“Rebellion is a moral imperative…….You never know where the good goes. If you stand up to do what’s right and speak truth to power, there are many people who you think are asleep who hear it.” Chris Hedges, war correspondent, journalist and author
When I heard Chris Hedges close a speech with those last few sentences, I couldn’t help but think of Mat Taylor, who never shied away from a fight to help teachers and students.
And my first thought when hearing the news of Mat Taylor’s death was a bitter one. “Mat’s dead and the assholes who reconstituted, restructured (whatever you want to call it) Fremont are still alive.” Life turns on a dime.
And yet, as Chris Hedges notes, no act of rebellion, such as the acts that Mat engaged in are wasted. The people who you think are asleep, he says, are paying attention. Maybe that’s why when I arrived late to Mat’s memorial after procrastinating unnecessarily, I was stunned to see the church overflowing, with over a thousand people in attendance. There are many people who you think are asleep who hear it.
I was stunned to hear about his life as a basketball coach, which I knew nothing of, and to see his childhood friends there and some former students who traveled from Georgia. But maybe I shouldn’t have been stunned, maybe I just wasn’t paying attention. Maybe I was asleep.
I woke up pretty damn fast when I heard the news that Mat was at St. Mary’s Hospital in San Pedro. I couldn’t believe that the same Mat I used to see sauntering down the halls of Fremont with sunglasses, attired in a Hawaiian shirt and jeans was now lying unconscious in a hospital bed. When I went to visit briefly, I thought about all the phony reform Mat had helped turn back like First Things First whose claim to fame was having raised test scores in Kansas high schools by two points. What ever happened to them? I guess they faded away when the money ran out.
When I visited Mat, I brought with me a book I was reading- a time travel book about an English teacher who steps back in time through a portal in a diner’s walk -in refrigerator to 1958. He is sent back by the diner’s owner, Al to stop the assassination of JFK. The only reason he agrees to it is because he happened to read an essay by one of his adult ed students who is the school’s gimpy janitor. The essay reveals that the student’s father killed his mother and all of his siblings in 1958. Only he escaped the butchery. The teacher, Jake, figures he can go back to 1958, stop that murder and then hang out until 1963 and stop the assassination of John F. Kennedy. But as in real life, things aren’t so simple. I told Mat about the book, even though it didn’t appear he could hear me. You never know. Life Turns on a Dime.
I couldn’t figure out what to write until until I finished Stephen King’s new book 11/22/63, a complex and revealing look at how romanticizing the past and wishing we could change it could actually make things worse. But it also includes an intriguing discussion of harmonics of how multiple futures can exist, accounting for the deja vu we sometimes feel when meeting someone or visiting someplace and knowing we’ve been there before. Maybe that’s why we all hung around Fremont for so long.
But the past as Stephen King notes, is obdurate and does not want to be changed. That’s a bitter pill for me to swallow, given what happened at Fremont. I dealt with this issue as it related to the experience of a displaced HPHS teacher who subbed for a few days in the new reconstituted HPHS. It was only then once she saw the spirit of HPHS gone could she accept that it was no longer her school. The same is true of Fremont. What made Fremont, well Fremont, was the people inside who respected and loved it, like Mat and the teachers who accepted and loved the community they worked in. They weren’t using it as a steppingstone to a cubicle at Beaudry or to some other administrative position.
And what if one of us could walk through a time portal prior to December 9th, 2010 and make sure Cortines never got to be superintendent or that Arne Duncan was never Secretary of Education? Would everything have turned out ok? Would we all be teaching happily at Fremont? Or as in Stephen King’s book, would something just as bad or worse have taken place and would changing that past have screwed up one of our colleagues lives in some other way? In King’s book, the teacher saves his student’s family in 1958, but then the kid is drafted during the Vietnam War and dies in the Tet Offensive. Life turns on a dime.
The only thing that does make sense is to keep on fighting.
