As it often does, the most recent neighborhood education meeting I attend each month featured a representative from Chicago Public Schools. This man spoke for about twenty minutes and took a number of questions from the participants. It was a normal presentation aside from the subject matter: helping students cope with the upcoming school closings. A long, anxiety-producing process throughout the winter culminated in the announcement last month that 49 schools will be closed at the end of this academic calendar.
Displaced children and their families are now trying to understand their options and considering the consequences of their eventual decisions. How much farther will a child’s new school be from home? How welcomed will she be? What invisible lines now have to be crossed?
A few months back I attended a breakfast with other clergy from the South Side and the CEO of Chicago Public Schools. Dr. Byrd-Bennett is clearly an intelligent woman and very capable as the CEO; she said much during our breakfast that I appreciated. But there was this one thing… “Don’t forget,” she stated while discussing the upcoming school closings, “children are resilient!” Her point was simple: It’s unfortunate that we have to close these schools, but kids are tough and they will be just fine.
The representative at our neighborhood meeting said much the same thing even as he ran through a massive list of programs, initiatives, and strategies to help school children who are experiencing crisis. Crises like the school closings.
So which is it? Resilient or vulnerable and in need of systems and support during crisis?
Probably it’s both, though if we get clearer with our language we might be slower to talk about a young child’s resiliency. The more than 31,000 displaced students (8% of these are currently homeless) are experiencing the violence of the system in which they find themselves. Dr. Bryd-Bennett, Mayor Emmanuel, and the Chicago School Board would dispute it, but theirs are violent decisions. That they aren’t talked about as such only indicates the extent to which violence is normal, the currency of the powerful.
Of course, we can all sleep easier if we believe soothing truisms about the resiliency of the powerless.