Illinois teacher shortage? We warned you.

A repost from the incomparable Fred Klonsky about the failure of CPS and other systems in 1. recruiting teachers of color and 2. hiring and retaining teachers.

From the article:

Combine falling competitive compensation, phony teacher accountability measures that evaluate teachers on how well their individual students perform on a high-stakes test and blaming teacher unions for everything under the sun and this is what you get.

No teacher is surprised, I’ll tell you that.

Read the rest here:

Heartland Cafe, Target, and the Future of Rogers Park

Heartland Cafe
Heartland Cafe, likely the 1970s. Photo from Tom S. on Yelp.

The Heartland Cafe was opened in Rogers Park in 1976 by two activists and has been a vital part of this community ever since. Politicians like Barack Obama spoke and held rallies here, and it is one of the places I know I can eat nourishing vegetarian food without resorting to grilled cheese and French fries. Tom, the owner, also owns Earth First farms in Michigan and supplies the cafe with fresh, wholesome ingredients. It’s a bastion of hippiedom, or what I understand hippie culture to be about.

When the news came through on the Rogers Park Facebook forum about the entire property going up for sale, I felt like the heart of the neighborhood was in jeopardy. It’s up for grabs by some developer – all three parts: the cafe, the Red Line Tap, and Heartland Studio Theatre. Given the recent developments, many of us are concerned about what this means for the neighborhood.

We have had signs of major changes in the neighborhood. A mini-Target is slated to open that, in all fairness, is supposed to be a part of the new development including a few affordable housing units, but required the destruction of CHA Caroline Hedger Apartments’ senior recreation area. In the meantime, senior citizens have had to walk down the street to enjoy a temporary recreation center – many suffer mobility issues and cannot do that. Supposedly a new recreation area is part of the development; however, records show that Caroline Hedger suffers from major, chronic neglect putting senior citizen residents at risk. Adding the recreation center is fine but will any of the money from this development return to the CHA development for major safety improvements?

In addition, the Target, parking garage, and housing were touted as a major coup for the financial health of Rogers Park, but some of us cannot forget that this was built on land owned by the Chicago Housing Authority: public land.

There’s talk on the forum of buying the Heartland Cafe property and turning the business into a co-op, but the property has been on the market for three days now, and given the neighborhood’s up and coming status, it likely won’t remain on the market for long. Without a serious financial backer to support the conversion of the businesses to a co-op, I see this as more of a pipe dream than anything else.

I don’t want to mourn the death of a Rogers Park institution before seeing who ends up purchasing the property and what they do with it, but I have my doubts that whoever buys it will see value in Heartland Cafe’s rich cultural history and its contribution to the artists’ corridor on Glenwood. All around me, rental properties are charging more for one- and two-room units, and I’m worried this once-affordable, beautiful, and diverse neighborhood is on its way out. Please, please prove my prediction to be incorrect!

No One East of Michigan Avenue

I’m usually assigned to the East Route for bird rescue and salvage monitoring. It’s an area I never paid much attention to until I began monitoring. It’s mostly residential over there with multi-million dollar condominiums, a beautiful park, and a dedicated Mariano’s that has a live pianist playing jazz and classical music. Think of the Aon Building (formerly called the Amoco Building for old-timers), and the neighborhood is mostly a little north of that, east of Michigan Avenue. The park has its own gazebo and fountains and its own dog park within the park.

The sun rises over Lake Michigan. Photo by L.J. Bailey.

The thing I cannot figure out, though, is where all the people who do not have homes go east of Michigan Avenue. I arrive downtown anywhere from 4 to 5:30, depending on sunrise times, and I walk from the L to my route, passing through the Loop area before it wakes up for the day. I pass over a dozen people sleeping on the streets, especially when the weather is warmer and they are not sleeping in the L cars. There is a group sleeping under the Cultural Center overhang. There are people spread on those uncomfortable bus benches that were designed to keep people from actually curling up on them for the night. There are people huddled under construction scaffolding. Many are regulars, and I have come to recognize them with their refrigerator box blankets and piles of old clothing and possessions in plastic bags. Some people have bags of Corner Bakery food lying next to their heads – I am pretty sure those are provided by a giving soul who wants to help people by providing a bite to eat. Some people are awake at that hour and chatting quietly amongst each other.

Yet, when I cross Michigan Avenue and end up by Michigan Plaza, Swissotel, The Fairmont, the Hyatt, and then into the residential areas, there are no people sleeping in doorways, under construction scaffolding, or curled up in the beautiful park. Where has everyone gone – why and how? I don’t see anyone attempting to sleep or even walk over there. I also do not see CPD on regular patrol over there, at least at this hour. It’s like its own isolated town within Chicago, a private enclave.

