“You should be investing in these schools, not closing them. You should be supporting these schools, not closing them…We shall not be moved today. We’re going to City Hall...We are not going down without a fight.”
These were the words spoken by third grader Asean Johnson, a nine-year-old who took the podium this week at a rally to protest the controversial school closings in his native Chicago.
A move championed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Chicago Public Schools, the shut-downs are the largest in the city’s history and will include at least 49 area institutions. According to authorities, the goal is to close underperforming schools and stop unnecessary spending on them.
But according to Asean Johnson’s speech, the cuts are an act of racism; 90 percent of the school closings affect African-American student bodies. Other opponents add that the city’s focus on high test scores at all costs inevitably causes teachers to ignore struggling students, which encourages higher dropout rates.
And though his own school—Marcus Garvey Elementary—was finally spared from closure, the city’s original plan was to shut it down and send Johnson and his classmates to Mount Vernon Elementary—a school with even lower test scores, and according to Johnson, a gang problem that would have put him and his transferred classmates in danger.
Whether or not Johnson’s growing Internet fame had anything to do with his school being spared is a matter of conjecture. But what is clear is that his impassioned speech has ensured that his city’s educational problems have taken a national stage.
In the meantime, on Wednesday May 22, the Chicago Board of Education voted to shut down 48 elementary schools and one high school. Opponents of the plan, including the Chicago Teachers Union, have already filed two federal lawsuits to block the initiative from being put into motion.
But just because Johnson’s school was spared doesn’t mean that his fight is over. If this child has taught us anything, it’s that he’s on a mission, and he is not afraid to speak out about it.
What do you think of Asean Johnson and his accusations that the school closings are an act of racism? Let us know in the Comments.