Mat was returned to his school, the Elizabeth Learning Center, after being put in teacher jail, though very briefly before he become ill, when his students staged protests and the suits at Beaudry relented. He was so upset when I last spoke with him and I was convinced that LAUSD might actually “get” Mat this time, but he fought, and he won…until the lung cancer won. Life turns on a dime.
“Life doesn’t hurt till you finally have time to yourself to think about..how much or at times how little its changed. how many people you lost along the way or just plain stopped talking to. And how much of it is your fault…” From one of my former students.
How far has this country sunk? When a supposedly “moderate” governor of a state feels perfectly safe screaming at a teacher publicly for asking a simple question, you know we are near the bottom of the cesspool. When those who used to be entrusted with passing on the intellectual heritage of our country and the world to the next generation are treated like this, only a full blown revolution will change anything.
When a New Jersey teacher asked Christie why he kept portraying schools and teachers as failing, he screamed at her, “What do you people want? Just do your job!”
Well Governor Christie, since you asked here is the list of what this lowly teacher desires:
1) Laid off teachers hired back.
2) Music, art, geography, four full years of PE, drivers education, school to work programs and Industrial Arts all brought back to the schools.
3) An end to multiple choice standardized testing and the implementation of authentic assessment including student writing, speaking and presentations. These assessments tell us much more about what our students know than guessing the right answer on multiple choice tests.
4) Middle class manufacturing jobs brought back to the cities so the parents of my students would have decent jobs instead of cleaning houses and working at McDonalds. You might want to check out Chris Hedges chapter in his book Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt on your own city, Camden, New Jersey the poorest city in the United States and the most dangerous. It’s called Days of Siege. I wonder how good an education the kids of Camden get under your watch, Governor. Camden used to be a thriving manufacturing city. How has it fared under your stewardship, Governor? I have a suggestion for you. “Just do your job.” Then maybe we could do ours.
Joe Sacco’s drawing of Camden, New Jersey in Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt by Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco (2012)
WTF was all this resignation stuff about? And what happened to our “elected” school board? My guess is Deasy and his Eli Broad goons must have some heavy stuff on these cowards. How else to explain extending his contract to….2016- a nightmare for students and teachers alike.
Yes, the problems in education are “bad” teachers, not working conditions and large class sizes. (sarcasm alert).
We’re screwed. It’s as simple as that.
Real teachers who don’t want to teach corporate Pearson curriculum need to find jobs in other districts because that’s really what all this high drama was about- money. Pearson wasn’t about to lose out on the millions for the IPAD curriculum, even though teacher created companies such as Interact and TCI History Alive can provide superior curriculum much cheaper. Ever try ordering HIstory Alive textbooks through your school? Good fucking luck. You’ll get turned back at every step.
LA School Report, the online blog of the corporate reformers quotes Deasy as saying he will “lift students out of poverty.” Really? Because we only have part time counselors at my school, and no college counselor. Most seniors are completely overwhelmed by the FAFSA and all other college related tasks. Just creating an email account was overwhelming for them. Most struggled to produce resumes and cover letters free of grammar and spelling errors. All of this of course is due to a single -minded focus on test scores over real learning. So I actually see my students as staying mired in poverty, not being extracted from it.
I had a chance to leave this district in 2005 and I should have taken it. I’m kicking myself now.
“If the saga of LAUSD wasn’t soap opera-y enough, the Number One Diva of LA–no, not Kim Kardashian, but Superintendent John Deasy–is forcing the entire city this weekend to witness his woeful performance of “Hamlet.” Early reports on Thursday night had the melancholy prince resigning thus creating premature joy with teachers (or his subjects as we’re known under his regime) in the hopes that our city’s long national nightmare was finally over. Alas, the sigh of relief was short-lived.
“Although there probably has never been a more self-aggrandizing, yet endlessly self-pitying superintendent than John Deasy, we will now have the spectacle of observing who is going to beg this prima donna to stay. Some of the city’s most powerful denizens are already lining up to kiss his ring, weeping and imploring this man to continue to grace us with his wisdom and infantile temper.