There is one gentleman I run into occasionally over there named Alex. He hides, and when he sees me coming, he emerges from somewhere and chats me up a bit, telling me about the birds he saw and how he helped a volunteer pick up a dead bird and bag it. I don’t want to say where it is I see him, but it is in the same spot every time, and I wonder how he is able to skirt the unwritten code that seems to govern who can sleep or even hang out in this area. I’m conducting a little research on this question. I know there are Kennedys and other famous people living over there and that most of the area is comprised of condominiums. Are they responsible for enforcing the unwritten code – no one east of Michigan Avenue? This bears some investigation.

Wild Goose Chase Success

Annette Prince holds a rescued Canada goose. Do NOT try this yourself. Leave it to the professionals. Photo by L.J. Bailey.

Licensed, trained professional and Chicago Bird Collision Monitors director Annette Prince captured an injured goose at Burnham Harbor today (pictured above). CBCM received calls yesterday about the goose and volunteers were unable to locate her until today. We took a trip down Lake Shore Drive (dodging Bears tailgaters and triathletes) to see if we could spot her. I watched Annette perform a goose rescue with no net! I thought about my own goose capture struggle and how Annette made it all look deceptively easy.

As a side note, do NOT try this yourself as it is against federal law to disturb a migratory bird like a Canada goose without a special permit. Also, you could do more harm than good to the goose, even with the best of intentions. Geese are difficult! Take it from me. Call the hotline in the metropolitan Chicago area at 773.988.1867 to report an injured bird and wait for a trained monitor to assist you.

A not completely adult gull with foot injuries is transferred to CBCM for rescue and veterinary care. Photo by L.J. Bailey.

The woman who rescued this gull was one of the most generous people I have met in a long time. She waited for us to leave the bird patrol downtown, rescue the goose, and then drive all the way up to Belmont and Lake Shore to pick up this injured gull she held in her arms as one might hold a cat. This gull was unusually docile in transport, likely because he was immature and injured. (As a side note, I don’t recommend ever putting your face this close to a wild animal – they don’t understand we are trying to help them and will do anything they can to escape your clutches.)

Still, it was so touching to see the care with which she handled this little creature, whispering to him in Polish and telling us that the gull knew we were there to help him. Annette gave her a hug and thanked her for her kindness and patience. She said goodbye to the gull after he was loaded in the carrier, and as we drove off, I watched her in the rear-facing mirror looking both relieved and teary-eyed.

I have met the kindest people on these rescue missions, and it is a privilege to experience human empathy and concern for our fellow creatures. It was worth traveling downtown at 4 a.m. in a thunderstorm to be a part of this project. Days like today, I have great hope for human beings.

An Evening of Science Writing at the American Writers Museum

Display about Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park at the American Writers Museum. Photo by L.J. Bailey.

My first visit to the American Writers Museum was for a live recording of Undiscovered, a podcast about the backstories, twists, and turns of science. Annie Minoff, one of the podcasters, invited science writers David Quammen and Sy Montgomery to discuss the discipline of science writing and the paths their careers have took over the years. I encourage you to listen to the podcast when they release their 2018 episodes (soon, I understand), but I will provide a brief highlight of the portions of the talk that struck me.

David Quammen is perhaps best known for The Song of the Dodo, The Reluctant Mr. Darwin, and Spillover. His newest book is called The Tangled Tree: A Radical New History of Life and talks about the work of Carl Woese, the scientist who discovered archaebacteria, which comprise a third kingdom of life beyond plants and animals. It was not until the 1970s that this was realized! His book also discusses advances in genome sequencing and how both these developments have significantly revised our understanding of life on Earth.

Sy Montgomery is known for so many wonderful books such as Walking with the Great Apes: Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, Birute Galdikas; The Curious Naturalist; and Wildlife Out Your Window. My personal favorite is The Soul of the Octopus, a book that explores the complexity, intelligence, and personality of this mollusk. Her newest book is called How to Be A Good Creature: A Memoir in Thirteen Animals and will be released at the end of September.

Sy described her love of animals coming before her love of writing, and she told us about her childhood dog (she calls her an elder sister) who taught her some of her most important life lessons. She had always imagined herself as a veterinarian until one day as a child she saw a New York Times article on the slaughter of whales and the precariousness of many whale populations, and she suddenly realized she could do more personally to help the animals as a writer than she could as a veterinarian.

She described for us many transcendent moments between her and animals, but one that stuck with me was her trip to Australia to study emus, specifically emu “pies.” She spent her days digging through emu poop in search of seeds to track food intake and seed distribution, and she found herself growing closer and closer to this particular flock of birds. Following Goodall’s example of monitoring chimpanzees and winning their trust, she began to track the emus. One night, she realized she was about to witness the family of emus rest for the night. She said we really didn’t know a lot about wild emus and sleep. Did they settle in? How? Did they tuck their heads under a wing? Did they sleep at all? (It turns out they do not sleep continuously and that they sleep sitting down). Upon observing that, she had a moment of sublimity and wrote all about it. The next day, she knew that there was no way she could return to a land of pantyhose and office work, so she dedicated herself to writing about animals. She described her days and nights in Australia as magical, her hair smelling like eucalyptus and visits from giant spiders in the middle of the night.

