Hoping for the Best; Planning for the Worst

What to Do Now If You're a Chicago Public Schools Parent

I’m a parent of two kids in Chicago Public Schools (CPS). It looks dire right now for public schools in Illinois. The governor and legislature seem locked in a Game of Thrones type last man standing battle, with parents and kids caught in the crossfire. With no education budget passed, and CPS on the hook for billions in pension payment obligations, the system is near collapse. Just this week, the CPS CEO, Forrest Claypool, said without a budget, schools will not open in the fall. There’s a lot of chatter in parent circles about moving to the suburbs, or even out of state. That’s not a viable option for many families, including us, so what options are left?

Mind you, I’ve been involved with a group of parents and education activists working tirelessly advocating for new revenue streams from both the city of Chicago and the state to plug the financial hole crater that is Illinois right now. I’d like to hold out hope that all the daily calls, petitions, marches, and visits to legislators’ offices is doing something, but I’m deeply skeptical that politicians, in an election year (is there ever NOT an election year?) will play political games instead of doing what’s in the best interest of average citizens.

So what’s a parent to do? I’ve been thinking about a viable Plan B. One which addresses the scenario that either schools don’t open, or they are open but with deep cuts meaning teacher layoffs, greatly increased class size, and loss of many extra-curricular and elective subjects. In that scenario, would some kind of home-school option be the best way to proceed? Like I said, we aren’t in a position to move, nor switch to a private school. I’ve been mulling the idea of home-schooling off and on for over a year now. Since I’m a stay-at-home parent, the logistics of it would be feasible. I’m aware that for many, home-schooling isn’t a feasible option due to not having the luxury of a caregiver with built-in downtime. I’ve also gotten over the common fears around home-schooling – that it is intimidating for non-teachers, hard to develop a curriculum, fears that kids will fall behind their peers, lack of social interaction, and on and on. I’ve become convinced that children naturally desire to learn things, and that given the freedom to choose their own adventure, will thrive and be successful in the long run just like everyone else. There is even a name you can assign to this mindset: self-directed learning.

What would that look like in practice? Well, I’ve been compiling a list of options including the library, museums, free workshops, Minecraft, coding, and lots of other things dredged up online. Heck, my kids could probably get by on Minecraft and YouTube alone. YouTube, by the way, is the greatest knowledge bank storehouse ever created. Have a question? Someone has probably made a “How To” video answering that question. Or if it’s not on there, it’ll likely be on sites like Quora or Wikipedia.

Now comes the interesting part. Let’s say you either have a work stoppage or the system is flat out too broke to open schools in the fall. That probably means a lot of teachers aren’t getting a paycheck and are looking to supplement their income. What if you put a few of these teachers together armed with some of the tools I just mentioned. Give them a lot of creative leeway unbound from the strictures of bureaucracy, mandatory grades and testing, and see what they could do. Is it scalable? No. Will it be equitable? No. But it might be a tiny model of what an enormously broken, incompetent, fiscally and morally bankrupt system could be if you strip away almost everything and leave behind the pure freedom to learn.

I am putting Plan B into place. What’s your plan?

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