“The cry has already gone up among the Establishment, “Don’t leave us now, John!”
“So our city now goes into high-wire drama until Tuesday when the beleaguered, intimidated and castrated School Board meets for Deasy’s contractual “performance review”. It is only afterwards that Deasy will inform the world on his plans. The “leak” of his resignation was clearly designed to put pressure on the School Board to “listen” to the will of the “people” (um, note WHICH people) and do the right thing and say, “We can’t live without you, John. Please come back and forgive the savages who have said such mean things about you.”
“The truth about the California Educational Reform movement is that it is different than almost anywhere else in the country. In other parts it’s the Republicans who are running Education Reform. If you look at the map, they control all the state legislatures in the south where the weakest teacher unions exist and most of the legislatures throughout the Midwest. Those cuckoo birds would never fly in California.
“What has happened in progressive California is that there is a clear split on the Left. Here, it’s the Moneyed/Connected/Privileged Neo-Liberal Left vs. the Working Class/In-the-Trenches Left. Sure Michelle Rhee and John Deasy can each out-boast other who is more pro-gay or pro-immigration and who has the most Democratic Party merit badges on their scout uniform. But when it comes to Education Reform, they are as Far Right Wing as Scott Walker, Rick Perry or Bobby Jindal.
“And they are just as dangerous, disingenuous and damaging.
“The biggest modus operendi that this Moneyed Class Left does is to appropriate the “Civil Rights” mantra while courting big name Democrat Party millionaires who have vested interests in their type of top-down CEO managed school reform. In the future, when I think of who will be on those monuments in Washington for their tireless crusade to protect the rights and opportunities of poor children of color, I definitely picture Eli Broad and John Deasy and the Pearson Corporation.
“Eli Broad knows fine art and music. He’s a philanthropist in that area. In education, he’s a vulture as he buys power and influence in LA supporting HIS style of Reform. With Broad’s money that is hard to turn down, he gets to steer the bus on his terms–Not the kids’ interests or benefits. The Mayors of LA know that and acquiesce to the quid pro quo.
“Meanwhile, back high atop LAUSD headquarters, Deasy constantly denigrates people who disagree with his educational priorities and methodologies. As he primps himself as Deasy X, I would love to hear what Brother Malcolm would say to his grotesque appropriation of “The Movement”. Deasy self-righteously believes an iPad is what our kids need the most. How about giving them what HIS KIDS and all of his rich patrons give their kids? Great class selection, minimal testing, field trips, cool opportunities, enrichment of all kinds, small classes…? It’s abhorrent and insulting what he offers our neediest kids and orders the teachers to follow suit in implementing his noxious brand of instruction.
“So we are all left with the billion dollar iPad as Deasy’s “I have a dream” legacy.
“In almost every single interview Deasy has done extolling the virtues of the iPad, he always brings up the example that kids can now go look up “The Arab Spring” to see what textbooks don’t include. I don’t know why he’s latched onto the Arab Spring as his perpetual fall back mantra–His lack of imagination for anything else the kids could look up, perhaps. The Arab Spring is what the kids did when they hacked into the computers! Good for them! They revolted on their own and how does Deasy respond?
“Clamped down on them like any authoritarian figure.
“And more nauseating, each thousand dollar iPad (when everything is finally totaled up) all include those really inspiring Pearson-designed lessons that are supposed to make the kids wildly enthusiastic about learning. No wonder they wander to Youtube or Tumblr or anything else that is remotely interesting to them.
“How do you know the difference between the two worlds on Education Reform on California’s Left Wing? Easy. What they want and have given THEIR kids and what they believe is acceptable for OTHERS’ children. All of them are identical: Arne Duncan. Bill Gates. Mayor Eric Garcetti. Eli Broad. Barack Obama. They would never for a second tolerate the conditions they offer LA’s kids if their own kids were placed in a typical LA classroom.
“Yet we have to listen to them endlessly pontificate on what’s BEST for other people’s kids.
