Category Archives: Education

These Clowns Totally Prepared Our Kids. Just Not How We Wanted.

When my eldest son was pre-school age, my wife and I went on a tour of the University of Chicago’s Lab School. It was a formative experience. Here’s what we learned from the mom hosting the tour:

(a)arts classes don’t matter
(b) there is no homework and no grades in the elementary program
(c) the food of  Asian children smells funny
(d) that children with physical disabilities often “feel more comfortable somewhere else”.

I remember that last line clearly. One thing was emphasized over and over again on the tour: : students at Lab were constantly “evaluated for fit” during their careers to make sure they could continue on. Fitting in is important. And you can only do that if you eat appropriately fragrant food, learned piano on your own time, and please – don’t limp. I

You would think this would remove all sorts of kids from consideration at Lab. Heck no. Each person from the school took pains to say how diverse the school was. Mayor Emanuel sends his kids there, as does recently resigned Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Diversity: when kids of local and federal officials are at your school. At one point on our tour, I asked our host if “diversity” meant actual economic diversity, or just racial diversity. All I got was a blank stare. And an elbow from my wife. It was a dumb question: the diverse student body at Lab is filtered through a screen of eye-watering tuition: more than $30k a year, plus an expectation that you’ll “donate” more to the school. If a Potemkin village had a school, it would be like Lab.

clowns

The Potemkin Village might also choose Gems World Academy, a school so fancy that it exists in a residential area of Chicago I didn’t know existed – because there’s only one road in and out. I found myself in the lobby a few months ago. On a table near the giant touchscreens was a brochure extolling the diversity of the school, and focusing on their “core values,” which include “global citizenship.” Gems and Lab’s competitor, the Latin School, also wants to “shape leaders” for a diverse world. Francis Parker seeks to create “citizens and leaders…in a global community.” Francis Parker is also where the CEO of Chicago Public Schools, Forrest Claypool, sends his kids – though he tries not to talk about it. I don’t know why it’s a big deal, it’s totally ok to run a public school system without actually having kids in public schools.

These elite private schools have tuitions higher than the per capita national income of all but 20 countries (I checked). But that doesn’t mean they aren’t concerned about the global community. Just not the whole global community. The good parts. The parts without smelly food, limping weird kids, and poor people. And the students they’re turning out are absolutely prepared for a global community. But it’s a gated community.

For schools that make such strong claims about diversity, it’s awfully hard to get data on their demographics. And it seems to be impossible to get information on their expulsion, suspension, and attrition rates -their filters. Of course, if they published it, it might cause a minor scandal, like the when data from Chicago’s charter schools went public. That was especially embarrassing, because even while filtering out the difficult kids, they still didn’t do much better than the traditional schools – the very places where those filtered-out kids land. Charter schools. For parents who want choice. But not informed choice.

All of this makes me feel incredibly smug, since my kids go to a Chicago public school. No filtering here! Well, except for the fact that it’s a magnet school. Getting into a magnet school lottery required some work: a year before my son was to enter kindergarten, we attended information sessions, did research at the library, and filled out a bunch of forms. It was pretty confusing, and I’m a native English speaker used to dealing with public bureaucracy. And the end result is that my kids’ school is much wealthier and whiter than nearly any Chicago neighborhood school.

Nevertheless, our school is facing cuts like every other publically funded school, including the charters. Forrest Claypool, former Cook County Board member, head of the park district, and the CTA, appointee of our angry little Democratic mayor, is asking parents to to lobby the Democratically-controlled state legislature for education funding. You would think a veteran Democrat serving as CEO of the largest school system in the state would take the lead on that. But why should our leaders lead? This is Chicago. Claypool’s predecessor is going to jail, so he’s actually an improvement.  Meanwhile, the Speaker of the Illinois House, who has been in power almost non-stop since 1983, and the Governor, still test driving the office he bought last year, are in an epic pissing match. So this seems unlikely to end well.

Meanwhile, my sons get to ride the listing ship of public education. Nothing is the same year to year. Programs start and then are eliminated. Same with staff. Young teachers have kids and leave for the suburbs, because there’s no guarantee they can get their kids through the lottery process. Oh, and there was that teacher’s strike.

My wife and I sent our kids to public schools for a lot of reasons, but chief among them was this: we knew it was going to be a bit rough navigating the system, and we knew they’d meet people who weren’t like them. We thought that going through CPS would prepare them for adult life in the actual global community – tremendously diverse and more than a little challenging at times, but ultimately rewarding if you pay attention and invest some effort.

It turns out we were right about preparing them for adult life, but we had the context all wrong. In Chicago, a fair amount of money can buy you a gleaming existence free of the systemic failure, difficult people, and occasional unpleasantness everyone else contends with daily. Those without the means do their best to play within the system, selecting among bad choices and watching the value of their efforts steadily decline.

When I think about it that way, I figure that we probably didn’t do a great job preparing kids for the world, but we did a stupendous job of preparing them for America.

Tagged , , , , , ,

I’m Happy to Pay Chicago’s Surcharge on Stupidity

I’m a Chicagoan, and I’m about to face an increase in property taxes, while the city prepares to make $200 million in cuts to the very public schools my kids are enrolled in. Also, on January 1, 2016 it seems pretty likely that my sales tax will be increased by 1% to 10.25%, which means I will start the new year with the satisfaction of paying the highest sales tax in the nation.  As of July 1, I’m already paying a tax on Netflix. The city raised hundreds of millions of dollars from me and my neighbors by shortening yellow lights and entrapping us with otherwise useless red light cameras.  Illinois has the highest state and local tax obligations, the second-highest real estate taxes in the nation, and among the least fair tax systems. Fun fact: Illinois is called the Land of Lincoln not for the president, but for Lincoln Smith, who made a killing running three card monte at Rush and Division back in the day.

