Looting and burning is a pathway to social justice. That’s the message from a video recently added by Chicago Public Schools to its website as a response to perceived economic injustice for blacks. The district calls the video an “equity tool,” but the reality is it promotes hopelessness. Titled “How Can We Win?,” the video’s message is clear: there is no way. Better to riot, loot, and burn. It sounds unbelievable, but in Chicago’s schools, it’s not.
Some CPS students have difficult lives. Too many face the possibility of violent crime and gang harassment, and loss of friends and family.
Schools, and CPS in particular, are meant to be places of hope and growth, where learning can be a ticket to a better life. CPS leadership and teachers are meant to push kids beyond where they are, to help them read and do math and to think and to succeed. There’s no question that’s a challenging objective. But there must be optimism, high expectations, and possibility running through it all.
Instead, with this video CPS is promoting a fatalistic, nihilistic message to kids. There is no hope in its message.
And that message also lets CPS hide behind its failures. It’s easier to blame society than have the public scrutinize the district’s failed student outcomes. That’s what makes this video so destructive.
A closer look at the language of the video shows just how far CPS has fallen. Here is a school system where three quarters of students can’t demonstrate basic competency on reading and math on state tests and the SAT. Yet the district would have us believe – as enunciated in this “equity tool” – that either there is no winning at all or that “winning” comes from looting, arson, and property destruction.
The video, added to the CPS website in late June, features black author and filmmaker Kimberly Jones. In the video, she is speaking days after George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis by police. She begins with a robust defense of rioting and looting as an entitlement for those presently at the lower end of the economic spectrum.
“Wealthy black people (are) making the commentary…we should not be rioting, we should not be looting, we should not be tearing up our own communities. And then there’s been the argument…we should be hitting them in the pocket…where we don’t spend any money – but I feel like we should do both, and I support both.”
Of looters who struck in Chicago and other cities:
“their only hope and their only opportunity to get some of the things that we flaunt and flash in front of them all the time is to walk through a broken glass window and get it.”
That’s bad enough. But then comes the endorsement of guerilla action and arson as a form of entitled social protest. Jones later in the video adds:
“If the social contract is broken why the f*** do I give a s*** about burning the f****** Football Hall of Fame, and burning the f******Target…f*** your Target, f***your Hall of Fame. As far as I’m concerned they can burn this b**** to the ground. And it still wouldn’t be enough.”
Anger is destructive and encourages hopelessness and poor decisions. Chicago lives with the wreckage of poor personal decisions – often resulting in violent crime – every day. Yet CPS endorses the anger and discouragement and hopelessness evident in this video. “Yes. You should loot stores. You should steal. Light things on fire. You’ve got no other options, really.” That’s the message.
Endorsing theft, arson, and criminal damage to property cannot in any way advance either “equity” or academics. And there is little question that most CPS students are not getting educated. That is what opportunistic anger masks. A look at the official measures shows the depth of the miseducation of CPS students.
2019 Illinois Report Card data show that among all CPS K-12 students only 27 percent can read at grade level and only 24 percent can do math at grade level. For black CPS students just 17 percent and 13 percent are at grade level in reading and math, respectively.
The video is a convenient distraction for CPS and its current overseer, Mayor Lori Lightfoot. She and CPS accent an appearance of progress while fostering a culture of grievance to dampen higher expectations. For example, Lightfoot and CPS trumpeted a 2020 high school graduation rate of 82.5 percent.
But there’s little to celebrate. On the SAT, typically taken by 11th graders, only 26 percent of all students tested could reach or exceed the achievement standard for reading. That was versus 14 percent for black students. Social promotion from one grade to the next is rampant in CPS if only one-quarter of all high schoolers – and even fewer among black students – can read at grade level.
The standard progressive definition of equity envisions equalized or “proportional” outcomes. This “equity tool” would achieve that through a race to the bottom where – with widespread destruction, looting and burning – everyone loses.