If you are a Chicago reporter and free on Friday, June 11, you should head to Marquette Park to see a group of students from Gage Park High School—a place that is typically in the news either for murdered students or horrid test scores—launch a different kind of memorial, a high-tech kiosk commemorating the housing rights marches of 1966. Civil rights leaders, including Jesse Jackson Sr., will be on hand for the dedication.
Speaking of dedication, this was truly a student-driven project (nothing “low-performing” about what it took for the kids to make it possible and create the content). But above all they benefited from the energy, determination and trust of their civics teacher, Victor Harbison. I’ve kept tabs on the project through my brother, historian Rick Perlstein, and have been impressed with his friend Harbison’s drive.
Rick asked me how such a teacher might fare under the type of merit pay schemes now under consideration. Set aside the fact that Harbison might be one of the 69 percent of American teachers who are not in a tested subject or grade or class. I hope that the mental and communication skills and better attendance that a project like this engenders would influence the results of any test these kids might take. But for one day (or three?) I don’t want to think about merit pay or federal policy. Once in a while it’s just great to see journalism about kids doing something cool.