“Deasy, has always been about secrecy and I-Know-Best bullying. His obvious disdain for teacher input has been made clear. Like Michelle Rhee, he is very quick with the “I LOVE teacher” rhetoric–but they have to be HIS kind of obedient teacher who kowtows to his genius. In 2011, Deasy was installed undemocratically by former Mayor Villaraigosa to “shake things up” and yes, he did–but it was more like Fukushima. Teachers despise him not because they are against some mythological status quo–it’s just that HIS status quo is antithetical to smart, creative, thoughtful teaching. The kids know it too and wither under his brand of instruction.
“In Michelle Rhee’s book RADICAL, she specifically singles out California as the big enchilada for her designs on the rest of the country. She has based her operation in Sacramento and believes that if she can transform California, the rest of the country will follow. Not a bad bet.
“When I first heard the news about Deasy leaving, I hadn’t been that relieved since Nixon resigned.
“And now it may be a cruel hoax. I actually don’t know what it will take to really be rid of Deasy, short of a farmhouse caught in a tornado landing on top of him. With this piece of “will he/won’t he” go melodramatics to inflame as much public sympathy for his plight, Deasy is giving everyone a preview of what life will be like if he can be “persuaded” to stay and endure the slings and arrows of his outrageous fortunes.
“Can we PLEASE pull this really bad Laurence Olivier off the stage of LA once and for all?
“Please, inform Mayor Eric Garcetti how you feel:
“Something is rotten in the city of LA. This show needs to close immediately.”
It’s October 20th, there’s an extra day in the month and payday isn’t until the 5th of November. I work three jobs to keep me and my seven pets (5 canines and 2 felines) afloat and we are just barely making it. Barely. It may have something to do with the fact that the new house I am renting lacks secure fencing so I must shell out 500 to 600 dollars a month or so for a dog walker who is very wonderful, sweet and trustworthy but still expensive. The rent is 200 bucks less than my last place and utilities are about 50 bucks less a month but that still leaves an increase of 250 greenbacks monthly. My seven year- old car needed 538 dollars of work- 3 motor mounts and 2 tires. And yet……. at least I haven’t received a bad Stull or been run out of the district on trumped up charges- fates suffered by two LAUSD teachers I know. One is a science teacher only 1 1/2 years away from qualifying for fully paid health benefits when he suddenly received a negative Stull out of the blue. But more on that later.
I did, however, receive an email from the “Talent Management Division” of the district sternly reminding me of the deadline to complete the new pre -evaluation form that my union rep reminded those of us unlucky recipients was designed to trick us into listing qualities we are weak in. He also mentioned that our principal is under enormous pressure to hand out some below standard Stulls- deserved or not. Our chapter chair also reminded our principal that the new evaluation system has not been voted on or agreed to by the membership of UTLA.
At a meeting three weeks ago, our administrator told the staff that the five of us that are being stulled with the new evaluation method would be her “guinea pigs”. She is being supportive in the process, but as I sat in a separate meeting with the group of us to be stulled, I couldn’t help but notice that four out of five of us are the oldest teachers on the staff. And during last year’s stull several teachers reported attempts by the administration to place “needs improvements” in bizarre areas never mentioned to us in the pre-stull meetings. Most of us were able to successfully argue that these should never have been given. For example, they tried to to saddle me with a “needs improvement” for “not having my standard posted.” Yes it was- on the Smart Board but it was temporarily covered by the PowerPoint presentation on the Twenties. I was able to successfully argue that away. When the staff compared notes, we discovered it had happened to all teachers being stulled and a few months later I found out why. There are “criteria” which determine who will get evaluated by the new system that include three needs improvements and absences over a certain number of days so we had to be “fit” into the criteria. With as hard as I work and as much money as I spend on my classroom, this is more than disheartening.
But all of that is child’s play compared to what happened to my National Board Certified colleague from a large comprehensive high school in the South Bay who had an unblemished twenty year teaching record but who one year later has no job, no credential and is adrift. He’ll have to appeal, then sue the district for his job back. Sure he can teach with just his NBCT license but what does he tell any future school that asks the dreaded question, “Have you ever been dismissed or asked to resign from any position?”
