“Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.” Malcolm X
By Rhonda Sherrod, J.D., Ph.D.
Our public education system is in crisis. In general, the nation is in crisis because we are being outpaced by other countries that are coming on strong academically. More specifically, the Black community is beyond the crisis point. As the popular axiom states, “When the country sneezes, Black America catches a cold.” In other words, whatever ails this nation is likely to constitute a much worse problem in traditionally oppressed communities. That is the result of more than 300 years of a lack of equal protection under the law.
There was a time when the elementary and secondary schools in Maywood were among the jewels of the state. Not very long ago, Proviso East High School was documented and acknowledged as one of the best public schools in the country. According to the 2012 Chicago Tribune High School Report Card presentation (and the State Board of Education), in the Spring of 2010*, a mere 1.6% of the juniors who took the ACT at Proviso East “scored high enough on at least three of the four parts of the ACT to be considered ‘college ready’ for key [college] freshman classes.”** (The data was “computed based on ACT scores for 97.4% of students taking the test” at the school.)
When I reflect upon the untold sacrifices that so many hard-working Black parents in the 1950s, 60s, and early 70s made to purchase a home in Maywood, for the express purpose of having access to excellent schools for their children, it makes me very sad to know what our public schools have devolved into. The school system was the primary asset that made Maywood so appealing. One of my elders told me there was a time when, “you barely had to send a transcript to a college” if you graduated from Proviso East because the school had such a sterling reputation.
Perhaps we need to reacquaint ourselves with the history and struggle of some of Maywood’s fine citizens. Many of the Black parents who came to Maywood to live were migrants from the brutal, illogical, hateful activities of the Jim Crow South where insecure Whites tried to truncate their talents, their dreams, their sense of self… their humanity. Many of these migrants had initially moved to Chicago, a large, vibrant city, because it had been touted as “The Promised Land” for Black people — particularly those living in Alabama and Mississippi.
Escaping through the portals of the US highway system and, later, by way of Interstates 65 and 57, respectively, (as well as the Illinois Central Railroad Line), Black people from the deep South found that, in fact, Chicago was not the exalted Promised Land as it had been billed. Instead, they discovered the wisdom of Malcolm X to be true. At some point, Malcolm astutely noted that, “…long as you’re south of the Canadian border, you’re South.” But the migrants were able to enjoy some modicum of freedom in Chicago and, in any event, anything was better than chafing under the irrational, bewilderingly racist behaviors of the southern practitioners of Jim Crow. Through hard work and thrift, the Black migrants in Chicago were able to create rich, vibrant communities that pulsated with the dynamic life that the South had tried to deny them — communities built with another exaction of blood, sweat, and tears. They realized that, although all was not as had been promised, still, they could make it.
As these newly minted Chicagoans began to stake their claims, settle into married life, and start their families, they began to perceive something rather insidious. Fully aware of the circumscribed educational opportunities from which they had fled, they began to see the handwriting on the wall as the “White flight” exploding all around them resulted in a diminution of services and proper staffing in the public schools. Even worse, the public high schools were becoming more and more infested with gangs and other negative elements that made it difficult for learning to take place.
So, they moved to the Village of Eternal Light, steadfast in the understanding that their children would not be denied access to an excellent education. Back then Black parents sometimes had to battle racism in the schools, in the form of certain teachers and counselors who operated with the racist (and false) assumption that their children were incapable of competing in elementary school District 89 or Proviso East, but that was a fight these Black parents were more than willing to have. After all, they had survived the Jim Crow South. So, engaging in principled advocacy and intelligently articulating sound arguments for the advancement of their children’s education was, quite simply, child’s play for these warriors.
Now, here we are in the year 2013, and District 89 leaves a lot to be desired. Proviso East (and West) leaves a lot to be desired, and, quite frankly, the Proviso Math and Science Academy (PMSA) is not operating at the standard that one would expect an “academy” or a magnet school to operate.*** According to the 2012 Report Card, the state has PMSA in “Academic Early Warning” status.
Now, I don’t doubt for one minute that there are teachers and administrators in all of the area schools who are dedicated and hard-working, and who are determined to extract the best out of their students. (And I firmly believe – no, I know – that our kids are smart, talented, and capable.) However, considering the fact that we have so many academic problems in D89 and at Proviso East, one can’t help but wonder if some people are, for whatever reason, slacking in both entities. That question needs to be investigated and, if there are some who are slacking, there needs to be proper remediation.
So, where do we go from here? Well, at the very least we must have school boards with intelligent, well-conceived, well-articulated visions for how to pull our schools out of the ditches they are in, and that operate with passion, energy, and innovative ideas. These boards need to focus like a laser with the overarching goal of transforming the academic culture so that most, if not all, of our students want to get the stellar education they need and deserve.
On April 9, 2013, the voters in Maywood (and surrounding municipalities) have an obligation to discharge. Now, it is your turn, Maywoodians, because we all have a part to play in upgrading the quality of life in our own community, and everyone knows that you can’t expect to have strong communities without good schools. We can keep running – farther and farther west – away from our livelihoods and the convenience of having ready access to the amenities of a cosmopolitan city. Or, we can make a decision to use the skills, talents, and intellect that our community elders invested so much energy into having us develop and govern ourselves intelligently. That’s right, we can engage in deliberate acts of self-determination. So, yes, it is your turn to act. While you ponder whether or not you are going to vote this election cycle, I ask you to take a minute and consider the following.