You’d think I’d be outraged about all of this., but I’m not. Like everyone else in my city and state, I’ve done a cost-benefit analysis and given the choice between paying attention to all of this and paying higher costs for worse public services, I chose the latter. It’s like an ignorance surcharge. I’m a stupid person, and it’s not worth it to make myself smarter. Thinking and learning make my brain hurt!

You. Fork it over.

You. Fork it over.

One of the things I would rather not think about is the property tax increase. It’s coming because the city, abetted by the state, completely mismanaged the Chicago Teachers’ Pension Fund. The cock-up didn’t start recently. If I were paying attention, I would’ve noticed that they’ve been mismanaging it for 20 years. Here’s an article from three years ago, describing what was then already a celebrated mess. I didn’t read it, though. It has numbers and graphs. I also don’t want to ponder the broader fuster cluck of public pensions in Chicago or Mayor Rahm’s plan to save the city with a giant casino, so I’m not going to. All of this math and finance is interminably boring and depressing. I’m a Chicagoan. It’s July. I’ve got the Sox and Cubs for interminably boring and depressing – and they have the upside of the opportunity for public drunkenness.

I’m a big dummy, and I’m sort of a racist. You know what numbers I pay attention to? The numbers of shootings that take place over the Fourth of July weekend. Shootings of minorities, that is. They’re overwhelmingly the people who get shot in Chicago, and I join my neighbors in comparing how many of them are shot this year vs. previous years. You know, like they were batting averages. We’re not following shootings because we’re scared. We’re following it so we can advance our armchair sociological theories about poor minorities! Don’t believe me? Read the comments section on this article.  Or my neighborhood discussion board. We’re stupid, and worried when the depravity we associate with the (Black) South Side seems to be happening on the (White) North Side. This raises the biggest fear we morons have: declining property values. What will happen if our neighbors flee to the unlimited breadsticks of the suburbs and minorities move in next door?

I've got a theory about this.

I’ve got a theory about this.

I’m too stupid to trouble myself about big picture social problems in Chicago – things like gross inequality, segregation, or failing public education. I’m also too dumb to be worried about aggravating factors like the lack of funding for infrastructure, public transportation, mental health facilities, etc. Smart people might look at these things and think that they’re precisely the sort of thing that our public officials should deal with. But we’re not smart people. When we consider someone for public office in Chicago, the most important question to ask is “are they related to another elected official?”  There’s only one other enterprise in Chicago so tied up with family connections: the mob. If I were smarter, I’d probably make something of that.

I get the stupid politicians that stupid people deserve. Our recent mayoral election was between a dissembling bully and Santa Claus’ slightly less munificent little brother. I’ve got the low expectations of a moron, and my public officials sometimes even fail to meet those. Chicago has the most corrupt politicians in the country. The federal judicial district for northern Illinois has more public corruption convictions than any other in the country – and this is a nation that still includes New Orleans and Albany. In 2013 alone, there were 45 corruption convictions. From 1976 to 2013 there were 1,642!

As a nitwit, I’d rather pay higher taxes than demand more from my public officials. It’s a convenient arrangement, because all of this corruption is expensive as hell. A couple of political scientists figure that it costs Illinois about $500 million a year. The hired truck scandal cost Chicagoans $15 million a year over 10 years. Illinois could potentially knock 5.2% off its budget if it weren’t for all the patronage hiring and bogus contracts. The number I don’t want to think about most is this: in the decade to 2014, the city of Chicago paid half a billion dollars to settle misconduct lawsuits against our police. That’s apparently enough to build “five state-of-the-art high schools and more than 30 libraries, (and) repave 500 miles of arterial streets.” Schools? Libraries? That sounds like stuff for smart people.

I don’t want to know about this, and luckily, our news doesn’t tell us. Like most Americans, I get my news from TV. Less reading. And our local news does a terrible job of covering local politics and government. In a typical 30 minute broadcast, one study found that exactly one minute was dedicated to politics. And thank God, too. Covering stuff that’s going to cost me money and impact my quality of life might cut into the seven minutes of sports and weather coverage. Here’s what I want in my news: information I could get by guessing that tomorrow will be like today. The weather will probably be within a few degrees and the Cubs probably choked in the 6th. Once that’s covered fill in the rest with ads for storm windows and coverage of people who got shot. Done and done.

Given the choice between paying more attention and paying a few extra dollars a year, I’m taking the latter. People say that you get what you pay for. I pay for not having to pay attention to any of this. Seems like a good deal to me.

Tagged , , ,

Your Fat Child Is Upsetting Me

Tyler Prescott, Father

I have a reputation for being the dad that’s willing to say what the other parents won’t. I don’t know we can’t be honest with each other – we’re all at the same school seeing each other day. I think we should value openness and talk about it when something is bothering us, especially when it has to do with our kids. So I hope you won’t take this the wrong way, but your fat child is really upsetting me and a lot of the other parents.

It’s distressing to think that our school has an obesity problem, and frankly I’m upset that you aren’t taking the time to do something about it. We have spent so much effort making Taft Elementary the kind of school we can be proud of. We raised money for the landscaping and Smart Boards and new lacrosse uniforms, just to make the school look attractive to others. A lot of parents are worried that having such a fat student really takes away from the positive image we want the school to project.

