Proposed school closings have former teacher frightened

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AustinTalks received a letter from Bonita Robinson in response to the CPS proposed closing list.

Dear AustinTalks Editor:

I, too, like Chicago Public Schools’ CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett, am a woman of color. However, unlike CEO Byrd-Bennett, whose current stint in Chicago marks her third major city of school-closing proclamations, I began a life-long association with the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) upon entering kindergarten in 1956. I find her denial of the racist nature of Chicago’s proposed school closings to be disingenuous and dangerous to the well-being of African-American students who deserve excellence and equity from the education that CPS delivers.

With more than a half-century of a direct connection with CPS as a student and educator, I find this current time of reform to be the most brutal, deceptive and racist era of all. Even my experiences attending classes in racist Willis Wagons and in four-hour shifts in overcrowded schools in the 1960s pale in comparison to experiences that African-American students today must confront, such as: the diversion of resources followed by the luring of student populations from neighborhood schools to charter schools, the denial of instructional time due to excessive testing practices, the widening of the achievement gap during the past two decades of failed CPS reforms, and the life-threatening destabilization of communities due to school closures.

To continue closing schools while cognizant of the havoc that such reforms have already wreaked on African-American children in terms of achievement and violence, is not only racist, but is the embodiment of the most insidious type of racism that Carter G. Woodson warned about in his classic The Mis-education of the Negro.” In the words of Dr. Woodson, Ms. Byrd-Bennett must cease trying to “justify the oppression of the race.”

Dr. Woodson expressed profound disappointment in African-American professionals who allowed themselves to be used in the execution of oppressive acts against disenfranchised African-Americans; and as one whose 39-year career was dedicated to serving the children of Chicago for the long haul, I must say that I am outraged whenever I detect this deplorable ritual being practiced in CPS, by anyone, but especially by those who are “just passing through.”

Regarding Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s announcement of his “hand in glove” support of Byrd-Bennett’s proposal to close the greatest number of schools in history, it has been noted by observant CPS stakeholders that his idiom of choice (“hand in glove”) frequently connotes “working together, often to do something dishonest” ( It is time to end this failed experimentation that has served only to undermine African-American communities, many of which were already facing serious societal challenges.

It has been said, “if you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is stop digging.” It is time to stop digging the racist hole in which the education of brilliant children has been sabotaged and in which there has been an attempt to wrap their destinies up in well-crafted false narratives of “failure” and “underutilization.”

No school closings.


Bonita Robinson

Bonita Robinson, a recently retired reading specialist and a member of the CTU Black Caucus, was awarded the Illinois Governor’s Master Teacher Award while teaching at the Austin community’s Duke Ellington School during the era of the narrowing of the achievement gap.

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