Monday, September 08, 2008

Queers, Safety, and Schools

A proposal for Pride Campus, an open admission public high school that will implement a college prep curriculum in all subject areas, was approved by the CPS Office of New Schools last week. The school will serve LGBTQA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, questioning and allied, according to the school’s planners) students from all over the city.

The Greater Lawndale Little Village School for Social Justice submitted the proposal to the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) Office of New Schools for the Social Justice High School-Pride Campus.

A CPS community hearing about Pride Campus will be held Thursday, Sept. 18, 6-8 PM, 2008 at the Center on Halsted, 3656 N. Halsted. If, after the hearing, CPS gives the school its final approval, Pride Campus will open in 2010. No location has been selected for Pride Campus yet.

I have to admit I have mixed feelings about the school. I understand that schools can be lethal and are often dangerous and scary for queer and queerish kids; all the stats support that. And as a girl who liked to hold hands with other girls, hung out with drama-kids, and dressed like a freak in high school, I was called dyke and other lesbian-baiting names, shoved into lockers, and had bottles thrown at me; I hated most of my time at high school (I always loved drama club), barely graduated, and would have gladly escaped to another, safer, place if one had been available.

I became an educator, in part, to create schools that are not just healthy and safe places for all students, but joyous, art-rich, and vibrant zones where all kinds of people encounter and learn about and from each other. I know this is possible, and it is public education at its best. From this perspective, the idea of a Pride Campus prompts questions:

  • With the advent of Pride, what happens to the queer and otherwise non-conforming kids left behind in all the other schools? Shame?
  • Will Pride Campus let CPS continue to avoid really making sure all schools respect and care for all students?
  • Will schools push their trannies, fags, and dykes out to Pride Campus, rather than work with their teachers, parents and students to develop an inclusive educational culture?
  • Is the school a retreat, really, an admission of systemic failure to love our queer youth?

It seems to me that Pride Campus is still a “choice” school, one that plays to the fantasy that we can all just choose our ways into better situations, and those left behind, who just didn’t choose as well as we, aren’t our concern. It’s exclusionary, in this case, not because it requires high SATs or signed contracts for admission, but because it asks for a declaration of identity/affiliation that many youth just can’t make.

If we have given up on the big job of building a society, or even a city school system, that actively recognizes everyone’s rights, why settle for a queer day campus? Maybe we should demand a Pride Boarding School, a 24 hour safe zone, a home for all the LGBTQ kids thrown out by parents, forced to attend “ex-gay” Christian camps, afflicted by abstinence programs that ignore their existence, subjected to “marriage is for a man and a woman” speeches by politicians and preachers. Let’s make it big, let’s take over city hall, hey, how about declaring the whole city a Pride Campus?

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Art Education for the Exclusive Few

The exclusive, albeit nominally public Chicago High School for the Arts is scheduled to open in fall 2009, according to a recent Chicago Reader article.

It will be a “contract" school as part of Chicago’s Renaissance 2010 program, and highly selective—students will be chosen on the basis of audition, academic record, and “potential” (whatever that means). The school will also be able to hire uncertified, nonunion teachers, and will not have a Local School Council (LSC). In other words, it’s business as usual for Chicago’s unelected CPS CEO Arne Duncan, and more to the point, Mayor Daley, who apparently likes keeping the city’s good stuff for a rarified few, even when it’s funded publicly.

Rev. Meeks has it right—all Chicago’s children deserve a top quality education, and this long-awaited public school for the arts should be open to all, regardless of prior opportunities. How about this for a plan?

Next year, a roaring river of Chicago’s young artists and creative youth should show up at the school’s doors and demand a seat, an instrument, a palette and paints, and the stage—this school should be for you, all of you, so take it!