What kind of community do we want?

Opinion: Letters To The Editor

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You can't fix what you can't/won't face.

-James Baldwin

We disagree most strongly with John Hubbuch's position and his invitation to the Oak Park community to walk away from this particularly glaring reality haunting Oak Park and our country. Mr. Hubbuch's Wednesday Journal Viewpoints article, "Do we have the courage for this conversation?" [Aug. 22] provides an opportunity to consider additional implications.

His invitation to community stakeholders to withdraw from the minority student achievement gap situation after their so-called "very best efforts … to solve the problem," is a semi-opaque and anemic call to the community's lower self. How has he discerned "the very best effort" from the community? Has he conducted recent and relevant evaluations? Has he consulted quantitative or longitudinal data streams sufficient to warrant this call? What does he know about the individual stories of real people or the day-to-day narratives about the ongoing work in the community to support young people and families navigating elementary and high school experiences?

Had he done so, he probably would have been disinclined to make such blanketing, revealing and foolish statements. Why do white people continue to see this as a black issue? We don't get the feeling that Hubbuch is speaking to black people about discontinuing the efforts to close the gap — at least black people who think critically about it. So who is his audience?

We're concerned about, but not really surprised by, the number of people who really agree with him. Is this true? Do Oak Parkers want to argue that solving the achievement gap is a waste of time and money? Hubbuch seems to adopt the essence of a burgeoning cultural ideology that pits an idealized, normal, deserving community against one not-so-normative or deserving. Is this not a national issue as well?

His piece puts us in mind of other coded, short-sighted calls-to-arms fanning a growing flame of anxieties, grounded in the as-yet-unresolved issues about how black people will ultimately structure their way onto the American commons.

Why is it that our country seems able to mount sustained efforts to prosecute two wars; bail out criminal financial institutions; conceive, construct, launch and land billion-dollar engineering projects on Mars, among many other problematic achievements, but we can't seem to solve the problems of providing quality education for all of our children? This condition did not begin a few years ago — it's been years in the making. Had Hubbuch provided a bit more quality reporting in this opinion piece, he really could have contributed to the idea of a courageous conversation — one that could be characterized as authentic and life-giving.

Perhaps if he had taken the time to investigate his story, he would not have come off as a disgruntled middle-class white man, fearful that too much public funding is going to programs for problem-ridden black kids while the "intelligent" white and middle-class black kids are getting short shrift.

The stated "dysfunctional" causes of the situation — causes that go beyond financial considerations — are rooted in a history that is as complicated as the many new names created to define and describe this state of affairs. Perhaps Mr. Hubbuch should investigate the following categories before calling for such a predictably reactionary response: income gap, empowerment gap, loving relationship gap, equality gap, content delivery gap, quality instruction gap, access gap, performance gap, just to name a few.

In a time of economic downturn, it's fashionable to throw liberal ideals out of the window. Retreating from these issues does not reveal courage, but it just might reveal what kind of community we want to build.

George Bailey, Lee Pulliam, Deacon Wiley Samuels

Founding members, AMENS Mentoring Group


Reader Comments

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Bruce Samuels from Oak Park  

Posted: October 6th, 2012 6:04 PM

"Why is it that our country seems able to mount sustained efforts to prosecute two wars; bail out criminal financial institutions...and land billion-dollar engineering projects on Mars...but we can't seem to solve the problems of providing quality education for all of our children?" This is a great question posed by the writers. The wars alone cost us over $2 million a minute and we end up killing innocent people and our young soldiers. If we put a tenth of those funds into quality education...


Posted: October 5th, 2012 3:01 PM

The above letter reads like an academic construct to justify the persistence of the achievement gap rather than propose any practical solutions, all backed up with an unproductive and divisive use of the race card. Depressing.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: October 3rd, 2012 11:44 PM

Violet - I am confused over your use of the word "Class." The Merriam Webster dictionary defines class as: "a number of persons or things regarded as forming a group by reason of common attributes, characteristics, qualities, or traits; kind;.." If this is the definition you would choose, I can probably identify 50 classes in Oak Park. I hope you are not using "class" to describe (Blacks and Whites, or African Americans and Anglo Saxons) as having completely different social behavior or personal mores. That would a categorization suffered by the American Indian, Latinos, Irish, Italians, Germans, the handicapped, lepers, dwarfs, and those with different sexual preferences. One word cannot describe the challenges between the races or cultures. Anyway, "class" is owned by those spending their lives discussing the social behavior and personal mores of the rich and poor. Oversimplifying the challenges between blacks and whites in Oak Park is not a way to create a discussion on "What kind of community do we want?

