Salli Berg Seeley is a Lecturer in the Writing, Rhetoric, and Discourse Department at Depaul University. She began this project as a collaboration with the Chicago Grassroots Curriculm Taskforce (CGCT), a nonprofit organization who are, in their own words, “working to revolutionize the traditional educational model of classroom learning, by infusing the [Chicago Public School (CPS)] curriculum with local and relevant content from students’ lives.” CGCT has recently completed the first of eight theme-based publications (text books with accompanying cd’s) for adoption in CPS high school classrooms. Salli was inspired by their mission and wanted to find a way to contribute.
After a few extended conversations with her department chair and CGCT’s director, she developed a course for the WRD Department in which she and her students would collect first-hand narrative accounts to include in CGCT’s second publication, which is on the theme of Education Systems, Schools & Learning.
The raw perspectives of teachers, parents, and students in the CPS system is intriguing, indeed, and made even more so by the 2012 Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) strike and, more critically, the closing of 50 neighborhood schools and dismissal of over 2,100 CPS teachers and staff inthe summer of 2013. We hope to illuminate the issues at hand by garnering perspectives and giving voice to the individuals on the frontline–the classroom teachers, students, and parents–whose ideas and experiences are not often directly heard. Since beginning the course in autumn quarter 2013, we have picked up additonal community partners: Storycorps, Young Chicago Authors and Kartemquin Films. CGCT and Young Chicago Authors are both engaged in long-term projects focusing on the Chicago Public Schools, and Kartemquin Films is working on a documentary in recognition of the 50-year anniversary of the 1963 CPS boycott in protest of inequitable and segregated practices in the Chicago public school system.
We have been interviewing and collecting the oral histories and perspectives of current and former CPS teachers, parents, and students modeled on the style of Studs Terkel’s Working and other Oral History projects.
Students have also been asked to produce a creative component inspired by their interviews and limited only by their imaginations, talents, and skills. They have had the option of creating videos or video clips, poetry, written essays, graphic essays (comics/cartoons), and other multimedia and creative expressions.