Professor Kirstein has been invited to speak at a Chicago Public School, Lincoln Park High School, on the Iraq War on March 27. He will speak on, “Iraq: Its Impact on America and the World” as we endure the beginning of the fifth year of the war. Lincoln Park High School is considered the top public high school in Illinois and the thirtieth in the nation according to Newsweek.
I am not big on rankings of educational institutions whether it be high schools or universities. I would have used a different matrix in assessing high schools other than test scores, advance placement test success, or how many went to college etc. and would use a social activist index. These might include variables such as diversity, commitment to critical thinking, principals or heads of school who are social activists etc., numbers of students who protested against something of a public nature, teachers who are fined or suspended for antiwar speech or deviating from the curriculum norm into out-of-the-box pedagogy.
I have been impressed by this school however. I was invited by students who belong to a club called S.E.P.A. (Social, Environmental, Political Awareness). A student with an Asian surname invited me. Then I contacted a teacher who impressively directed me to another student, Group Leader, who has a Latino name. Impressive because students at Lincoln Park seem to have considerable independence and command experience in developing programmes. It is a testament to the degree of sophistication and trust that the faculty has in these students.
These students negotiated my topic, gave me explicit instructions on the format and were quite proactive in arranging this. One of the initial dates was the anniversary of the Iraq War–March 19–but that was deferred because many students wanted to participate in antiwar marches that day. Rarely am I trumped by students who wish to engage in antiwar advocacy but it is an indication of considerable commitment to progressive change.
By the way, the school’s mascot is a lion and not a racist rendering of a Native American such as the now “deceased,” racist Chief Illiniwek at the University of Illinois. I have a policy of not accepting speaking engagements at schools that have inappropriate mascot representations of aboriginal or indigenous peoples. I have never bent this rule and never will. I also would not speak at a university that was under A.A.U.P. (American Association of University Professors) censure unless I spoke specifically on academic freedom and made reference to that situation.