Violet Aura  

Posted: October 3rd, 2012 10:28 PM

OPRF Resident: We have discussed this phenomenom before. It was mentioned that it's not so much race as class. I heartily agree.

Violet Aura  

Posted: October 3rd, 2012 10:24 PM

Actually, I disagree with the term 'poor.' People may be BROKE, but describing oneself as 'poor' implies a permanent condition. I am DONE with demanding that some outside force deal with social problems like this. This is bottom up, folks. No one is gonna save other people from themselves. And no, it's no longer the fault of slavery that some parents have no interest in their children doing well in school. Some parents feel threatened because they did poorly in school. It's a personal thing.

Violet Aura  

Posted: October 3rd, 2012 10:18 PM

My favorite documentary of all time is "Eyes on the Prize." I just revisited it this February during Black History Month (mere coincidence, LOL). Despite a lot of footage taken before The Great Society programs were enacted, the Black community, no matter their economic level, consistenly represented itself in a dignified manner. I saw no equivalent of sagging jeans showing ratty undies, uncouth behavior and language in public, etc. This proves that being poor does not mean acting poorly.

OPRF Resident  

Posted: October 3rd, 2012 8:46 PM

As a long time Oak Park resident, I see the difference in our community over the past 5-10 years. It has gotten worse. There is seldom interaction between the races even though most will mention "diversity" as why they want to live in Oak Park. Plus the leadership of Oak Park can't get out of the VMA/anti-VMA groups. We need fresh faces and people interested in real topics of interest to the citizens.

OPRF Resident  

Posted: October 3rd, 2012 8:42 PM

@gg, you are not racist, but you are wrong. Don't assume all black children are being raised by single parents and/or that any of their parents (single or married) don't work with their kids and do their best to help them succeed. Expectations equal success and the expectations have to come from everyone. That does include teachers and administrators. Talking about it means nothing if their actions prove otherwise.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: October 3rd, 2012 1:57 PM

The Bunk - Outstanding Post!


Posted: October 3rd, 2012 1:51 PM

I'd like a 21st century community. One where government is minimal, fiscally responsible, in the background and serves the people. One where personal responsibility is a value. One where personal grievances aren't used to obtain advantages. One where excellence is appreciated. One where tolerance is emphasized. In other words, I'd like Oak Park to drop its 1960s view of the world shaded by Chicago eastern block thinking and become something special.

gg from op  

Posted: October 3rd, 2012 1:27 PM

The problem is not an achievement gap. The problem is a culture gap. Fatherless children with mothers that do not have the time or ability to teach their children reading and math. Children learn by example. Ok call me a racist.


Posted: October 3rd, 2012 12:49 PM

JBM - That's what I thought. Thanks for the clarification - it's appreciated.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: October 3rd, 2012 11:55 AM

RJ - I apologize for the error in my post. It was a mental error. I meant to write "liberal and conservative NOT "liberal and democrat."


Posted: October 3rd, 2012 1:17 AM

JBM - I'll give you a generous benefit of the doubt, but in your comment of the village, as a community coming together through leadership -- As a minority, in any given situation would question their exclusion, in this case, conservative/republican. You went on a laundry list to include liberal AND democrat. Are we to assume we're included in that "right/wrong" classification? Why the exclusion when your point was inclusion?

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: October 2nd, 2012 11:55 PM

John Hubbuch's column is rarely researched and hardly ever representative of the community, but I am glad he wrote his piece on the Achievement Gap. The issue is important despite John's view being way off base. Several years ago, I said at a public meeting that the village was polarized over racial issues. A board member at the table got red faced and seemed ready to scream. I found out that the statement is heresy - in the white community. While I stand by my statement, it is of little value since the subject of diversity rarely comes up except in press releases. It is not a subject of over-the-the back-fence chats. I passionately agree with the final sentence in the the Bailey, Pulliam, Samuels reply, "Retreating from these issues (the Achievement Gap) does not reveal courage, but it just might reveal what kind of community we want to build." I think we would get near unanimous agreement of the black white, Latino, and Asian etc. communities that "we want to make it better." Some will say, the village is always getting better, but as long as there are no community wide conversations on race taken place - and there are not, then it cannot be getting better. Dan Haley wrote a few years back that the only time you see blacks and white together is at the 4th of July Fireworks and Day in Our Village. He was correct then and he is correct now. Leadership is needed to bring the village community together and it has to include all colors, rich and poor, liberal and democrat, old and young, and right and wrong.

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