About 1 1/2 years ago he was teaching his after school college prep class with 93 kids in it. YES. 93 kids packed into one room. His principal claimed an allegation had been made against him, but did not investigate it. He just ended up in teacher jail. Now remember, he had nothing, nothing in his file or any complaint in twenty years of teaching. There were no witnesses and none came forward. There was no police investigation. Yet he was removed and not allowed to know anything about the district “investigation.” He took two child care leaves because he had a newborn and his wife works out of state. The new principal who had evaluated him and who had received her administrative credential from a “pray away the gay” Christian university that later lost its accreditation, did not favor his progressive methods or curriculum. I became familiar with them after taking a fabulous professional development class from him on creating a film and philosophy class that counted as media arts. It was truly the most beneficial district PD I had ever attended and in fact I used many of the films he showed us in my own classes -films such as Tsotsi and Innocent Voices.
About 300 former students and staff of the high school wrote letters of support and when he had his Skelly hearing one of the board members dropped the huge packet of letters in front of him saying, “We’ve never had this happen before.” But it didn’t matter. Weeks later, the district faked him out. They told him his case would be heard at a particular Tuesday board meeting. He flew back from the east coast but then….they never brought his case up. Then two weeks later he was dismissed without warning with no chance to be present. If you still don’t feel sickened about what is happening to fellow educators, maybe now you should.
My colleague had taken several family leaves over his twenty years with the district, so his retirement would be only about a quarter of his salary, which is one reason while I have been tempted, I would never take a leave. He has occasionally sold a low budget screenplay and is working on a book but it can’t replace a regular paycheck.
My science teacher colleague who I will call David taught at a well -regarded LAUSD mid -city high school for twenty years but then was displaced somehow after all of those years. He ended up at a decent high school on the Eastside. I knew him from my tutoring job with the district and we stayed in touch. I emailed David recently and he wrote back frantic, saying he had received a below -standard Stull for the first time in his career and that he could no longer tutor because he had to concentrate on jumping through hoops to get a decent Stull this year. I queried him about when he would qualify for lifetime health benefits. He qualifies in February of 2015. Hmmm. He gets his first negative Stull ever in May of 2013. If he gets another in May of 2014 the district can dismiss him about six months before he qualifies for health benefits. But unlike my other colleague who was in a state of shock over his treatment by the district, David is being proactive. He is retraining to learn how to build and install solar panels and receiving his training, somewhat ironically at an LAUSD Skills Center.
This highly skilled educator is a la Rodney Dangerfield, going “Back to School” alongside high school students but unlike the Dangerfield movie, there is no humor in his situation. I see humiliation and horror perpetrated on educators in a country that has become as political scientist Sheldon Wolin declares ” an inverted totalitarian state.” What does that mean? It means that on the outside, our country has democratic structures: elections, representative bodies and so forth. But on the inside it is more and more totalitarian and is stifling true structures of freedom: education, social mobility and so forth.
Many Americans are falling out of the middle class but many are being pushed and teachers seem to be at the top of the list of those being forced off the cliff. The question no one wants to answer is why? Why high school teachers especially? What do they bring to the table that is so threatening to our corporatized security and surveillance state? It might be what Minnesota teacher of the year, Megan Hall articulated: “Teachers are the last line of defense against the tyranny of the 1 percent.”
My now dismissed colleague had gotten several grants for the school, taken years of classes to New York City and also taught his after school college prep class that was standing room only. In other words he exposed his students to what they would need to become thinking, self -confident adults who would not settle for less than their best. I know I will never reach his heights as an educator. Yet he is gone, and I will rise tomorrow and head to work. Maybe I’ll see a former Fremont teacher at my school as I did Friday, a former coach with a bad leg who had trouble walking before but now whose every step is excruciatingly painful and who was forced to work an auxillary after school with no extra pay. We hugged. He had never gotten his credential while at Fremont, and was only on an emergency one as a coach and now was forced to sub. Problem is he is competing with displaced teachers. I headed to the parking lot to go home while he asked someone to open the door to the classroom and, doubled over in pain, lurched into the room.
