Wednesday, September 4, 2019

No, this will not be on the test.

     Hi kids! How was school? Hope you had a good first day. Hope the rain didn’t mess things up too much.
     Kidding. I know students don’t read the newspaper. Not when they can endlessly flip through Instagram posts on their smartphones and check out what their friends are doing.
     So OK, none of the some 360,000 students enrolled this year in Chicago’s 642 public schools are reading this. A shame. Because if I remember correctly, students can feel cut off. I wish they knew they are actually a major force in the city, by numbers alone: 13 percent of Chicago residents are enrolled in the Chicago Public Schools. If CPS were itself a city, it would be almost as populous as Cleveland which, with 385,000 residents, just nudges past. Fold in Catholic schools, and the “City of Chicago Students” becomes the 47th largest city in the country, surpassing Oakland or Minneapolis.
     See what you miss, not reading the paper? OK, you don’t see. A survey last year found only 2 percent of American teens read the newspaper.
     Who are these people? As with any large city, CPS is too vast to generalize, ranging from 3-year-olds in pre-kindergarten programs excited to learn about the color blue to 18-year-olds learning to fertilize with fish poop (not a made-up example: the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences in Mount Greenwood had four large tanks, raising tilapia, when I visited. The wastewater was being used to nourish the school’s crops).
     From elite high schools like Northside College Prep, where it is not unknown for suburban families to lie about their addresses, trying to sneak in students, to Consuella B. York Alternative High School, which families work equally hard to keep their kids out of: it’s the high school inside Cook County Jail.
     Whatever grade or school, just paying attention in class can seem a lot to ask. To also follow the news is a bridge too far. I get that. The news is so chaotic and ... granular. It unfolds so slowly. Nothing like a video game, where you hurtle through a colorful tube of geometric shapes flying at you and then on to the next, even harder level. That’s accomplishing something!

To continue reading, click here.


  1. I was an administrative assistant (when and why did secretary become a pejorative?) in my work life. I once worked for a man who was without a doubt the worst writer in the world (he once wrote that he had to clearly clarify something). Anyway, one of his sentences went on and on and on, and I just couldn't get it under control and edit it to be understandable. Then I remembered something from like 6th grade: sentence diagramming. I did a pretty decent job of breaking down the sentence: subject, verb, object, adjectives, adverbs, independent clauses, etc. It wasn't perfect, but I was able to figure out what the hell he was trying to say. I'm sure, sitting in Sister Charlene's class in 1957, I thought “when will I ever need this?” And there you are.

  2. Today’s column hit very close to home. I teach an Introduction to Healthcare course as an adjunct professor at a local community college. Needless to say, current events in healthcare should be a key part of the course. Every term I ask the twenty or so students how many read the local paper. If three or more say they do, that’s a lot. I then ask them if they vote. Most say they do. Then I ask, how do they know for whom to vote. Blank stares.

  3. According to my calculations, you needed 3.72 cubic yards of dirt to fill that hole. Am I close?

  4. I read the paper when I was in school, but I also delivered it. And I must admit that I was not a very discriminating reader, as even at age 17, I didn't know that the Tribune was a conservative paper and cited it as a model of decorum and propriety in writing to the Editor of the San Diego Union.


  5. I learned some German in school and didn't have to use it for about 30 years, until we got old school German anti-Semitic graffiti on the premises. I was able to translate it! (No, dammit, the leader is not always right.)

    Calculus is useless.

    1. Mr. Creosote: Calculus is actually quite useful for physics and some of the other sciences. What's useless IMO is the math that lies beyond calculus, like set theory and matrices and a whole lot of other stuff I forgot about an hour after the final exam. They're interesting in a sort of puzzle-solving way, at least if you're nerdy enough, but have no practical application that I could ever see.

  6. The 360,000 students enrolled this year in Chicago’s 642 public schools can share, along with Cleveland, the dubious distinction of being residents of "The Incredible Shrinking City." With 385,000 residents, Cleveland has lost about half its population since the early Seventies. Chicago's schools have lost nearly 30% of their enrollment during that period...down from about a half-million in the early Seventies. Do they still make kids learn all the verses of "America the Beautiful" and the national anthem, like they did sixty years ago? I doubt it.


Comments are vetted and posted at the discretion of the proprietor.