 7, 2010 10:12 am

    Don’t be all Tea Party on ’em. You can say, “A pox on all of your houses” but have some plan in place, or something. Maybe you could get the money from the slush fund Blago had before he was impeached?

  2. freshhell permalink
    May 7, 2010 10:24 am

    Best of luck with that! I’d think the Board of Ed meeting (with press there) would get the biggest bang for everyone’s buck.

    There have been rumblings at our school about some teachers not being at the school next year – last in/first out – which may include Red’s teacher. She was apparently all ready to teach at another school last fall when she was yanked out and sent to B-dam. And now she may be out of a job. Not sure. I don’t know what’s going on anymore. Our budget woes are not as bad as yours but this kind of change is not good for anyone.

    Also I wish you’d send some of that rain down our way. I’m thinking it’s never going to rain again here.

  3. Eleanor permalink
    May 7, 2010 11:10 am

    It is definitely time for some kind of action. Are the parents writing letters to the their government representatives? Are they bombarding the local newspapers with letters to the editor? Often people will expect someone else to organize for them instead of taking the initiative to do things on their own. There is much individuals can do, and then there are things groups can do. I wish you luck with this.

  4. May 7, 2010 12:20 pm

    You might start with the board meeting. I agree that you need some goals. Getting the union to back down seems unlikely, as does getting the state to find money for you. Choosing two to three goals however, even if they’re more protest than optimistic, might be easier than consensus on one. Parents can make signs supporting their choice of cause but all wear red in solidarity so they can be identified.

    Try to look at the big picture and see that there are tons of parents who care and that getting them involved might just be the best goal of all. Eventually these parents might need to divide up (by their chosen goal) to truly work towards providing the service they miss most without the school’s help. It will take a lot of volunteers to provide music, art and books, as well as supplementary programs like gifted projects. The public library might be willing to provide several boxes of books each week (and a parent might bring them to the school and see that teachers get them and can check them out to kids). A parent might be willing to pull together a school play or other performance before the holidays. Those people are out there but they don’t yet know what they’re capable of doing. If they get riled up and you can focus their anger into productive ideas for them, you’ll have done a huge service EVEN IF the current services aren’t improved by the county/state.

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