Author’s Note in Chicago: Against the backdrop of a city torn apart by murder and mayhem, wayward and criminal youth have managed (in this writer’s entirely unqualified opinion) to exceed the infamy of the Al Capone mob through their wanton use of handgun violence and blatant disregard for the lives, personal property and rights of law-abiding citizens. In so doing, they have redefined Chicago not so much anymore as the city that works but as a vacation spot to which many tourists will not return, spelling economic disaster for the entire city of Chicago with rippling effects throughout Cook County and the so-called collar counties.
‘(That’s) one step for man; one giant leap for mankind,’ uttered Commander Neil Alden Armstrong as he set his foot, the first human foot upon the earth of the moon. The date? July 21, 1969.
The soaring heights Armstrong and his fellow space explorers sought to reach must have thrilled the vast majority of Americans. For others, perhaps an opportunity to rekindle one’s flagging patriotism, identify with a real hero or vicariously actualize a childhood dream.
In an effort, however, to redirect the focus back to Planet Earth, many asked: ‘In a nation of such prolific abundance, how is it that we can so ably land twelve American astronauts on the moon and bring them home alive and well in the four years between December 1968 and December 1972 but repeatedly fail to teach every educable child in a city like Chicago to read at a level commensurate with his abilities?’
‘Russians Win Race to Launch Earth’s First Artificial Satellite’
So cried out the Saturday evening edition of the St. Louis Post Dispatch. The Russians had beaten us to the punch in their October 4th, 1957 launching of Sputnik (Russian: satellite)-the Earth’s first man-made satellite, but for many Americans it was as if the sky had fallen in.
For the first time ever Americans had to acknowledge how sorely behind the Russians they actually were, especially in the academic disciplines of mathematics and engineering. While Russia laid out the survival groundwork for a possible meltdown of cold war tensions, our nation wasted some 60 years at the very beginning of the twentieth-century debating arcane questions of evolution and denying the utter absurdity of the post-bellum legal doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ which, by the way, enjoyed a broad presence in post-Bellum southern society.
Perhaps we don’t respect reading as much as we should or have any understanding of an earlier time in our nation’s history when many a slave and slaveowner knew the only key that unlocked the door to freedom from slavery was the key of literacy. Knowledge, more precious than rubies, was the part of you that the slavemaster could not steal. Frederick Douglass, a slave for a short time only, knew how true that really was. Ex-slave, freeman, journalist, founder and editor of The North Star, he was the one man about whom Mr. Lincoln remarked: “Frederick Douglass is the most meritorious person I have ever known.”
Literacy ennobles whereas illiteracy enslaves, an easy to remember credo when today’s socio-educational crises prevent us from achieving all we seek for America’s children and young people. There is nothing more vital to the social and psychological well-being of children than literacy.
Once again as we have witnessed far too often in the past, work slowdowns, walkouts and strikes often do more to drive the two sides further apart, even when a settlement has been reached.
This year, the Chicago Teachers Union has announced a one day walkout this Friday, April 1, 2016 to protest its displeasure over a Chicago Board of Education proposal to slash teacher salaries. How that turns out remains to be seen.
‘Do the right thing from whichever side you stand, but by day’s end, will the children with whom you have been entrusted know how to do their ‘readin’ writin’ and ritmatic?’