You are certainly welcome to raise your daughter any way that you want. But it’s getting a little difficult to explain to my kids what’s with wrong her. The other day, Beretta asked me why I sighed when I saw her, and Dru wanted to know if calling a kid “disgusting” was a ok. There’s going to come a time we have to explain to our kids about the nicknames it’s ok to use for people who are different from us, but I didn’t want it to have to be so soon. All I’m asking for is a little consideration.

At church, our kids learn that we are all beautiful because God loves us and created us in His image. It’s important to us, as I’m sure it is to you, that kids don’t find reasons to question what they learn at church. What am I going to say when Beretta asks me if God is fat? I mean, of course He’s not, because he’s a perfect being. So why would he make people fat? Is this one of those things where God just looks the other way, like the Holocaust or with the gays and Muslims? It’s upsetting me just thinking about it. Imagine what it will do to my kids. My wife and I want them to grow up with faith, not upsetting questions.

Your daughter has no way to understand the body choices that you’ve made for her. Does she even know of the many opportunities that would be available to her if she weren’t so fat? It’s very sweet that she tries to play with the normal kids, and I think it says a lot about our school culture that the other kids try to accept her in spite of her appearance. Thank God for the anti-bullying program, right? Still, I think we can all agree that life would be so much easier if she looked like the other children.

You should think about the example she is setting for the other students. She’s eating what she wants, not even looking at the calorie count or ingredient label. She isn’t even on a single athletic team – is that really appropriate for a third grader? I really don’t know how else kids learn about taking every opportunity to crush an opponent if they don’t play sports. Sometimes she just sits during recess and reads! And do you think she’s really comfortable being the only kid in school who never wears Under Armor? Beretta asked me if this means that she is poor. I don’t want my daughter having to worry that she goes to school with poor kids, especially when she’s already figured out that poor people mean bad neighborhoods, crime, and gangs.

Don’t take this the wrong way, but have you thought about counseling? Maybe your daughter has some sort of issue that makes her want to be so lazy. I’m sure there’s a psychologist that specializes in kids with messed up attitudes about their bodies. Better to take care of this now than when she gets older and has trouble finding a husband or a job, right? She still has a really good chance of having a normal life if  you start now, and we’re all totally ready to support you on this.

I’m glad we could have this talk.

.

Tagged , ,

I F%&cking Love Standardized Tests. And So Do You.

This spring, Illinois and a bunch of other states rolled out a new standardized test: PARCC. PARCC and, it seems, the very idea of standardized testing has become controversial, with organizations actively organizing against them.  When I asked my son how it went, he said “fine.” This week, my son took another test, the NWEA MAP test. I also asked how it went. He said, even more anti-climatically, “fine.” He shrugged, then launched into a lengthy discourse about Fennekin, a fire-type that evolves into Braixen.

Given that my son’s feeling about testing was identical in intensity to his daily feelings about his lunch, it’s surprising how many parents choose to opt out of the exams on their child’s behalf. This is particularly curious, because -full disclosure- most people I know are privileged white people. Which means that:

(1) we likely chose our school based on the scores for tests that now we don’t want our kids to take
(2) our children will do well on these tests, since standardized test results track heavily to socioeconomic level
(3) we’re screwing the teachers we profess to love by removing our high-performing kids from the test results on which they’re evaluated
(4) we’re forcing the administrators  to find something else to do with our non-test taking kids, which won’t be classroom learning because everyone else in the classroom is taking the test.

But let’s leave all that rationality aside. We’re well-off white people. Being privileged means not having to be rational (see for example not eating bread). But I am throwing off the shackles of my socioeconomic class to say this:

I F%$CKING LOVE STANDARDIZED TESTS.

I f%$cking love standardized tests because they prepare my kids for college. We’re only seven or so years away from my third grader taking the ACT or SAT so that he can go to a college everyone has heard of. A few years after that, he will take the MCAT, the LSAT, or the GMAT so he can get a good job, drive a late model import, and fill his open floor plan house with Pottery Barn. In the evenings, he’ll be on the junior leadership board of an organization that gives food or money to adorable minority children. Or badminton lessons to the homeless. I f%$cking love standardized tests because I want what every privileged white person wants for their children: to be happy. That is, to be happy with commonly recognized symbols of prosperity. 

I f%$cking love standardized tests because they prepare my kids for life. Life is full of having to do long, stupid tasks because someone in charge tells you to. Do these opt out parents not have jobs? Have they never had a boss ask them to develop a bunch of SMART goals, then tell them to put them in a spreadsheet, not a Word document, then ask them to save it in the 97-2003 Excel format because they’re working off an old laptop at home, and then come back a day later and say they actually want SMARTER goals,because “evaluate” and “revise” are important steps as well, but not as important as the fact that she read a Lifehacker article on SMARTER goals on the elliptical that morning and thought it sounded cool? What skills learned in school will teach my kids to deal with this? Do “fact triangles” prepare you for the over-promoted? No. Does “chunking” words help you remain calm when dealing with the functionally illiterate HR person? Absolutely not. And what about dealing with the cable company, the county records office, or going to the Post Office?

I want my kids to know that life is about getting through 40 hours a week of inane, meaningless tasks for the few glorious evening hours on the weekend you get to spend farting on the couch playing Arkham Origins before you fall asleep. I f%$cking love standardized tests because there really is no better preparation for the endurance and endless humiliations required of an adult life.