She was never concerned about her ability to connect with animals until she decided to study octopus. After all, over half a billion years ago, our descendants separated from the octopus descendants. An octopus has three hearts, nine “brains,” and blue blood. Nonetheless, she was able to connect with them in astonishing ways. The Soul of an Octopus remains one of my favorite pieces of nature writing and was a finalist for the National Book Award.

David Quammen is probably the better known of the two, although I confess that I only knew of him through individual articles published in journals over the years and had not read his books. I plan to remedy that soon. He talked a lot about writers being autodidacts and reminded the audience that he had no formal journalism or biology training. He loved to write first and foremost and was encouraged by a fantastic high school English teacher to pursue his writing aspirations (hooray English teachers!). He wrote about his interests, taught himself, listened to scientists, and became, in a sense, a translator for scientists completing work in the field.

One humorous anecdote that he shared involved a critic who insulted his newest book, lamenting that David had included irrelevant details such as the kind of pizza a biologist ordered. Well, it turns out that that biologist was none other than Carl Woese, the revolutionary scientist I mentioned above, and that he included the food detail because this premier biologist ordered a plain pizza and a diet Coke. He looked at David oddly for ordering a pepperoni pizza. David asked the audience rhetorically, “How could I leave out this detail, this irony that this scientist who thought things no one else did and made such an important discovery wanted to eat a plain pizza? It was the most…ordinary thing.”

A woman sitting near me asked for advice for aspiring science writers who lack a formal science background. My ears perked up at this because she asked the same question I had hoped to ask of them. Each writer said that to remember that science writers do not have to have that formal background and that it is, again, about educating yourself for each piece, often starting at square one for each new project. Annie pointed out that there is so much multimedia work out there that to be able to translate scientific discovery and wonder relying solely on the printed page requires a special dedication and skill.

And, of course, there is the repeated advice every writer gives – write, read, read some more, write. The only way to get better is to write and read, and the more you write, the more you have the potential to improve.

A Scientist Walks Into a Bar

Dr. Kevin Feldheim talks sharks at The Hideout. Photo by L.J. Bailey

Tuesday I had the pleasure of listening to Dr. Kevin Feldheim chat with a Field Museum science writer about sharks in the monthly “A Scientist Walks Into a Bar” function at The Hideout in Chicago. His research focuses on inferring the mating system and population biology of sharks using genetic markers called microsatellites. These are repetitive parts of DNA, and they help form DNA motifs. It’s the same science used to determine paternity and to profile cancer. In other words, Dr. Feldheim is the Maury Povich of ichthyology.

He talked about parthenogenesis (“virgin birth”), a method by which a shark (and other animals) can reproduce without male sperm. As unlikely as it sounds, this is a real phenomenon, observed both in aquariums and in the wild.

How does it work? Stay with me here because I have to go a little technical. Remember that meiosis is sexual reproduction, as opposed to mitosis. In meiosis, a particular type of cell copies its chromosomes and splits into four gametes, which are cells that unite with another of the opposite sex to produce a zygote, which is a fertilized egg cell.

In females, only one of the four gametes becomes the egg cell and receives the bulk of the cell material. The other gametes that are left over become something called “polar bodies,” which typically degenerate into the body. In parthenogenesis, however, one of those polar bodies fuses with the egg cell instead of disintegrating and begins embryonic development. This is called chromosomal crossing over and it means the mother’s paternal and maternal DNA strands are exchanged so the embryo is not a clone – it has half the genetic diversity of the mother.

Most shark species are in precipitous decline around the world because of the insatiable shark fin industry. Parthenogenesis, then, seems like a great alternative to traditional mating when populations are in decline. However, if this is happening as frequently as scientists suspect, the issue is a lack of genetic diversity in shark populations. The result is essentially inbred offspring. Too many of those and you end up with King Joffrey!

If you can check out this series at The Hideout, it is totally worth it. It runs monthly on Tuesdays from 6:30 to 7:30. Tickets are $5 and supposedly available at the door, but I recommend buying them ahead of time.

My friend holds a whale shark fin Dr. Feldheim brought as an educational prop. Photo by L.J. Bailey

Science and Writing

Speaking of science and writing, there is an event at the Writers Museum in downtown Chicago on August 16th: A Celebration of Science Writing. Annie Minoff (Undiscovered podcast host), author David Quammen, and others will be there! Tickets are $25 but so worth it!

Picture is for attention, although it is science-related. Chicago Academy of Sciences has a display at Notebaert and here is a picture from that exhibit.