Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Cell Phones and "L" Trains

The curly brown Garfunkel haired white bread twenty-something entered the red line train at Belmont. To his left walked a veteran commuter. The pleasant voice from the new northbound ingĂ©nue asked, “Do you mind if I sit down next to you?” The veteran replied, “no” with restrained politeness. Unfortunately, the neophyte had an agenda.

After a half a dozen lines of small talk, the newcomer’s intentions erupted. At what appeared to be an appropriate moment for poor social skills followed the inappropriate appeal to the Samaritan, “Can I borrow your cell phone, again? “No,” said the veteran with the same graceful tone.

The conversation ended, but they remained together. Nine stops later, the respectful thirty-ish veteran disembarked at Granville. The neophyte was now ‘almost’ isolated in the northbound red line train with about four other passengers, who were pre-disposed with their books, newspapers, or other diversions. One of them was me.

I sat in the double seat directly to his north. Hooked up to MobiTV, I struggled to listen to a newscast with a pair of hard plastic ear buds inserted into my ear canals and PDA/cell phone. My three day free introductory subscription had yet to run out. However, the news cast periodically lost its 3G connection and the ear buds failed to find a welcome spot in front of the passages to hearing if not comprehension. When the buds eventually held, I had to remove them. Why?

Well, as we reached Granville and the veteran passenger was history, The stress of driving down LSD is no longer a threat to my piece of mind. However, the conversation or music of another life could easily take hold on the Red line north.

With what I hoped was the last charitable cell phone owner gone, the question breached the silence like digital interference or cell phone tones blasting during your favorite film, lips moved, but I could not hear, so my ear buds were removed. “Do you mind if I use your cell phone?” I looked in disappointment. The rookie was undeterred. Upon answering with my matter of fact reply, he changed seats.

A cute Asian looking woman was now accosted, but she felt obligated. She had not heard all of ‘Garfunkel’s’ previous greatest hits. With that, her cell was exposed and his cell call began. The candid one-sided conversation now began to emit into the atmosphere and pierced the silence with its sounds. He had to leave a message just to let us know that the call was not a lost cause. Perhaps, he had just left voicemail on the Belmont platform, but that message apparently was not recent enough.

What is it about cell phones that make people behave so badly? Why do commuters want other restricted passengers to hear their most personal moments? With the calm that often pervades a CTA “L” ride, why do people persist with communication that can wait until arrival? What is it about “L” etiquette that these cell phone users just don’t get? I understand meeting the friend that you have not seen in a month, but cell phones calls are another story.

These are not the words of prophets. “Fools” said I, you do not know, cell phone use like a cancer grows. Read my words that I might reach you. Pay attention to other commuters so that they may teach you. There is an excellent article in the Red Eye on cell phone etiquette in CTA trains.

Okay, I admit that if my cell goes off, I may answer. However, the first thing out of my mouth is usually, “I am on the train, can I call you back?” Or “Can you call me back in forty-five minutes, I’m on the train?” The phone is next promptly turned off or put on vibrate. I have likened use of cell phones to smoking a cigarette; it is unnecessary noise pollution and being held captive is no “ode to joy!”

It is so simple. Who wants to be bombarded by clients, customers or confidential moments in front of others also restrained in the same public place? Do you think that commuters appreciate being held hostage to a personal soap opera? Yet, it happens too often. Sometimes, the conversations are beyond bizarre and don’t belong in a public place in front of children!

Often, it is clear that those who are calling even instigate the call. They can’t wait until a private moment that can occur by departing to an oncoming platform. How many of us have lip sync-ed the “L” conversations of an unrestrained passenger? Perhaps, we have given that stare of infamy, only to receive less than graceful insensitivity and another ten minute ‘yelping’ of a new episode of ‘Desperate cell phone flies?’

Does anyone recall some of the best or worst experiences? Perhaps we can be amused by or simply discourage use by posting memoires of other subway commuters’ tender, yet public moments. Are there any other abused and/or amused commuters? Okay, I admit that it can be simultaneously hilarious, yet pathetic.