Teachers, it’s not enough to take care of students. Take care of yourselves. Watch out for yourselves. No one else will.
I knew something was missing from my life when Chuck finally started blogging again- he stopped writing for 120 days. I also stopped writing for a long time and now just write in fits and starts. I should have started blogging again when Monica Ratliff won the Los Angeles School Board seat in the Valley, but somehow, life has become overwhelming. So I am glad that Chuck is back, sharp and insightful as ever with some killer lines. But is was also difficult as I read to relive the various paths we former Fremont teachers took. One particularly harrowing reconstitution story comes to mind: a male teacher from Fremont stuck in a middle school from hell was removed, suicidal by the police. He stopped teaching. Yet he had been successful at Fremont for 10 years. The evil that was perpetuated by reconstitution seems to hang over us, doesn’t it? Even as we try to forget and move on- wherever we landed. A two-fer awaits, below.
“Cruel Little Number”
Today is Friday, May 24, 2013 and Day 126 of Year Four. It is also Day 996 since I began writing these posts and Day 928 PF (Post-Fremont), and the 432nd post. It’s also the eighteenth anniversary of the day I buried my father, a complex, heavy-handed man who may not have been the best father in the world, but who tried to teach me some life lessons. I took a break for 120 days.
That’s not true. I stopped writing for 120 days.
I stopped writing, in part, because I was afraid.
You see, those at Theodore Roosevelt Senior High School, which has been under Mayor Villaraigosa’s Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, have been looking at the specter of reconstitution and all its brethren R-words like restructuring and reorganization.
In spite of contracts and agreements with unions, reconstitution seems to render those null and void. I first started writing about the failure of reconstitution when I was over at John C. Fremont High in that throw-away section of LAUSD, where parent and community support can be ignored, and where “grand experiments” can be conducted upon children and communities because of an inability to fight back. It’s akin to going into a nursing home and challenging the residents to a boxing match.
Those communities were outgunned from the beginning, lacking the money that LAUSD can pay its attorneys, lacking funding from the billionaire “reformers,” but most importantly lacking an ability to pull together as a community and defend their children. Which is why baby administrators are sent there to cut their teeth, must-place administrators are sent there to finish their illustrious careers, and new teachers are sent there to realize that unions don’t seem to offer much protection and that if they want to be on the winning team, they’d just better do whatever they are told.
I’ve been through that. I got out. I would like to think I was an inspiration to some, an irritant to others. Maybe I just wanted to get out of there but couldn’t admit it to myself.
But, back to rebuilding a school (another R-word): I watched how many of my former coworkers, my now former Pathfinders landed on their feet, adjusted to new places, learned to feel the different rhythms of the new schools. They were the lucky ones.
So was I. I found a school which was also a home and a community. I got the gold ring.
Others were less lucky. Some quit, like basketball coach Sam Sullivan, an alumnus of Fremont, who once eloquently and tearfully spoke of what was happening to his beloved school. He couldn’t bear to remain and watch what was happening. Some, like art teacher Margherita Moraca, head of the Humanitas Program, were forced into retirement, their retirement itself threatened. Others tried to hang on, because they’d gone to school there and would have bargained with the devil. One did, and later reneged on it when she saw the bargain was not going to be honored. She forgot who she was dealing with. Others begged, some of those to no avail. It was not pretty.
Some found jobs elsewhere, some changed professions, some taught at other schools which, in turn, suffered from the reconstitution golem stomping through the poorer parts of the City of Angels, and were chased like refugees fleeing occupation forces. Others never got jobs as teachers, unable to, and became substitutes.
