Tuesday, August 20, 2013

How a Single Word Encapsulates the State of Chicago’s Public Schools




I generally don’t watch the news during the workday, since I seem to have more than enough other mechanisms to inform me of the world’s atrocities and inanities.  But, I do typically keep my office TV on, tuned either to baseball (if a game’s on) or to one of the U-verse audio channels.  Just before noon today, I flipped on the TV to see if the Blue Jays-Yankees game was going to be on MLB Network.  Unfortunately, they didn’t pick it up, so I fired up the stream on MLB At Bat.
While waiting for first pitch, I left the TV on, figuring I’d listen to the first few minutes of the WGN Midday News before turning my background attention to the ballgame.  The first three stories were par for the course—five people shot in front of a church, followed by an almost unfathomable case of police malfeasance, followed by the shooting of a seven-year-old by a 15-year-old.
However, the fourth piece gave me a brief moment of hope.  Dina Bair’s lead of “A top-notch Chicago public high school undergoes a state-of-the-art renovation” was enough to make me turn my attention to the TV to actually watch the story
(As an aside, I have to believe that this three-nasties-and-a-goodie approach is a defined news industry formula to ensure that viewers don’t break out the hemlock prior to the first commercial break.)
Cool.  Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett were among those who cut a ceremonial ribbon at Jones College Prep, celebrating the opening of a new $115 million facility.  The school now has room to double its student body in the next three years.  They now have a “world-class track & field venue”.  They now have a library.  They now have a music space.  Awesome.  As one would expect, the city’s press release contains congratulatory quotes from both the mayor and Byrd-Bennett.  With all the negative publicity surrounding CPS over the past few years, up to and including this past weekend’s overnight demolition of the Whittier Elementary School fieldhouse, these folks need a few wins.
Sadly, CPS managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.  While watching the WGN story, I did a triple-take (and a rewind-and-pause) to confirm what I thought my eyes had seen—which they unfortunately had.  As you can see in the above screen capture, whoever made the hanging banner celebrating the school either doesn’t know the difference between “premiere” and “premier”, or actually intended to promote Jones as merely the first, rather than the best.
I can only hope that the person at fault isn’t a CPS graduate.
Mayor Emanuel’s remarks included a comment that Jones students used to have to walk up the street to the Harold Washington Library, but that they now had a library of their very own.  The mention of Mayor Washington and CPS’ misuse of “premiere” takes me back to the 1983 Daley Plaza celebration of the White Sox’ AL West pennant.
I remember four things from watching news coverage of that rally.
First, the sole reason I as a Cubs fan was even tuned in was that the only championship I’d experienced in my lifetime was the Chicago Sting’s 1981 NASL title—which I’d listened to on a transistor radio on my grandparents’ living room floor since the game was being televised many hours later on tape delay—and I was worried that this might be my only chance to actually SEE a Chicago team celebrate something of note, at least on the winning side of the ledger.
Second, every news station in town—which I guess was probably only four channels back then—showed the clip of Julio Cruz jumping across home plate with the pennant-clinching run about 17 million times.
And, more relevantly third and fourth, Mayor Washington on the Daley Plaza stage repeatedly referring to the Sox’ skipper as “Tony LaRusso” (instead of his actual name, Tony LaRussa), and encouraging the assemblage to “Give ‘em the finger! Give ‘em the finger!”  The mayor actually meant and was waving his index finger, showing the world that he believed the White Sox were #1, but that’s not exactly how it came across to this high school sophomore.
30 years on, I still remember the impact of getting a single letter wrong.  I hope that the students at Jones College Prep—by all accounts, or at least according to the city’s press release, Chicago’s absolute best and brightest young men and women—will pay more attention to this type of detail and accuracy than the banner’s copywriter did.
And maybe give that banner the finger when they walk past.  After all, they’re #1.