In Chicago, we grew up hearing that Chicago is “a city of neighborhoods,” a patchwork of tightly knit, culturally distinct, and ethnically proud communities that together make up our city. While this may be an idealized re-definition of segregation, no matter where you live, you belong to a community. This attack on the most important of neighborhood institutions has left us collectively demoralized. We see ourselves on the nightly news, segregated, characterized by crumbling schools and random violence.
Despite our pride at the notion of being a unique “city of neighborhoods,” people all over the country know about community. It’s sometimes hard to describe as it shifts imperceptibly over the years. But we feel it, and we are bound to protect it.
The divide-and-conquer strategy of closures pits school against school. In this latest round, the initial hit list of 230 schools was pared to 120, then to 61, and eventually 50, while everyone waited anxiously, breathing a sigh of relief if their school was taken off the list.
Sadly, our neighborhood middle school was not spared, although its closure was postponed for one year so the current class could graduate. Miriam Canter Middle School was named for a local activist who envisioned a racially and economically diverse school dedicated to kids precariously perched between childhood and full-fledged teen madness. Many of the devoted teachers at Canter live in the community. Last month, an article in The Nation recounted the hearings that drew hundreds of weeping teens, angry parents, and concerned community members demanding to know why they would close such a clearly successful school.