By John Hubbuch
My last column compared state report cards for OPRF and Hinsdale Central high schools. It was a bit provocative. On purpose. Having written a column for a long time, I know when I write on race, there will be lots of response. So when I presented data that suggests that a big reason Oak Park lags behind Hinsdale Central in test scores is because of the relatively poor performance of the black students at OPRF, I knew some readers would have strong opinions.
I concluded the column by stating that despite Hinsdale Central's superior test scores, Oak Park was the better high school. Here's why:
The newspaper listings of area high school rankings based solely on test scores in reading, math and science are flawed, perhaps pointless. Surely public education is more than test scores from three subjects. What about history, geography, government, music, art, drama, foreign language, writing essays, analyzing problems, critical thinking and collaboration?
The best schooling educates the whole person's mind, body and spirit. Public education is premised on teaching children the importance of citizenship, community and values. How do the two schools rank with respect to student empathy, compassion, curiosity, courage, honesty, veracity and wisdom?
The answer is that nobody knows because they aren't tested. The state tests only things that are easily measured, yet many other equally important things aren't because they're simply too hard to measure. As a result, these published test scores are hardly decisive as to the quality of education for 14- to 18-year-old students. Hinsdale Central may be a better high school than Oak Park, but not on the basis of these incomplete test scores.
The biggest reason Oak Park and River Forest High School is a better high school than Hinsdale Central is that it's in Oak Park, which is a diverse community. A devotion to multiculturalism, human dignity and cultural pluralism is essential to its history and ethos. Make no mistake: that is a big deal, not some knee jerk liberal's wet dream.
Ask a graduate of OPRF who is now working whether the experience of living in Oak Park prepared them for work in the increasingly diverse modern world. They will tell you about their Indian boss, their African peers, their Hispanic customers. They will talk about the importance of sensitivity to race, gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation. They will tell you that having diverse friends and relationships enhances the lives they live.
Of course, you can try to learn all of this by attending high school some place other than Oak Park and River Forest High School. You can join model UN or have an exchange student stay with you or read James Baldwin or Toni Morrison.
Or you can go to OPRF High School for four years.