Saturday, March 30, 2013

The media and the CPS closings

I don’t read Ben Joravsky or Mike Dumke as religiously as I used to-partly because I now get from other sources the information I used to only get from them, and partly because I could write the commentary myself at this point. For the same reason I don’t read Noam Chomsky as closely as I once did. So I didn't get to Mike Dumke's column right away this week: it features a brief interview with Toni Periwinkle.  Periwinkle is what passes for progressivism in Chicago these days—she seems honest, she does what she says or at least looks like it. She’s a sensible person pursuing sensible policies--for a politician she is popular and I would guess she has the highest approval rating of any elected official in Cook County.  In the interview she calls out a variety of city polices, including the CPS closings but I was most struck most her comments that she had been practically told-by somebody working in CPS administration--that there seemed to be a plan to weaken public schools. Here you have a elected--in a major leadership role—Democratic official stating what has been suggested by some as a conspiracy theory, that in Chicago you have a Democratic Mayor who is wants to destroy arguably the most important public program that a city runs.

Ben and Mike's work stand out because of their tireless work to expose the power structures in the city, to reflexively question city hall. Unfortunately, this is not typical. Since the city announced the closure list most reporters have parroted the city’s line, it’s about underutilization, it’s about saving money, it will be better to have less schools; I'm waiting for ignorance through strength to come any day now.

That Chicago schools are a disaster and in need of drastic measures to save it--remember how we had to destroy the village to save it?--is a line that never gets old. In fact, it would appear at this point to be a plan. Some have pointed out that it’s kind of strange that the current mayor praises so highly the former mayor, who had complete control over the school system and prided himself on it, but not does not seem to think too highly of the school system that was left behind.  Prominent CPS officials have gone on to other prominent education positions, Paul Vallas in Phillidelpia and New Orleans, Arne Duncan as the Secretary of Education Did the cities that hired Vallas think Chicago schools were such a mess?  Did the President of the United States think the CPS that Arne Duncan left behind was so awful?

Another reporter who questions CPS includes Steve Rhodes of the Beachwood Reporter. Some time back he had a fun discussion with Becky Carroll--CPS communications officer--about school closings.  The highlight of an amazing exchange on Facebook has to be when Carroll tells Rhodes she had no idea how "f-Ed it's (CPS) been."  Professionalism in action folks! Although it wasn't advertised by her, Rhodes notes Carroll is a CPS graduate and worked in the Daley office. She seems to be going ok, guess she just made it through the system somehow.

Almost as bad as CPS talking points has been the media embrace of the Rahm-against-Lewis line. This was actually the question in an NBC poll, and most media have been asking questions of either the Mayor’s office or the CTU. Lewis has been lauded by the the left for her stands as CTU president, and there is no doubt she has been an effective leader-witness the successful strike last year. But anti-union feelings run strong these days and even among CTU supporters she is not universally loved. Pitting her against Rahm is City Hall framing, because this puts the conflict between the (seemingly smooth, calm) white guy against a (seemingly) always angry, aggressive African-American women. That's a battle Rahm might win.
Now, obviously CTU is a significant stakeholder in this (as are janitors, cafeteria workers, social workers to name but a few more) but the largest stakeholders are families--specifically the kids and their parents. Generally speaking families in CPS are supportive of the CTU-please does anybody think the strike last year would have been pulled off if this was not the case? Nevertheless City hall is well aware that Rahm against families will not play as well as Rahm against that uppity lady running the CTU (you know they think that even if they are smart enough not to say it). It is nearly impossible for anybody to feel sympathy for Rahm and he is certainly not going to appear sympathetic compared to the kids-especially the homeless ones, the special education ones--and their parents who have packed the "community outreach" meetings that he and his staff never attended.

Interestingly enough while CPS was in essence a no-show during the "community outreach" meetings, while Rahm thought it was ok to be on vacation during the announcement of the closings, CPS has been trying to promote itself. As serious as their budget problems are, they are putting money into online advertising. Not for everybody mind you but for those of us that are particularly interested (that is those of us who apparently show up when the internet algorithm looks up "CPS). Just recently I noticed, in a variety of non-Chicago based online sites, CPS advertising. This is crazy-just what does CPS think advertising is going to do, and more importantly who is paying for this? (I plan to file a FOIA to try to find out).

It is possible for the media to be useful, an example of what they can do if they try is Linda Lutton at WBEZ who does exactly that here. If we had a media that did what they they were supposed to do, that is that challenged the powerful, everybody would understand CPS closing have nothing to do with any of the talking points they have been giving out. And we'd have a much better city.

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