Everyone knows that in a so-called democracy it is a fundamental right of citizenship to vote, but it is even more meaningful than that for Black people. How many courageous Black lives have been lost in order for Black people to have the unfettered right to vote? How many Black people were wounded, maimed, disfigured, and beaten within an inch of their lives for Black people’s right to vote? How many Black people were evicted from their tenant shacks, run off their property, fired from their jobs (and derived of their meager hard-earned pay), or even run out of town because they had the audacity to hope and then to demand a simple, basic right of citizenship — the right to vote?
How many Black people were humiliated time and again as they sought a ballot? How many were degraded, spat upon, called “nigger,” kicked, slapped, punched, and threatened at gunpoint? How many were asked stupid, unanswerable questions (“How many bubbles are there in a bar of soap?”) as a precondition to getting a ballot while sick laughter abounded? How many were derided and shamed for not owning property, to pay a property tax on, in order to vote? How many were asked to pay an exorbitant poll tax, when they were already living a subsistence lifestyle, in order to vote? How many were asked to recite obscure sections of the state and/or federal constitution in order to get a ballot (things that, no doubt, the bigoted questioner could not have done if his life depended on it)? How many courageous Black soldiers died on the battlefields of America’s wars, defending a country that would not allow them or their family members to vote?
And now we don’t want to do something simple, but immensely consequential, like studying the issues and candidates and then casting votes for the proper governance of the schools that the children in our community attend? Knowing that now, more than ever, a good, solid education is crucial to the success of our children in this globalized society, you still don’t want to vote? Here we sit, near the edge of a world-class city (Chicago) that was first settled and founded by a Black man, Jean Baptiste Pointe DuSable, and you don’t believe our kids have a right to a quality education here? Indeed, we are residing in a village where Black people have laid down a firm legacy of hard work and sacrifice in order to succeed, and now we are… what? Tired? Deflated? Dejected? Disengaged? Really?
Well, the next time you part your lips to utter an exasperated comment about “these kids” who don’t respect you, just remember that they know that you don’t respect them either. If you did, you would at least try to see to it that they get the education they need; and one of the ways you can do that is by making sure that the best qualified of the group of people who are running for school board get elected to make the important decisions that affect our kids on a day-to-day basis. If we respected our kids and believed in their potential, the way that our elders believed in ours, we would not tolerate anything less than what we came to Maywood to get in the first place — a good, solid education.
Just as our elders saw Chicago change, Maywood has changed. The difference is that we have a large enough concentration of voters and enough knowledge about the process of governing in the North to exercise self-determination. We have come much too far to give up now. We need intelligent people on the school boards who are not beholden to anybody or anything, and who will act independently while using best practices to insure that our kids are being educated. The taxpayers in this town have every right to expect no less than that.
So, please, study the issues and the candidates and VOTE. Your voice matters and time is running out.
*Although the 2012 report cards for Illinois public high schools are readily available on the internet, the composite (as opposed to subject by subject) “college readiness” percentages for each school are still being reported for the year 2010 (by the Chicago Tribune). I attempted to get updated information from ACT regarding how many Proviso East students met the “college readiness” benchmark for 2012, however, the ACT representative I spoke with informed me that I had to be affiliated with the school in order to access school information. She insisted that “provisions in the contract” ACT has with the schools prohibit her from releasing any information to me.
**The ACT High School to College Success Report contains the following definition: “College Readiness refers to the level of student preparation needed to be ready to succeed – without remediation – in an introductory level course at a two or four-year institution, trade school, or technical school. A College Readiness Benchmark Score is the minimum score needed on an ACT subject-area test to indicate a 50% chance of obtaining a B or higher or about a 75% chance of obtaining a C or higher in the corresponding credit-bearing college courses. The corresponding credit-bearing college course used to determine College Readiness Benchmark Scores for English was College English Composition, for Math was College Algebra, for Reading was Social Studies, and for Science was College Biology.”
***According to its 2012 Report Card, PMSA did not make “Adequate Yearly Progress” (AYP). Also, according to the Chicago Tribune Report Card presentation, in 2010, at PMSA, 35.7% “of juniors scored high enough on at least three of the four parts of the ACT to be considered ‘college ready’ for key [college] freshman classes.” As a point of comparison, for example, the Tribune reports that at Whitney M. Young Magnet High School in 2010, 83.6% of the juniors were considered “college ready.” Additionally, for comparison, in 2010, at Oak Park and River Forest High School 53.2% of the juniors were considered “college ready.”
The Chicago Tribune notes that: “Reaching the ACT-college ready score shows that high school graduates have at least a 50 percent chance of getting a B or higher, or at least a 75 percent [chance] of getting a C or higher in an associated freshman class. (For example, the English ACT subtest corresponds to a freshman English Composition course.)”
Links for Proviso East High School (2012):
Links for the Proviso Math and Science Academy (2012):