I probably should have been more afraid than I let on, afraid I wouldn’t be teaching those important life lessons—or maybe not even teaching. Maybe God protects fools. “Fools, children and ships named Enterprise,” to quote Commander Riker, “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”
I blogged about that for a while. Some others picked it up and the story of Fremont made the circuits of education reformers.
However, the story of Roosevelt doesn’t seem to garner that interest. Maybe that was why I stopped writing, becoming embittered when I realized I was shouting into the wind, and many stopped listening. Maybe I also wanted to enjoy what seemed like a normal school after Fremont, listen to my drill team angels hanging out in my room and chattering away, normal kids with normal problems, to have kids wave at me across the quad or come by for help.
Maybe I got tired of fighting.
Then that R-word showed up. Actually, the word used to preface it was the C-word, Consolidation. After years of the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools pushing the concept of Smalls Schools, based on what the Gates Foundation had in turn pushed in the past (but which mysteriously vanished from its website, go figure), after being told by faculty and staff that dividing Roosevelt into seven Small Schools, each with its own “principal” (but actually a more-impressively titled Instructional Advisor I think, which was also more economical) was not economically feasible, PLAS was told by Superintendent John Deasy, “Fit it.”
Five Small Schools were merged, dickering over consolidation or reconstitution, worries over which school code was to be used, concerns over which academies one might be assigned to—or would there even be a place for you on the new, consolidated Roosevelt. Hell, there’s even disagreement over whether to call the place Theodore Roosevelt High School or Theodore Roosevelt SENIOR High School.
My parents would have called that that part “vibriki.” That means you’re squabbling over nonsense details. To quote Fritz Leiber, “Bored men will loose arrows at dust motes.”
But those fears were very real. There were plenty of my new coworkers who spoke just as the faculty at Fremont did after reconstitution was announced by then-Superintendent Ramon Cortines, who left his mark on LAUSD http://articles.latimes.com/2011/apr/16/local/la-me-cortines-20110416 and went on to have a state-of-the-art high school named for him(http://notebook.lausd.net/pls/ptl/docs/PAGE/CA_LAUSD/FLDR_LAUSD_NEWS/FLDR_PRESS_RELEASES/TAB1255189/TAB1255232/SCHOOLNAMEDFORCORTINESSC.PDF, even over the objections of parents and community “Parents object to naming process for downtown L.A. arts high school” http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2011/06/parents-object-to-process-for-naming-arts-high-school-after-retired-supt-ramon-cortines.html
“L.A. Unified skips school input, and its own procedures, in naming arts high” http://articles.latimes.com/2011/jun/15/local/la-me-0615-arts-high-20110615.)
There were the whispers in hallways and in each other’s classrooms, always worrying about where people would end up, whether it would be at which of the two academies the five Small Schools merged together would make up. Folks eyed each other and the seniority lists. Where did we all fit? How many teachers would they need in each area? Who would lose in the employment game of musical chairs? Would they even be used? After all, some of us had even been told there was a list. Great, I’ve now got something from “The Mikado” in my head, “I’ve got a little list. They never would be missed.”
My laptop went idle. I want to say that I wanted the facts, that I wanted to see where this was going. But, truth to tell, I also wanted to keep teaching, to keep teaching here at Roosevelt. The past three years have been the best so far of my teaching career. I’ve had respect from colleagues. I’m involved in extra-curricular activities. I’ve been allowed to teach an AP class, something which was a political football at Fremont. Kids live out of my room and my refrigerator. The back of my Explorer is filled with pom-poms, which have learned to refer to as poms.
So I kept Coop, my laptop from speaking. It was reserved for working on PowerPoints for my AP class. Now it was revising my old PowerPoints. I was just too busy, others who used to be interested in what was happening to Fremont had no interest in Roosevelt, and I was afraid to write.
Then several things happened together, feeding each other.
There were the rumors of what the academies would be like: that students who had not score at least at a basic level in California Standards Testing would be given double-blocks of English and or Math.
