Street Smart Chicago

A Ball of Baby Snakes: A Victorian Love Story

Education/Training, Essays & Commentary No Comments »
The coiling byzantine “arc” of my collegiate career is often thought of, by me, as something not unlike a ball of writhing baby snakes slowly finding their way out of the heat and discomfort of the nest and into the space of the open world. It began when false promises of an athletic variety delivered me to a tiny, haunted Catholic campus on Philadelphia’s Main Line, an alien amongst astronauts (the school ran thick with admittedly gorgeous girls who, when freed from the monotony of their fantasy-fueling Catholic school-girl uniforms, would overcorrect and swaddle themselves in sweatpants, thighs once exposed between pleated skirts and bobby socks now covered by comfortable heather gray and emblazoned vertical brands demarcating where they came from, Prendie, Ursuline, Sacred Heart, that they would tuck in to any manner of expensive Ugg boots—that is the astronaut part—which were adored above near all other possessions for their ability to provide individual statement to the aforementioned uniforms; (North Face fleece tops, hair wraps, designer sunglasses and Burberry scarves often completed the uniform) and buried in the demands of an exercise science degree, most notably the dreaded A&P, which required that one not only learn both anatomy and physiology and participate in a lab, but was a two-semester course so that, upon completing one half of it, one went home for the holidays with the chilling notion that, stacked like textbooks in black garbage bags, preserved cats, chest cavities gaping like pink, fleshy clutches, awaited you. Read the rest of this entry »

Walking the Atomic Dog: Realizing the Power of Youth Work

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beacons first muralA few years ago I needed a job but was sick of waitressing. An acquaintance, Hayley, suggested I work for her at her afterschool program, Beacons. We were sitting in the back patio of a bar where our friends DJed, drinking beers. Though I repeatedly vocalized my self-doubt about being responsible for an entire herd of children, she insisted I’d be fine.

It wasn’t until my interview that I began to think maybe I’d actually make a decent youth worker. Hayley and I discussed how we’d both gone to afterschool programs growing up. All at once, visions of past counselors resurfaced with sweet memory.

There was Steve, the lanky long-haired goofball, who talked like Scooby-Doo whenever he saw tears. He and another counselor, Paul, were in a funk band called Elmer Funk. Read the rest of this entry »

Toward a More Stable Life? Learning Some Horse Sense

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horseIn the words of a t-shirt I once owned, “Life without horses? I don’t think so.” For a few girls I know, horseback riding is an urban luxury. With all the unbelievably cultured classes and workshops Chicago has to offer, sometimes the one that takes your interest most is slightly out of reach. Luckily, the suburban stables are just a short Metra ride away.

Local writer Robyn Pennacchia and friend Melissa Fisher are frequent riders who commute the brief distance from the city to the country in search of satisfying their itch. After going to Memory Lane in Willow Springs for the first time this year, both enthusiasts agree it’s one of the best stables the suburbs have to offer. Read the rest of this entry »

Stranger Than Fiction: What’s Going on at Columbia College?

Education/Training, South Loop 1 Comment »

Photo: Marla Seidell

By Marla Seidell

Friday afternoon, I arrive at a Columbia College Chicago building on South Michigan Avenue to talk with Fiction Writing Department Chair Dr. Randall Albers. Dressed elegantly in jeans and a French blue shirt with black stripes covered with a brown corduroy blazer, Albers’ height and distinguished presence make him slightly intimidating. Yet he smiles and greets me warmly, ushering me into his spacious office with a killer twelfth-floor view of the lake, and floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. Read the rest of this entry »

Experienced Learning: Overcoming the Obstacles to a Midlife Career Change

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"The Schoolmaster," Adriaen van Ostade

By Jack Helbig

Everyone agrees that teachers are central to the learning experience. And everyone—teachers, administrators, union officials, school-board members and state legislators—will agree that we should have the best teachers available for our children. But the reality is that the system currently in place to prepare, and more importantly, to credential teachers is gamed against older students.

If you are a returning student, someone with some knowledge and experience in the world—experience that might be important in the classroom—there are institutional roadblocks in place that make it almost impossible to get a teaching certificate.