I f%&cking love standardized tests because they turn your kid into a number. I read a parent’s complaint once about how standardized tests don’t tell you anything about the “real” child. That’s true. But do you really want anyone to know the “real” child? My real children, if left to their own devices, would eat cream cheese with their fingers, wash it down with Capri-Sun squirted in the direction of their face hole, wipe their hands on their shirts, and then sit pantsless on the floor staring at comic books until their eyes crusted over. The whole point of school is to keep my kids from being “real” kids! To give them a common knowledge base, something that resembles a universal set of skills, and the rules in which to live in a polite society. You know, standards. 

But mostly, I f%&cking love standardized tests because with that number, I can achieve the one thing that all parents want: to know if my kid is better than yours. Remember when we compared our kids’ birth weights?  Then we compared where they fell on the height and weight percentages. Plus, we could compare them on months to rolling over, sitting up, crawling, walking. And then school started, and, what? We’re too polite to do that any more? Bullshit. Grades only tell me if they’re meeting the teachers’ expectations, and who cares about the expectations of people who took low paying jobs to be public punching bags? What do they know? Worse, I don’t know what grades your kid got. so they’re not relative. Standardized tests are. With standardized tests, I get to know that in a room of 100 peers, my kid can read better than some number of them and do math better than some other number. That is a black and white number issued by the government telling me precisely how good my kid is.  It’s parent crack. I want these numbers every day.

I f%&cking love standardized tests. And so do you.

Tagged , , , , , ,

Should I Vote for Chuy Again?

I didn’t vote for Rahm “Tiny Dancer” Emanuel Tuesday night. I don’t like his lack of transparency, his fondness for privatizing public education, and probably dozens of other things. I generally just don’t like him. So I voted for Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, and made lots of jokes about throwing my vote away. Ha ha. It turns out that Tiny Dancer is going to face Chuy again in a run-off in April. Tiny Dancer failed to convince 51% of Chicagoans to vote for him. Let me say that a different way. Tiny Dancer failed to convince 51% of the 32.7% of registered voters that showed up– or ~237,000 of ~464,000 – to vote for him.

He usually only extends one finger

He usually only extends one finger

Here’s one thing the voters did agree on: Chicago should have an elected school board. Close to 90% of voters supported the idea. Well, 90% of the voters in the 37 of 50 wards that had the issue on the ballot. Not all of them did, because the Chicago City Council prevented the issue from appearing across the city.  Nevertheless, surveys show that the idea is popular among Chicagoans.

Let’s set aside the fact that changing the nature of school board is a matter of state law. And we should set aside the fact that Bruce Rauner, who is enjoying  the Governor’s seat he bought last year, is against it. Let’s also set aside that this is Chicago, home of the Cubs. We like hopeless wastes of time. Oh, also: the irony of wanting to vote for another local office when we’re barely bothering to turn out to vote for the current offices in the first place.

I get the idea: an elected school board would put a check on the power of the Tiny Dancer.  We need an elected body in Chicago that could reign in his autocratic ways and give a voice to the people! Time for a civics lesson, neighbors. We have an elected body. It’s called the City Council. It has 50 aldermen, each of whom are elected every four years. It’s a giant rubber stamp for the mayor. In the first two years of Tiny Dancer’s term, the council voted with him 93% of the time. From April 2013 until November 2014, this slipped – to 89%! At the time, his approval rating among Chicagoans who weren’t aldermen was at around 35%. Does the City Council know something we don’t?

My former alderman, confused about what “tabling” meant

No, they don’t. Let me explain. Have you ever met a Chicago alderman or seen them speak in public? I have. These aren’t the most articulate people in the world. They’re not the smartest. They’re not the people you’d want setting economic or fiscal policy. Probably wouldn’t want them working on issues of criminal or social justice. They’re also not strong on issues of ethics, leadership, or vision. If they walk and chew gum, they might trip. What are they good at? Inheriting their father’s seat. Also, if there’s an abandoned car in front of your house or the muffler shop on the corner didn’t shovel the sidewalk, they can help with that. Oh, collecting big pensions. They’re great at that.

Mostly, though, they’re good at getting re-elected. Even with Tuesday’s record number of run-offs, I’d bet that most of the incumbents will win. Because, you know, there’s an abandoned car. Why would anyone think that another elected body in Chicago would behave differently than the one we currently have? Are candidates for elected office suddenly not going to need to raise money, be subject to the influence of special interests, or not need a job (or lawyer) for their kid? Since we’re going to have to change the state law anyway, can we mandate that candidates for the school board not be dissembling, mendacious, pocket-lining windbags?

I’m going to guess not. So why did the guy I did vote for, Chuy Garcia, support the idea? Because it’s what a city that increasingly dislikes its current mayor wants to hear. It’s what the teachers’ union wants. And it’s an easy position for Chuy to take, because it’s a state issue. You know what else is an easy position for Chuy to take? He supports keeping the city council at its current size. Chicago has one of the country’s largest city councils, and we could save millions if we cut it in half. But Chuy isn’t going to say that, because to do so might threaten the jobs of Chicago aldermen, and if he becomes mayor, he’s going to want some of that hot, hot, rubber-stamp action. Chuy told the Sun Times that the current size is important to the body “functioning” as a legislative body. I don’t know what one has to do with the other, nor if the guy with an outside chance of being our next mayor knows what “functioning” means.

You know what else is an easy position for Chuy to take? He wants to hire 1,000 more police. Tiny Dancer said the same thing in 2011, but didn’t do it. Chuy hasn’t said how he’s going to pay for it. But it’s what many in the city that’s suffered an appalling number of shootings wants to hear. And it’s what the police union wants. Chicagoans probably don’t want to hear — as this article points out – that more police not only means more money, it also means more arrests. Neither mayoral candidate wants to talk about measures that also might reduce crime: more intrusive policing and more people ratting out their friends, neighbors, and family members.

