I sat listening to person after person eloquently, yet desperately, plead for their schools not to be closed during the Jan. 31, Austin-North Lawndale Network school utilization hearing. While listening, it brought forth to my mind heart-wrenching images of our enslaved African-American ancestors pleading for their loved ones not to be beaten, sold at auction or killed.

Here we are, more than a century after the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution abolished involuntary servitude. And the Chicago Public Schools system is still meting out the protocol of slavery on the descendants of those whom this amendment supposedly enfranchised. This is unconscionable.

CPS has been treating children like chattel for long enough. The educational funds that are meant for the students are not CPS’ to wager on this depraved, failed experiment called “urban school reform.”

Through the closing of neighborhood schools and the opening of charter schools, CPS has forged an alliance with corporations. Corporations that have been allowed to greedily hijack funding that is targeted for our children. And, as a result, our children’s schools have been sabotaged. Yet, CPS has chosen to create a false narrative of “school failure” and “underutilization.”

It is well-documented that during the era immediately preceding “urban school reform,” the black and white achievement gap had dramatically narrowed as a result of our government’s “War on Poverty.” It was done by funding programs that directly impact students. Since the advent of “urban school reform,” however, that achievement gap has widened. And that widening has caused unspeakable harm to our students and to primarily African-American communities throughout this city.

I shudder to think how evolved our students’ academic status and our educational system’s effectiveness might be today had CPS nixed the corporate “reformers'” privatizing schemes and instead had continued on the gap-closing path.

Renowned Stanford researcher Linda Darling-Hammond noted the effectiveness of the War on Poverty.

“We would have had no racial achievement gap by the year 2000,” she said, had we continued with the War on Poverty programs and shunned the current incarnation of “urban school reform,” which, in effect, is a “War on the Poor.” It is unthinkable that a well-meaning citizenry would allow the “reformer’s” unsubstantiated spin to continue, sabotaging our students’ trajectory toward success.

It is time to end this failed experiment now. CPS owes an apology and reparations to the students who were swindled out of their education. It is time to return to the closing of the gap. No more school closures. No more false narratives of “failure” and “underutilization.”

And, in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “No more auction block.”

Bonita Robinson
Retired reading specialist and a member of the Chicago Teacher’s Union Black Caucus