I have lived in Austin, Oak Park’s neighbor to the east, for 48 years. It saddens me to see a destructive mindset now at work in Oak Park that a half-century ago fought Austin’s efforts to constructively address the challenges then facing our community. Many Austinites were committed to staying. Through established neighborhood institutions like the Town Hall Assembly, we sought, unsuccessfully, increased police protection to address the neighborhood’s rising crime rate. Changing the attendance boundaries of Austin High School, then the premier Chicago public high school, to slow down rapid racial change, was denounced as racist. Instead of recognizing our efforts as sincere and essential, we were tarred with the brush of bigotry.

The first two episodes of America to Me resurrect the same self-serving pattern. My bi-racial son attended Oak Park and River Forest High School as a tuition student. Soon after his enrollment, I was asked to attend a conference with a counsellor, who told me that Aaron was having attitudinal issues. In the ensuing months, care and attentiveness were directed his way, compassion and understanding. By the time of his graduation, with extraordinary support, he had found his bearings and went on to receive his undergraduate degree at the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana. 

Anyone who knows anything about OPRF High School knows that Aaron’s story is the rule, not the rare exception. No doubt such would not make for compelling or controversial or remunerative TV. No money there. The dishonesty of America to Me is that it selectively chooses to focus on the fact that OPRF is not perfect, that it could do better. It cherry picks for the rotten apple. It broadcasts unsubstantiated calumnies without soliciting rebuttal. 

The truth is, as Theodore Roosevelt taught us, “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming, but who does actually strive to do the deeds.”

Joe English


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