Then I go like this and $35 billion appears

Then I go like this and $35 billion appears

I voted for Chuy. But here’s the thing: Chicago has an unfunded pension obligation of $35 billion, or as I like to think of it, a per capita obligation of almost $13,0000 per person. I spent two days looking, and I can’t find anything concrete about Chuy’s plan to fix it  – to say nothing of how he plans to pay for the Christmas morning he’s planning for Chicago if he gets elected.

This matters — not because I’m some conservative that thinks government should run like a business – but because I’m a parent and a property owner in Chicago with two kids in public schools. I want lower crime, more jobs, better schools and infrastructure that moves better than an old man’s urethra. I want them for today, and I want them 20 years from now. But more than anything else, I want to live in a city that realizes these things cost money. A giant debt and an abysmal credit rating threaten our future. Being billions of dollars in the hole means life as a taxpayer is going to get even more expensive and we’re going to experience fewer city services, not more. The pension problem is there precisely because let elected officials make promises they couldn’t fulfill based on math they didn’t (or more likely, couldn’t) do.

I guess what I’m asking for our is that our candidates be realistic. But then I realize, why bother? Our citizens aren’t interested in being realistic. Go Cubs.

 

*thanks for reading this blog. I hope you’ll subscribe and use the comments section below to tell me why I’m wrong about Chuy. Because I hope I am. 

Tagged , , , , ,

The Huey Academy: A Unique Option for your Special Student

Who We Are

The Huey Academy is a non-denominational, co-dependent, not-for-profit school serving the gifted, exceptional, or singular student. Though we draw on the Montessori, Dewey, and Rhythm methods, we are not constrained by them. At the Huey Academy, we seek to develop the whole child with a focus on their intellectual and emotional growth, as well as their financial potential and procreative success. Our children will enter the diverse globalized workforce of the 21st century, and we know that a carefully selected, homogenous cohort is the only way to prepare them for success.

The Gifted/Exceptional Child

Perhaps you’ve noticed that your child is more creative, talented,  or special than the children of your friends or relatives. Indeed, parents are often the first to notice that their child is gifted. We believe that every child has a right to education that is appropriate to his/her potential. The advanced cognitive abilities of the gifted child and their heightened intensity combine to create experiences, awareness, and chemical dependencies that are different from the norm.

As a precondition for admission, the Huey Academy requires that your child scores above the 95th percentile on a state-sanctioned standardized test. These tests are developed by consultants, political appointees, and bureaucrats and are an excellent way to confirm the gifted specialness of your child. In lieu of standardized test scores, families may confirm their exceptional student through submission of an IRS 1040 for the previous three years (1040EZ not accepted).

Your Experience at the Huey Academy

The Huey Academy does not believe in tests. Standardized tests are developed by consultants, bureaucrats, and political appointees, and are a poor indicator of student performance. Some are surprised to learn that there is no homework in grades K-6. The reason is simple: the first 12 years of your child’s life are an important adjustment period for parents. Learning to commit up to 30 minutes a day to working together is a burden that many aren’t ready for.

We are committed to stimulating learning experiences and a problem-solving/inquiry approach to instruction. We know that tomorrow’s leaders require a firm footing in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Quite simply, their future at a private East Coast university requires it.

Our outdoor classroom in North Dakota

Experiential learning is an important part of the Huey Academy experience. Students are offered unstructured time throughout the day to work with their hands, just like members of society without higher education. Our biological and physical sciences classes are conducted at outdoor field stations, offering students an opportunity to explore the many resources that can be extracted from nature.

High School students are encouraged to participate in one of our two week exploration programs abroad. These intensive programs bring students to Africa and Latin America to witness firsthand endemic poverty and other global problems. Many alumni tell us that it was their experience abroad that encouraged them to participate in gala dinners as adults.

Beyond the Classroom

Our 4th Grade Investment Club

A full range of extra-curricular activities are available. We have varsity sports teams for our students of color, and team ownership programs for our other students. In addition, students in all grades are encouraged to form clubs, teams, and interest groups around the activities most appealing to them.  These offer important opportunities to nurture the students’ interests in literature and the visual and performing arts, forming a basis for lifelong hobbies and endowment interests.

Statement on Diversity and Disabilities

We are committed to a diverse learning environment. Your child will be working alongside the children of doctors, lawyers, and businesspeople from around the world. A recent survey of our students’ home life showed that Huey Academy pupils speak 22 different languages to their domestics.  Of course, our doors are open to students with physical disabilities and other imperfections. We find that many of these students enjoy the challenges of our long staircases, highly polished and sloped marble hallways, and open floor grates.

 The Huey Academy: A Solutions-Oriented Approach

We believe that life is a series of races, and the race chosen determines where we finish.  While other schools can offer your children amateur races, the Huey School is committed to the master race.  We train tomorrow’s leaders to be bold, decisive, and visionary – adults that will not look to a world offering terminal problems, but a world offering final solutions.

 

Please scroll down to see options to follow and share this blog. I hope you will, and thanks. 

Tagged , , , ,

What the Hell Is This? Another Parenting Blog?

I promise to return to my usual posts about the hilarity of Chicago street gangs, the futility of peace negotiations in the Middle East, and the absurdity of the American consumer next week. For this week, something different:

When we planted our garden earlier this summer, I asked my 5 year old son what he wanted to grow. Among other things, he was very excited about growing “milky way.” It quickly turned out that he actually wanted to grow milkweed so we could have monarch butterflies. I guess the school had some lesson on about monarchs and their decreasing numbers due to habitat loss. From that point in April forward, I spent entirely too much time trying to satisfy my sons’ interests in milkweed and monarchs.

