School-closings controversy needs some reality checks

Let's not pretend that when you close schools on the South and West sides, the children affected aren't black. Let's not pretend that's not racist. ...

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, speaking at a protest rally Wednesday

As long as we're playing "Let's Pretend," let's also pretend lobbing accusations of racism is an effective negotiating gambit and a good lever to pull if you want to move public opinion toward your side.

Let's pretend racism isn't widely acknowledged as an unpardonable thought crime and that suggesting its malignity secretly animates your opponents is an excellent way to shed light on a debate rather than just generate heat.

Let's pretend for the purposes of argument we can take the sting out of the charge by blandly redefining racism as an "effect of institutional policies that does not require bigotry as a motive," as local blogger Steve Rhodes put it last week.

Let's pretend, then, that the Chicago Symphony Orchestra is a racist organization because it didn't hire its first African-American musician until 2002. And let's pretend that referring to "discriminatory results" or "racially imbalanced outcomes" isn't a less inflammatory, more productive way to raise an obviously delicate issue.

Let's pretend the standards for which schools should be closed were arbitrary, unfairly applied or both. Let's pretend that the population drain in the affected communities is a cynical invention. And let's pretend that, no matter how you select and slice and dice Chicago's public schools, whites don't make up less than 9 percent of the student population.

Let's pretend the teachers union would be agreeable to closing any schools, no matter how depopulated or academically blighted and that its concern for students is the only concern that's genuinely expressed.

But while we're at it, let's also pretend that the charter and school-privatization movement isn't contributing to the struggles of conventional public schools.

Let's pretend the "average class-size recommendation" of 30 pupils per classroom that Chicago Public Schools used to generate the "empty-desk" number that fuels the closing of schools is not at least 7 pupils per classroom higher than the state average.

Let's pretend this plan isn't a done deal and that upcoming community hearings will make a difference

And let's pretend that even if all the adults were on board and in agreement, closing 53 schools, no matter the ethnic makeup, would not be massively disruptive, at least in the short-run.

And let's pretend that any of us know for sure whether we'll be able to demonstrate that CPS students are better or worse off because of the school closings three years from now.

Tolerating intolerance

The line of the week came from the satirical newspaper The Onion, which in its fictional coverage of the gay-marriage arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court offered the following imaginary quote from an "immense homophobe":

"It's impossible for anyone who hasn't spent their whole life in a state of benighted prejudice to know the pain and hardship that people like myself endure every day in our efforts to ensure that gays and lesbians remain oppressed and unequal. Just for a moment, put yourself in my shoes and try to imagine how difficult it is to know that the elevated social standing that I so unjustly enjoy is at stake. We have come too far and worked too hard to make sure that gays are second-class citizens, and all we're asking for is basic unfairness."

The parody, however, is awfully close to the gripes I've been fielding from opponents of same-sex marriage in Change of Subject's online comment threads. They're wounded by the very suggestion that their desire to continue to exclude gay couples from the cornucopia of rights, responsibilities and recognitions of traditional marriage is anything other than high-minded. It's a variation on the old "you are intolerant if you refuse to tolerate my intolerance" argument.

But look, all I'm asking is for tolerance of my intolerance for this feeble idea that intolerance for intolerance is equivalent to actual intolerance.

In other words, focus on the facts, not your feelings.

Thanks, Buzz!

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