‘We all think we’re experts in education,” cracks my educator friend Lila Leff, “Because we all had one.”
But we all didn’t have the same one.
I have two stories — about being a student and about being a teacher — that dovetail with my concern about a public education landscape that consigns students, teachers and schools to silos. And punishes neighborhood schools in favor of charters, magnets, and other selective-enrollment alternatives.
My stories are about how socio-economic class determines the kind of classroom many kids end up in.
I’ve lived this story.
My parents moved from a basement apartment in Chicago to Rolling Meadows when I was seven. Neighboring suburbs of Palatine and Arlington Heights referred to our tract houses built on bulldozed cornfields as “Rolling Ghettoes.” Never mind that to us, our new house was a palace.
I attended Rolling Meadows elementary and junior high schools, where I was an A student. I gave my 8th grade graduation speech.
Off I headed to high school.
Because Rolling Meadows didn’t have a high school back then, I ended up at Palatine High.
My courses seemed remedial. And many freshmen carried books I didn’t have.
One was James Michener’s “The Bridge At Andau,” a journalistic account of the Hungarian Revolution seen through the eyes of the rebels.
I bought it. Read it. Loved it.
My freshman English teacher, Mary Lavelle, asked why I had it.
I asked why we aren’t we reading it?
I didn’t know about academic tracking back then, but Mrs. Lavelle did.
She marched into the guidance office to get me moved up to the honors track.
Guidance pushed back.
The woman who headed it asked if I really felt up to the challenge? You know, dear, a Rolling Meadows girl?
Mrs. Lavelle won.
Second semester of freshman year, I was put in the honors track. But when I looked around, my new classmates didn’t live where I lived. Many of them were from much more affluent neighborhoods like Plum Grove or Inverness.
Educationally, we were classmates.
Economically, we were not.
But, hey, that was OK.
In fact, it was great!
Today we call that “diversity.”
Three teachers in my life — Mary Lavelle freshman year, Rod Botts sophomore year and Alfred Court junior year — transformed my education . . . and my life.
They saw me. Not a ZIP code. More…