First, of course, I went online to see if I could buy milkweed seeds or plants. You can, but it seemed awfully expensive to buy something that is a WEED. Luckily, I had a friend who grew milkweed in her yard and she was willing to share some. I dug it up, replanted it in a sunny spot in our yard…and it didn’t take.

I drive my car to work, and so does everyone else. Parking around my office at the university is impossible. Parking in the adjoining neighborhood is close to impossible because the neighbors hate the university (and vice versa), so most of the parking is zoned for residents. Downside: I park really far away from my office. Upside: all that zoning for residents is just for spite — the neighborhood south of the University isn’t densely populated, and there’s a lot of vacant lots. Vacant lots = milkweed! So every day on  my way to and from my car, I would look for monarch caterpillars. A couple of weeks ago, I found one on my way in. On the way home, I found another. I put them and a few leaves in one of the old plastic takeout containers I carry my sandwiches in and took them home. Later, my older son noticed that there was a really tiny third caterpillar on one of the leaves. Here’s a picture I took of one of the caterpillars. This is on my dining room table, using a helping hand-type soldering stand to hold the leaf, a Nikon D7000 and 85mm lens with a close-up lens, and a Maglite to illuminate the thing:

Monarch Caterpillar

 

Here’s another shot I did, trying to capture its face – which turns out to be fairly featureless. This was also done with my D7000, but with a 50mm Series E reversed on the front. This is a really difficult set-up to work with, using the camera fully manually and looking through a viewfinder that’s very dark due to stopping down the lens all the way.

DSC_4862

I mention all the camera equipment to mock myself. I have all this stuff. I use it a few times a year. I make no money off of it, I don’t enter any contests or anything, and I don’t usually share pictures I take that aren’t of my kids.  But find me a caterpillar and an hour to kill on a Tuesday night, and BAM! I pull it all out and set it up and then think of all the other things I could buy to make the next time easier. Any gadget-driven male who tells you they think any differently is lying.

A long time ago, my sister- and brother-in-law bought the boys a little plastic earthworm farm. You put vermipods in the little box and then thrill to the xtreme excitement of the life-cycle of an earthworm! Let me summarize it for you: they start as little worms and grow to be bigger worms. Then you throw them in the garden. YESSS! Anyway, I took the thing and fixed cheesecloth over the ventilation holes. You can see the set-up in my kid’s hands below.

In what became a strange daily ritual, I would grab a few milkweed leaves everyday on my way back to my car. And then get sticky white sappy stuff all over my fingers.  Hey! I guess that’s why the call it milkweed. Caterpillars eat and poop a surprising amount. They also grow really fast. If you’re lucky, they’ll form a chrysalis. If you’re even luckier, they’ll emerge from the chrysalis. I prepared my kids for the eventuality that one or all of the caterpillars would die at some point. But the first one to form a chrysalis actually emerged. Here’s a time-lapse that I shot with my GoPro Hero 2, which I set up via WiFi on my Galaxy SIII. Because sedentary higher ed office monkeys need WiFi-enabled action cameras:


If you look carefully, you can see the other caterpillar at lower right coming in and out of the picture. The things moving in the background are our guppies that my son took home as fry from his class last year. They’ve also managed not to die, which is nice.

Here’s my kids with the butterfly in the enclosure on our way out the door to release it:

DSC_4863 This is the former resident of our sunroom resting after a short initial flight. My wife, kids, and I were all pretty excited that this worked out so well. If you’re not a parent, you probably don’t know that most parenting blogs have deep moral lessons; even those that are ostensibly about craft and science projects are written by people who are either home schooling their kids or leading a vacation bible school. I’m doing none of those things, so I’ll just say this was pretty cool. I’m really grateful for all of the information that’s published by the University of Minnesota Monarch Lab on how to do this. I’m still checking the milkweed twice a day for caterpillars, but I’ve been distracted by the pressing needs of building a giant Batman pinata for my son’s birthday. But that’s a different story.

DSC_4869

 

 

The Millennial Numbers Game

I was reading David Brooks’ column on May 5, “The Streamlined Life,” in which he reflects on the results of UCLA survey of incoming college freshmen. An hour or so after I read the column, I was in my university’s gym locker room, overhearing an older professor lamenting the manifest failures of “the current generation.” As a member of Generation X, I hate the Millennials as much as anyone. They’re entitled, inappropriately casual, poor at grammar, and don’t seem all that concerned about maintaining the legacy of Nirvana. Plus, they can type with their thumbs much, much faster than me.

Brooks’ cites the survey’s finding that “affluence…is now tied as students’ top life goal.” I think I was supposed to read that bit, wring my hands with everyone else, and wonder why kids today have such superficial concerns. But I didn’t.  What exactly did we think was going to happen? I don’t know about you, but I live in a world that worships wealthy people. In fact, I can’t think of anything else that we accept as a symbol of success other than wealth. The strength of your ideas, your contributions to society, or even your personal well-being don’t mean a thing if you don’t got that bling. If you’re entering college this year or last, you were born in the mid-90s. They’ve known nothing else but our national love affair with Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs.  Innovators? Maybe. Colossal jerks? Definitely. But we celebrate them and make movies about them because they got to be disgustingly rich.

