Author Archives: hanhayes

Total Eclipse in a time of Extreme Political Angst

According to Annie Dillard a partial eclipse bears almost no relation to a total eclipse; rather it is like the difference between kissing someone and marrying him. I didn’t quite get the analogy until I experienced one myself, and since then I’ve decided everyone should witness a total eclipse.

For one thing, it was the first time in a long time I found myself in a crowd of strangers not holding a sign and protesting. For days afterwards I felt an exhilarated peace with our world, and I couldn’t even bear to watch the news. Much of the fun came from the party atmosphere and the surrounding fanfare, but I must admit – I didn’t expect to be so wowed. Thanks to Annie Dillard’s 1979 essay, my expectations were exceedingly high, and I thought surely they could not be met.

At the Piney Creek Nature Reserve in southern Illinois, we trekked up a half mile tractor path in the 90 degree heat to an open clearing. The sound system blared themed songs like “Here Comes the Sun” and “Moondance.” The burgers on the grill were donated by a local farmer, as were the heirloom tomatoes, and a nearby winery sent cases of wine. The festive atmosphere was something I hadn’t expected, but then again, most crowds I’m a part of these days are marching and chanting loudly against Trump and fascism.

It seemed to happen slowly at first; we all donned our NASA-approved sunglasses and sat in lawn chairs, sipping wine and commenting on the progress of the heretofore unremarkable Great American Eclipse (how it became our eclipse I don’t know). Then things started to change ever so subtly. The light and the very air took on an eerie quality. The oppressive heat remained, but I no longer felt like the skin was burning off me. The atmosphere seemed just slightly ominous, taking on a green-ish hue as in just before a storm. But unlike the pre-storm sky that sends us heartlanders running to the basement, it seemed to heighten the anticipation. Looking around me, I had the sudden idea I was in one of those dioramas at a museum that I loved so much as a kid (before holograms and 3D experiences). It looks real but the lighting was somehow off-kilter, the colors from a palette that’s not quite life-like and not quite real. A bit like technicolor, or the anti-thesis of technicolor, which is too contrast-y and suggesting of an alternate reality. This tinge in the air contributed to the feeling that something magical was happening.

What followed was a beautifully orchestrated and harmonious event that left me quite breathless as it unfolded as neatly as the notes on a musical score rise to a crescendo. Darkness descended gradually, like a curtain dropping, and the cicadas came up on cue just as you realize the birds have gone quiet.  The excitement of the crowd was like a drumroll until somebody yelled “Now! Take off your glasses!” The joy around me was as total as the eclipse:  happy people shrieking and cheering and whooping and simply enraptured as they whip off the eye protection and gasp at the corona – this shimmering narrow orb perfectly positioned behind the geometrically flawless black circle.  Then as quickly as it began, the light comes back up and the birds come swooping back like a grand finale.

Then just as suddenly, as you look at people in this dim and other worldly cast amid gasps and laughter and clapping, the light slowly returns, and the birds come swooping back like a grand finale.

And when you look again through your NASA-approved eyeware you see it is only a tiny sliver still, slowly making its way across the sun, and you marvel that such a tiny glimmer could bring that much light. You realize what a powerful start the sun in fact is

So back to Annie Dillard’s analogy: A marriage is a commitment – a powerful and life-changing event not to be taken lightly. A kiss is a passing whimsy that may or may not be remembered. When called to mind most likely it’s wistfully or fondly – perhaps with regret – but not with much lasting impact. A total eclipse is a powerful act as well, but unlike marriage it has a force completely beyond human control.

Perhaps there’s something about nature doing its thing in an unexpected way that can leave one awestruck. We usually only get that feeling during a tornado or an earthquake or tsunami or some other destructive phenomenon. This event left us elated, not terrified, and with a profound sense of community not just at Piney Creek but on social media and various people texting photos. A bit like how everyone comes together to clean up after a natural disaster, but the euphoric bond of seeing this incredible thing and appreciating the planet and humanity in general is something I think we badly needed.

So I kept the news off …. for a couple of days as a reminder that there is power in beauty and good despite our catastrophes, but natural and manmade.


Shootings, schools, and “values”

Over 500 people have been shot in Chicago in just four months. My teenage son casually  commented that they are picking up fast these past few weeks. Last night a 14-year-old girl shot another 14-year-old girl over a boy. When the summer comes, I’m grateful that my son is at camp in Michigan where he might fall out of a tree or get bit by a snake but he won’t get shot.

Last week Rahm Emmanuel suggested that the people who live in the communities that see the most violence must “live by a moral code …. It’s whether you have values.” Now this is the same mayor who has made it clear that many communities have no value to him. He’s closed their PassiSahlbergschools, their libraries, their mental health centers. He’s starved neighborhood schools in most communities but particularly those of color while he gives millions of dollars in TIF money to private universities.

I also had the opportunity to hear Passi Sahlberg this weekend, the Finnish educator and author who  has studied education systems and reforms around the world. What struck me is the overall attitude in Finland is the philosophy that every child should have access to equal opportunities in education.

This came on the heels of Rahm’s announcement that another Selective Enrollment school will be built on the near North Side with $60 million in TIF funds. While he’s clearly playing to his demographic – white middle class North side – it’s outrageous that a school named after an African American president wouldn’t go in or near the South Side neighborhood he calls home.

