At long last, the first day of school came last week for Anna and Beth, two little girls from Oak Park. The night before, the two 5-year-olds, with the help of their mothers, had lain out their new outfits, and packed their new Dora, the Explorer backpacks. Now the two were clinging to their mommies on the playground before school with a mix of fear, anxiety and excitement.

Although from their physical appearance the two girls looked pretty much the same, their stories were very different. Anna already knew her numbers, letters and shapes. She could write her name and read a little. She had been to Chicago’s zoos and museums many times. Her mom and dad had read her hundreds of books. She had already spent a couple of years in a structured, academic daycare setting. She even liked sushi.

Beth had not been so fortunate. She did not know her numbers, letters or shapes. She was looking forward to her very first visit to the Field Museum where her class was to take a field trip later in the fall. She was the child of a hard-working single mother. Her grandmother had taken care of her and her cousins while her mom worked. All the adults were so busy that no one had much time to read to her. She had watched a lot of television.

Soon enough the inevitable sorting that all schools do will result in the two girls being placed on different academic tracks. Anna will be doing algebra in the eighth grade. Beth won’t. Anne will be reading above grade level. Beth won’t. Anna will participate in a wide spectrum of co-curricular activities. Beth won’t. Anna will go to a four-year college. Beth won’t.

No one’s at fault here. Then again, everyone is. The tale I write here is one that has been told for years, and it will be told for many years to come. Poor children get the short end of the educational stick. To be sure, TV or movies highlight the extraordinary stories of a charter school with fantastic results or an inspirational go-getter of a principal or the amazing success of some poor kid. Good for them. But those stories mean nothing to the hundreds of thousands of kids whose dreams and hopes are crushed each school year by the burdens of poverty, circumstance and fate.

In the coming week, the entire nation will remember the national tragedy of that terrible September day 10 years ago when the Trade Center towers fell. But who will remember Beth?

A much greater national tragedy.

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John Hubbuch

John is an Indiana native who moved to Oak Park in 1976. He served on the District 97 school board, coached youth sports and, more recently, retired from the law. That left him time to become a Wednesday...

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