Millennials may have no real memories of the Clinton years, but I’m sure they remember the last two elections, in which nearly half the voters in the US supported a party that believes the economy should be based on the principle of “I got mine, Jack.” We expect empathy and concern from kids raised in a world where Paul Ryan and Rand Paul aren’t treated as the wild-eyed cranks they are? Since we’re mere years away from having no middle class at all, the student’s outlook is pragmatically black and white: be rich or be poor. And who the hell wants to be poor? Those people can’t even afford iPhones, much less Under Armour. I feel badly for the Millennials –  it’s going to take them a few years before they figure out that the path to wealth began at birth:  the path that led out from a wealthy uterus, on through an affluent birth canal and into prosperous arms meticulously toned by P90x.

David Brooks goes on to note that “today, less than half say a meaningful philosophy of life is that important.” Well, of course. Why would you spend somewhere in the  six figures on a college education to get something as unmarketable as a “philosophy of life?” I’ve been through a lot of job interviews, and not a single person has ever asked me what my philosophy of life is. Maybe it’s enough for them to know that I went to a small liberal arts college, so they suspect I have one. Worse, I have to admit that I don’t know what good having a philosophy of life has ever done me in a professional context. Believe me, if I could get a raise by arguing in favor of rationalism, I would. For that matter, I would take being able to end a meeting with an appeal to humanism, but I can’t see that working either. I wonder if I could have gotten some incompetent colleagues fired by sharing the wisdom of Machiavellian philosophy with a previous Executive Director. 

At this point, every discussion of higher education is based around a simple transactional evaluation: get to a school with higher numbers in some ranking so you can get a job with a higher number in salary. Universities – including my own – fall over themselves trying to improve their US News rankings. Yes, ,major research institutions are worried about an index published by an otherwise defunct print magazine because of the power of their numbers. Big stories are created when some website ranks colleges with the worst return on investment, and people take this seriously. God help you if you’re a student interested in the arts or languages and literature. Those degrees don’t pay anything, dummy! Remeber when President Obama made a funny joke about Art History majors? It was especially funny coming from a guy with a BA in the lucrative area of Political Science, whose later output as an academic consisted of two books about himself.

We should push students with unprofitable interests like Art History into places like the University of Phoenix, where the transactional understanding of higher education is made explicit.  Even in the non-profit education world, everyone is excited about massively open online courses (MOOCs) because you can learn the things you need to make money without having to interact with other people who might challenge your ideas, tell you flatly that you’re wrong, or steer you in a different direction. David Brooks notes that incoming freshman “rate themselves much more highly than past generations on leadership skills, writing abilities, social self-confidence and so on.” Of course they do. They’ve never encountered anybody to tell them differently, and if they’ follow their parents careful plan, they’ll never have to. 

I’m not clear on what David Brooks or other hand-wringers think the problem is. This is what we trained these kids for. From the minute they were born, we made our decisions on where to live based on the test scores of the local schools and their presumed output. We’re abandoning public schools broadly, and urban public schools particularly. Everyone moved a few more highway exits out, where they swore they could still drive into the city, but never do because it’s so hard to parallel park the Canyonero.  Baby Boomers and GenX traded the rich culture and socio-economic diversity of urban areas for aggregate numbers in a standardized government report and wonder why Millennials have no philosophy of life? We show them and tell them that the purpose of college is solely to get a good job, and wonder why they’re more concerned with personal gain than with their philosophy of life?

They do have a philosophy of life, and it’s the one we taught them by example after example: nothing matters but higher numbers.

 

 

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

I Demand More Standardized Tests

Teachers at 2nd school boycott ISAT
Activists say they know of 1,000 kids at 57 schools who are also skipping the test.
-Linda Lutton, Chicagopublicradio.org, February 1, 2014

This is an outrage. I can’t believe that Chicago Public Schools parents and teachers would act like this. I’m already deeply concerned that this is the last year for the test in question, the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT). What if public schools in Chicago actually started testing less? It’s too horrible to think about.

I demand MORE standardized testing for public school children. Because I love tests and test scores. I need tests – and so do you.

How did we pick a school for our kids? By looking at test scores. How do we evaluate the quality of a school? Test scores. I don’t know if my principal is doing a good job, so I better go look at our test scores. Sure, in Atlanta and DC you can buy test scores, but in Chicago, the only way to get test scores is via sweet, wonderful standardized tests.

You, me, and everyone we know carefully researched schools’ test scores around the time our oldest kids turned three, if not before. Well, this is true for those of us who stayed in the city and opted for public schools. The rest of our friends got so frightened looking at their neighborhood school’s scores that they decamped for the burbs or sent their kids to private schools. Private schools aren’t big on standardized tests. We know they’re good because they cost a lot. Also, because the Mayor and the President – both of whom are really concerned about inequality – sent their kids to one.

We pored over that big catalog of school info we got from the library. Checked out the schools test scores online. Looked at websites that compared schools. Not a single one of these resources compared schools based on how happy or well adjusted the kids were. That’s what counseling and Zoloft are for! Worse, we got our minds turned inside out because the State of Illinois and the Board of Education changed standards often enough that it was impossible to make apples to apples comparisons between schools. Of course, in doing so we totally bought the idea that standardized test scores are a useful way to compare schools in the first place. Because we LOVE test scores.

We don’t usually say that we love standardized tests. We use our clever secret code. For example, we can say that we want our children to be “challenged” in school. So clever. We don’t mean challenged like Malala Yousafzi or like the kids on the West Side of Chicago who have to cross gang borders to get to their new school because their neighborhood school was shut. What we mean is that our kids are super smart, super creative, and super artistic. They’re like Stephen Hawking, Steve Jobs, and Steve Martin all rolled into one. They’re Mega-Steves. And Mega-Steves need a special type of environment in which they can thrive. To be clear: it’s not that I think my Mega-Steves should be tested, but I want all the other kids in the school tested to make sure my Mega-Steves will reach their full potential. 