Lack of values? Or perhaps it’s just that what Rahm values is all too clear.

Is Public Education a “Radical” Idea?

At a recent family picnic, an elderly uncle growled at me for wearing a “radical political” t-shirt. My shirt has the popular internet meme “Every Chicago Public School is My School,” which accurately captured the groundswell of anger at Rahm Emanuel’s closing of 50 neighborhood schools. Every schoolIn fact, when Parents4Teachers spokesperson Erica Clark read out the names of the school at the CPS meeting finalizing this deal (the Board did not; they voted them closed in an omnibus vote that took all of one second) people began shouting “my school” when they heard their school’s name. Very shortly the entire room was shouting “My school!” after every name read.

I’ve been wearing this shirt a lot because it gets such a response, mainly “I like your shirt!” But to my uncle I took the opportunity to say, “It’s a sad day in this country when public education is a ‘radical’ concept, isn’t it Uncle Moe?”

Yesterday Catalyst reported that a $20 million no-bid contract went to an organization with connections to CEO Barbara Byrd Bennett. This comes as no surprise to CPS teacher and parent Timothy Meehan who claims in his SunTimes commentary that CPS is starving schools n order to privatize.

This corporate reform of education is part of the neoliberal viewpoint that says that school systems should be run like businesses. There’s an inherent problem with this view: it collides with a societal view that democratic ideals include a thriving public school system that offers opportunities. As we go to hearings and protests and file lawsuits, we need to keep alive the question of what is meant by democracy and what is really meant by freedom.

Freedom is not throwing public education open to the free market so parents are free to “choose” a charter school; freedom is knowing that your child can walk to school in a safe neighborhood.

Is Mayor Emanuel Here?

Last week as some 60 parents, students, teachers, and community activists from Manierre School on the near north side embarked on the third “Walk the Walk” protest against school closings, organizer Sherise McDaniel called out, “Is Mayor Emanuel here?”

Since the announcement of 54 school closings, parents of soon-to-be-closed schools have commenced walking the route children will have to take to their receiving schools, inviting the press and Mayor Rahm Emanuel to join them.


So far, the mayor has not shown up. He did respond to queries from reporters that he wanted to ensure that Manierre kids “have a bright and successful future.” However, they can’t do that if they’re threatened by gang violence.

Yesterday Manierre parents made their last pleas at the CPS impartial hearings.Manierre received a $200,000 library renovation from Target that included a computers, televisions, iPods, 2000 books and a parent corner as well as murals on the wall. Further, the teachers at the Child Parent Center receive training and other benefits from the prestigious Erikson Center for Early Childhood Education.

George Manierre Elementary School is located at 1420 N Hudson Ave. The receiving school, Edward Jenner Elementary Academy of the Arts, is located at 1119 N Cleveland, across a busy intersection including a street that is five lanes wide.

Ten years ago, this area was teeming with children from the Cabrini Green High Rises. In 2000, before residents were relocated, Manierre had over 800 students enrolled. As of this year, they have 351 according to CPS data. Jenner also once had hundreds of Cabrini Green children. But while the enrollment has declined, gang rivalries and tensions have not.

Alderman William Burnett pointed out that the families in this community have “a generational curse. Some of these kid’s parents were killed by other kid’s parents. That’s the real stuff in that neighborhood.”

Parents say they have already seen gang threats on Facebook. CPS could decide to send Manierre kids to Franklin Fine Arts Academy, which is three blocks closer. Or LaSalle Language Academy, or Walter L. Newberry Math and Science Academy – all of which are nearby. But these are selected enrollment schools reserved for the city’s cream of the crop.

On the walk, Sherise McDaniel from the Parent Action Council pointed repeatedly across Sedgwick to how “nice” the neighborhood looked as she warned us not to be fooled. The Evergreen Terrace Apartments are largely Section 8 and the Marshall Field homes are little pockets of low income housing nestled between posh Old Town townhouses and mixed development on the busy riverfront. Parents fear this closing will spark an “all out gang war.

Throughout these stressful weeks since the announcement about school closings frustrated parents are beginning to say, “I’m just going to move” or “I’m going to find a different school.” School closings to further gentrification is nothing new; and with the list for charter schools just getting longer Rahm has more reason to demand more charter schools.

I have a feeling in the upcoming weeks we’ll see more drastic parent actions….


Busy week for education in the news….

At long last, it seems that education is making headline news across the country. Unfortunately, it’s not good news. Perhaps we can thank Rahm Emanuel for his insistence on closing a record 54 schools  while “turning around” 11 even though schools CEO Barbara Byrd Bennett thought the system could only handle 40 closings, according to Newstips‘ Curtis Black. WBEZ reports that school closings will not save money and in fact will cost $25 million a year for the next 30 years, while research continues to demonstrate that school closings in fact do more harm than good. (See the Washington Post and Education Weekly.) Ironically, the Education Weekly article is headlined “Proceed with Caution,” a statement Emanuel does not understand.

Standardized testing is also in the news, and fingers are once again pointed to schools’ chief Arne Duncan. His “Race to the Top” put more emphasis on test scores, despite continued evidence that social issues like poverty contribute more to a failing system than inadequate teaching. Headlines are not only lumping President Obama’s policies with Bush, but Duncan’s much touted Chicago method of closing schools is now proven to be a failed policy.

Are you listening Mr. President?