Military at Ames? No Sirree Bub!

Maria must've been shaking her head.  "What, is this guy afraid of a little snow?"

I had texted the door-knocking coordinator: "Are people really going out today? There's 3 inches and it's still coming down!"  Hey, it was a Saturday morning. Was anybody really going to make the effort?

When I got to Ames.  I got educated.

The community affairs room -- a large, well-equipped, full-time feature right on the first floor of this beautiful 13-year-old school -- was full of people working on collating the piles of petitions that had already been collected and notarized.  Two teams were already out on the street.  Two more teams were being formed -- one of which I was assiged to -- and after a pass by the donut and coffee table we headed out with our clipboards.

And the best part? "a little child shall lead them."

A Civics Lesson

We were going out to canvas a terrotory of about 5 blocks to gather signatures on a ballot initiative.  Many of the people in our area would prefer to speak Spanish, and only one of the adults in our team spoke Spanish.  Luckily, we had Edwin.

It was a little hard for me at first to take a back seat when it was time to give our pitch -- after all, who better than me to explain the civics context to the people we were meeting on the sidewalks and stoops of the west-side neighborhood that surrounds Ames?  Someone had to determine if the person was a registered voter ... quickly explain the concept of an alderman pushing the school board to fall in with the Mayor's scheme to militarize the neighborhood school...emphasize the lack of consultation with the community...and then suggest the desirability of putting the question on the ballot so that everyone could vote on it.

Well, the answer to the question "who better?" turned out to be Edwin.

Edwin is a smart, confident, likeable 7th-grader from Ames.  Edwin did a beautiful job of explaining to people what was going on, and he had a winning way that made them not only want to provide their own signature, but also go rouse the other voters in the family so they could come give their signatures, too! Oh, and he switched effortlessly between English and Spanish, as the situation required.

As I stood to one side, ready to peel off one of our flyers if necessary, but mostly just offering moral support and enoying the beautiful snowy day and listening to Edwin's conversations with the rresidents, I thought, "Our future is in good hands."

Sir Yes Sir!

The hardest thing for me to understand about the whole effort to militarize Ames is, why would anyone want to go into a place that is dedicated to community involvement, creativity, and leadership development, and change the focus to "following orders?"

It seems that Ames has become caught up in a complicated cultural dicussion about schools, adolescence, parenting, multiculturalism, and community safety. To some people, teenagers running around and being obstreperous is the problem, and "Discipline, discipline, discipline!" is the answer.

Let's just pause here for a moment and each ask ourselves: What was I like when I was a teenager?


Okay, back to the present.  Cosider the Peace and Leadership Council at Ames.  "80 students at Ames Middle School in Logan Square paticipated in a student-led peace assembly [in March] in order to promote ways to diffuse violence and empathize with others who may have stressors in their lives that affect how they behave." (See Ames Middle School Students Hold Peace Assembly)

The Peace and Leadership Coucil brought forward a set of six recommendations to Alderman Maldonado, based on their survey and analysis of conflict in the surrounding community. (Militarization of Ames wasn't one of them.)

The thing that scares me most of all is the idea that kids at Ames will be "taught" to become very good at "do what you're told" instead of what I currently see happening: being in an environment that brings out creativity and learning to think for themselves; an enviroment that places a high value on community involvement and cooperation, and eschews violence.

The fact that Ames is so successful is not an accident.  Ames is one of 5 schools in Chicago with ELEV8 programs -- a highly prestigious program being operated in four areas around the country.

ELEV8 schools feature:

*Adolescent-centered health services and education in school-based health centers that encompass physical, mental, sexual and dental health, with an emphasis on prevention.

*Capacity-building for students, parents and community members to increase their leadership skills and build sustainable, healthy neighborhoods.

*Community organizing on state and federal levels in partnership with the Federation for Community Schools.

*Extension of the school day, with afternoon, weekend and summer programs, including the International Baccalaureate curriculum.

*Family supports, including public-benefits screening, tax-prep assistance, fitness and healthy-living classes, effective parenting stragegies, book clubs, and more through a "Center for Working Families" in each school neighborhood.

*High-quality mentoring and leadership programs for youth through Big Brothers/Big Sisters and other organizations.

ELEV8 schools have been recognized by the federal government as one of ten top models of what shcools should be. (Scroll down on this page to read about Ames: "An Elev8 Chicago Success Story")

When I think about kids at Ames being forced to say, "Sir Yes Sir!" all I can think of is something my mother Eva Scarry used to say: "No sirree bub!"

As the Urban Dictionary explains: "No siree bub - without any possible doubt. NO. Never, Never, Never in a million years. Absolutely not. Used in conjunction with: Do I look that stupid to you?"

Related posts

The community group in the Ames neighborhood has presented data to the Chicago Public Schools Board, showing that the community overwhelmingly demands that Ames continue to be a regular academic school, and that they reject the proposal that it be militarized.  It seems to me that the only remaining question is: who controls the city, the citizens or the politicians?

(See the people in the community get a say? (Update on the Military Coup at Ames))

Ames serves a largely Spanish-speaking community.  Is the militarization of Ames anything other than a signal of what the Democratic party means by equitable treatment for immigrants?

(See The Militarization of Ames: The Real Meaning of the DREAM ACT)

For those not already familiar with the situation in Chicago: at a time when the City cannot be bothered to figure out how to run its own schools, but is instead closing dozens at a time, our leaders somehow think it's appropriate to let branches of the U.S. military have the run of the school and recruit kids -- and in some cases outright convert the school into a military academy.  Parents in the Logan Square neighborhood are fighting a valiant effort to stop that from happening to the Ames School.

(See Stop Playing "Ender's Game" With Chicago's Young People)