It’s ok, no one but we affluent white people here. We can be honest. Once all of our kids are in a school, we will speak up and announce that we’re against testing. After all, if it weren’t for the time spent on testing, our kids would have time to learn more about music, poetry, and other arts. In the current curriculum, we simply don’t have time for those things. We have to focus on STEM subjects. And that’s as it should be. STEM makes for nice salaries. Arts make for nice hobbies.

This isn’t just for our kids. Standardized test scores are important for the community. Communities do best when they share the common bond of rising property values. Property values in Chicago rise based on the test scores of the local school.  Without testing, property values fall. No one can get a second mortgage to add 900 square feet to their kitchen. They leave, their house goes rental, and suddenly the Starbucks and Forever Yogurt decide to open somewhere else. What will stop this? More standardized test scores.

When high school rolls around, you can bet that we’ll be looking at standardized test scores again. All of us who love test scores love high schools. In addition to the mandated tests, we can also look at data from the SAT and the ACT. There are so many good numbers to obsess about – and that’s before we get to the most important thing: college placement data. There is no way I’m sending my kids to a school that isn’t ranked well by US News and World Report. How are they going to get into a top five business school and earn a six figure salary?

I just want them to be able to afford a nice house in a neighborhood with good schools.

Tagged , , , , , ,

Almost 40 and I Still Hate Gym Class

Following my last post on bullying, I talked to some friends about their own experiences with bullying. I think men are always surprised by how much bullying girls endure, and that was certainly the case. But even more surprising was this: ask your friends where they were most often bullied and they will almost certainly tell you gym class.

The highlight of my own “physical education” was in my first year of high school, lined up outside the locker room. Tom, a thick, dull, brute got bored. A day earlier, he pushed a fully clothed kid into the pool, books and all. That day in 1988 it was my turn. Tom stepped out of line and gave me a “titty twister.” It hurt a lot. I punched him. He kicked the crap out of me.  The gym teacher, who my memory has warped into looking like an aged Spike the bulldog, didn’t care that Tom had assaulted half the other boys in class. I was suspended for fighting.

My school had a “zero tolerance” policy for this sort of thing. This was a genius plan for the school administrators: they could put on a good show of doing something by coming up with a tough-sounding policy rather than doing something difficult, like intervening in the maladjustment of thugs like Tom. (The only good thing about that day was that I asked the dean, a humorless refrigerator of a woman, what she would do if someone grabbed her breast and twisted. A minor joy of already being suspended.)

I already hated gym for years by that point. I hated it from the time I was little and was introduced to dodge ball.  It wouldn’t surprise me to find out that dodge ball was the official sport of the Khmer Rouge. Strong, fast kids launched high speed assaults on the faces and crotches of the less physically gifted with balls special designed to leave the largest red marks possible. I hated gym because I wasn’t particularly strong or especially fast, and the gym teachers seemed to enjoy watching the powerful prey on the weak. Maybe they thought PBS nature specials didn’t involve enough wildebeest taking blows to the crotch.

Gym class was required in Illinois. In high school, you didn’t have to take four years of English or Math, but you were required to take four years of gym. Mr. Harrison, my school’s vice principal, explained that this was because legislators wanted to make a good show of looking like they cared about kids’ health, and this was faster than doing something difficult, like revamping the cafeteria’s menu or turning down income from all of the vending machines. Teaching generations of kids to associate physical activity with pain, humiliation, and genital injury is probably a lot of the reason we all turned out to be so fat as adults.

I’ve been angry about being suspended for 25 years. Of course, I learned something about the world from gym class. And I don’t mean just the bullying world of professional sports, where the teams bully cities and states for new stadiums with specious arguments about economic benefits, and bully the fans by seizing on their nostalgia to squeeze more money out of them every year. The players bully each other, their wives, and girlfriends, and the fans bully other fans – but that’s allegedly part of the magic of Wrigley’s bleachers. We tolerate all of this because having sports teams is a very visible way to pretend you have civic pride and unity without actually doing anything difficult, like improving urban public education.

I was thinking about gym class in this season of the State of the Union, the Superbowl, and the Olympics.Gym class taught me that no matter what you did in the other seven periods, you were going to be put in your place by someone stronger than you. In the high school hierarchy, the physical kids were dominant. Who have we been celebrating as heroes for the last few weeks? : Soldiers and athletes. When we see America on TV, we see large people staring steely eyed into the middle distance. We see the flag wrapped around our corpulent middles. We see people sitting in  F-150s, the bed full of apple pies and AR-15s. And when we see  heroes, we see  those people possessed of exceptional physical strength: soldiers and athletes.

Surely there are other kinds of strength. Somewhere in America are people who have toughed it out against the odds with their ideas, their inventions, their presence of mind or exceptional emotional strength. Of course, they’re probably only featured on PBS in a non-prime time slot, and they’re crap for the quick and inane soundbites we get from football players.

Now that we’re adult citizens pretending we care about things like STEM subjects and K-12 education, perhaps NBC or Fox could dedicate an hour or two to the teachers, inventors, artists, doctors, and activists who show the triumph of the human spirit with something other than well toned arms and broad chests. But they’d rather look like they were celebrating heroism, while not actually doing anything difficult.

Tagged , , , , , ,
%d bloggers like this: