Magazine article The Christian Century

Left Behind

Magazine article The Christian Century

Left Behind

Article excerpt

A WEEK OR SO after President Bush assured the nation that education would continue to be one of his top priorities and that no child would be left behind, I had an extended conversation with the principal of an elementary school in the middle of Cabrini-Green. Cabrini is the housing project on the near north side of Chicago. Constructed in the '60s, Cabrini once housed 20,000 people. It became the symbol of everything that was misguided about public housing. It was the scene of concentrated poverty, poorly maintained buildings, unemployment, family disintegration, crime and drugs. When you take a taxi from the north side to O'Hare, the driver asks, "Division Street?" That means: "Are you willing to risk driving through Cabrini-Green?"

Many of the project's worst buildings have been torn down, and others are scheduled to come down. Some of the schools that served the project are also being replaced.

Byrd Academy is a building with about as much character as the communist-era structures of Eastern Europe. John Updike says somewhere that the old ornate school buildings which many of us attended as children reflected the community's pride, its commitment to its children, and the high premium it placed on education. I remember the high school in Altoona, Pennsylvania, with its dome visible from all over the town, and its wonderful three-story open light well. You knew when you entered the school that important activities happened inside and that the community had high expectations for you.

Byrd Academy looks like a bureaucracy's afterthought. …

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