Monday, October 29, 2007

The Decatur Classical Parent Syndrome

Somewhere between or after my child’s homework, my Decatur Classical School kid will get the chores done. Repeat after me, somewhere between or after homework, my child will get their responsibility chart completed, hopefully. Somewhere between or after my child’s homework, I will come up with a good excuse for their sibling and I why Decatur child did not get their chores done. Hopefully, acceptance to Young Academic Center or the next plateau will justify the challenge.

For those who don’t know, Decatur Classical School is the grammar school diamond in the Chicago Public School system. It is located in West Ridge. There is no Illinois grammar school that tests higher in the State, and perhaps, the nation, provided there was a national test. Children test annually for an invitation to get into Decatur Classical. My other child is on test number four. However, the honeymoon ends at sixth grade, where your child gets accepted.

You cannot make educational options an excuse for moving out of Chicago. There may be a classical, gifted, or magnet school willing to eventually let your child attend provided you help educate your child, as well. If there were exceptions made to waive the Decatur Classical entrance test for just one child, journalists would have a field day. Arne Duncan would likely not deserve it, but he would need to put any arguable scandal in order and this could prove fatal.

Now, back to my mantra. . . .Somewhere, some way, I will find another reasonable excuse why my son did not get to baseball, basketball, scouts, soccer, swimming, and etc. on time or at all. As I work into the bitter depths of the evening on laundry, life, and leftovers, the hope is that we will eventually appreciate the effort. Eventually, all of our tweens groans and grunts from the previous evening will be forgotten.

For those of us who understand, we want our child to have the aptitude and grades to convince Dr. Joyce Kenner at Young Academic Center, among others. We know that our children have gone through enough trials and tribulations to justify admission. Decatur kids, as well as their parents, have proctored enough to earn a CPS pension on their educational road to perdition.

I accept that it is a choice to send a child as well as your family through the Decatur Classical experience. However, parents have to also realize that there is no seventh or eighth grade at Decatur, only the academic centers with more testing and the point system to garner possible acceptance. There is also the possibility of new found isolation between former classmates at in one of the gifted or magnet programs. Decatur Classical students are ultimately and unfortunately broken up into a new bundle of adolescents in some other universe of Chicago Public School Academia.

The Francis Parker’s, Latin’s, Roycemore’s and Archdiocese private schools of the Chicago area exist. However, many of us will not look for excuses to spend the last bit of savings before their kid even gets accepted to a University without a full tilt private school scholarship. The options are a new residence or an objective rehash of the teaching staff in all viable alternative options at CPS. Ultimately, only 25 children are admitted in this region of a potential 110 Young Academic Center spots. The statistics for admission to the Academic Center are humbling.

Traditionally, both Skinner and Decatur Classical Schools fed into Young Academic Center. Decatur and Young High School share the same dolphin mascot. However, over time, the demand for the Academic Center exceeded the number of spaces and excessive competition set in. Now, the one thousand point scale scares Decatur parents, who are totally uncomfortable with “grade inflation” at other schools. The Young Academic Center Scale cannot consider grade deflation.

There is no grade inflation, but grade deflation at Decatur Classical of Chicago. At Decatur, I understand that a Decatur grade A ends at 93%, a B ends at 87%, and a C ends at 76%. This means that a Decatur Classical Child who is performing at honor roll level in any other CPS Grammar School is treated as performing lower. This means that the 300 points allotted to grades drops them excessively in contrast to others. Decatur teaches a year above grade level in math texts, among others. Test scores are another story and most are at the 99th percentile in math at a minimum.

This means that even if my child performs at the 99th percentile in ISAT math and the 86th in Reading, they are still subject to denial where grades do not reach a 4.0 g.p.a. at the academic levels set by Decatur Classical. Ultimately, our child gets an excellent education from K to 6th, but what’s next is unknown.

I suppose that this may mentally condition us for the next competition for Northside College Prep spots. It may give our child and us the character to appreciate how to avoid or encounter the next set of point spreads and scales. You begin to feel like ‘Jimmy the Greek’ playing the odds in the CPS Educational System. The Clash lyrics from “Should I Stay or Should I Go” Clash seem to hit your chest like a ‘half ton of bricks,’ while you wait for what seems like Godot for an answer or the next score.