Ten years ago, I returned to school at forty-three years old to become a teacher. I succeeded, and have been teaching since the fall of 2005. I am not writing this to settle scores, or to whine, “They didn’t let me in.” They did let me in. And I love teaching. Read the rest of this entry »

Life 101: The Education Issue

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Illustration by Jeremy Sorese

Another year older? Check. Another year wiser? Hmmm.

We’re the last to say it’s a simple thing, navigating this precious cargo we call ourselves. But we do know that one of the best investments you’ll ever make—of money, of time—is in your own human capital. It’s not easy to chart a course, especially after a long run through college of courses basically charted for you. But we believe exploration is the essence of life, and we found stories for this issue to aid you in that process. We’re not going to tell you what to do or where to go—there are plenty of fine sources for that. But by sharing a few personal stories, by pointing out a few lesser-known opportunities we hope to help you find your way, whether straight and narrow or off the beaten path.

Let us know where you end up. Read the rest of this entry »

Out of Iowa: A Life of Lessons Learned and Lost at Workshop

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The author as a young poet in Iowa

By Dina Elenbogen

A place does not wait for the weary traveler to return. Life continues and it is the houses that alter from storms and the passage of time. I can’t remember which doors I walked through to get home, although the hills I climbed to get there have long ago toughened my legs. I can’t remember the number of my house on Summit Street, only which window my desk sat in front of, but I think the poems came from darker corners. And on Burlington, my first apartment in Iowa City, where did I place my typewriter? I remember the park bench on Governor that I collapsed on once, on my way home from class, and those who walked through my unmarked doors and loved me too much or not enough.

As if through a sieve, details of a life sift through and so much gets lost. This was a place I left when it was time to leave. I didn’t turn back much, at first. A semester ended, I received my degree, packed up a car and took off. I came back twice in the eighties: Once after I returned from Israel to see how my poems would play in Iowa and another time for the fiftieth reunion of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Now I’ve come back to give a reading from my first book of poems. Read the rest of this entry »

Angst Academy: The Philosophy Institute Brings Ideas Out into the World

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By Hugh Iglarsh

Let’s face it, philosophy is an odd beast: It is Reason contemplatively munching on its own tail. As a process, it dissolves innocent beliefs that had been minding their own business into a vertigo of nested questions and pregnant uncertainty. In our pragmatic society, philosophy is often seen as a respectable pastime for tenured navel-gazers, but about as relevant to virtual modern life as the Gnostic Gospels in the original Aramaic.

And yet… among the swarm of adult ed offerings that promise some combination of knowledge, power, success, libidinal satisfaction, affirmation and expertise to a paying clientele, there is one local enterprise that has somehow found a niche for itself selling only gnawing doubt. Read the rest of this entry »

Social Education: CommuniTeach Plays Matchmaker for Teaching and Learning

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Ben Paul and Sarah Press/Photo: Drew Bly

By Caylie Sadin

When people think of learning, they usually think of a teacher and some students—maybe in a classroom, possibly in an art studio, a computer lab or the outdoors. And sadly, after primary education, people usually can’t also help thinking of those massive tuition checks—or student debt. But Sarah Press and Ben Paul, friends from grade-school and the co-founders of CommuniTeach don’t like that there is a price tag on learning.

Press and Paul founded CommuniTeach (, a website for people who want to freely learn and teach those in their community. Founded in 2010, the website serves people in Pittsburgh, Chicago and Boston, but they want to expand. The company is built around their personal learning philosophy of peers sharing knowledge. “The world is better when people come together to freely share their skills together,” Press says. Read the rest of this entry »

Don’t Look So Horrified: The Monstrous Pleasure of Cinema Studies

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I’d explored various academic paths as a college undergraduate, including English and film production, but I was continually frustrated by the lack of critical analysis of popular media; English tended toward more classic and literary novels, while film production focused on the methods of storytelling. But in cinema studies—especially of film and television centered around horror archetypes like vampires and zombies—I found the combination of critical theory and popular media for which I’d been searching.

I enrolled for a class at DePaul called “Monsters in Popular Culture.” Taught by assistant professor Paul Booth, the course used material ranging from short stories by Neil Gaiman to “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Friday the 13th.”

I’ve always refused to believe that the movies I grew up watching and the current fare that I count among my favorites are nothing more than pure entertainment. Luckily, I’m not the only one. Read the rest of this entry »