Do the math. If 9th Graders entering school are placed in classes based upon 8th Grade CST scores, they are being placed on tracks. The sacred and hallowed A-G requirements (where we assure that “all children will be college-ready”) can’t be met when you have kids who have four of their six periods/day filled already.
Where’s the room for other classes? Well, let’s get rid of 9th Grade Science, since they don’t test in it, eh? By the way, let’s get rid of Physics, because that’s hard… While were at it, let’s double-block those 10th and 11th Graders…
Why not? On the new recruitment flyer, the five merged schools have been designated by PLAS as School #3 at Roosevelt. A majority of the students, and we don’t even get #1? We are the school of leftovers, aren’t we? The Island of Misfit Toys?
But that will make the newly-consolidated Roosevelt look like a remedial school (I’ve heard the phrase ghetto school bandied about) or a continuation school. Let’s have AP classes, lots of them. Where a campus which once had 5,000 students had something like 5 sections of AP Calculus, let’s have a campus of 2000 have 9 sections…
Why? Because the more sections of AP classes which are offered, and the more students take them, the better the school looks.
And we’ve just recreated educational apartheid.
Hey, it worked in other places, so let’s do it again. Besides, who will fight back?
I will. So will others.
Because two days ago, right smack dab in the middle of what is always a hellish week for me, the anniversaries of my parents’ deaths twelve years apart, and their funerals, right as I’m ending my teaching on the Cold War, which really grabs the kids as I explain how it affected the lives of my parents, as I show them my piece of the Berlin Wall and explain how it was given to me and how I gave it to my mother, right in the middle of that, the yearbook came out.
Why would the yearbook matter? Because kids have me signing theirs, and I have them signing mine. Because I’m reading what they wrote. Because, as I look at these pictures I’m thinking about how they have shaped my life, how I have shaped theirs and how I cannot stand by and just watch, playing it safe just because I’ve been happy.
Someone once told me that I needed to blog because I was creating a record of what happened, of where the bodies are buried. I don’t know if I entirely believe that one, considering these are people who no longer want to hear about Roosevelt, and who won’t be interested in where the bodies are buried.
Maybe they don’t want to hear it, anymore. Maybe the reason is that it doesn’t DIRECTLY involve Bill Gates or the other Billionaire Boys Club members and their influence on educational policy. Maybe it doesn’t involve standardized testing to the degree they’d wish (although I believe it does). Maybe the campaign is the thing to fight and the battlefield that is Roosevelt High School is too small, just another island in the education reformers’ island hopping campaign.
I say, “Bull.”
What is happening at and to Roosevelt is important. It’s not a “little fight,” or skirmish. It’s not little if you are in the midst of it. It’s not little, if you see lives affected. It’s not little if you see those around you being hurt and you keep silent.
Like I did.
So, I’m back in the fight, because no fight, no school is too small to lose to the mismanagement of “outside providers.”
“Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard”
Today is Friday, May 31, 2013 and Day 133 of Year Four. It’s that end of the year wrap-up in progress. Books are getting turned in. I’m signing yearbooks as seniors take root in the O-Zone, foraging for food and Vitamin Waters and snack crackers and Red Vines. Some just want to sit in a room they’re comfortable in as they finish projects for other classes and reminisce.
I’ve got a soft spot for them. It’s especially tough because this is the group I started at Roosevelt with, the ones who made me feel like I was a member of the community. They were a particularly nice group, with good values.
But there was also another reason I may have not had many problems in the classroom: there were two deans on campus, two years ago. There had also been some 22 campus aides. Those who did not play well with others were dealt with, allowing us to teach the rest.
Now? It’s very different. It was a tough year for me. There were thieves of time, stealing that time I’d use to make my classroom, the O-Zone, a very special place, a place where I’d do living history in the classroom, play music, introduce them to Shakespeare in the context of a history class, take the kids to the Getty Villa.
A lot of that happened a lot less this year…
The kids are working on their final projects. Well not all of them. In three of the periods, I have an island or two (the desks are now arranged in groups for this project) where students just… sit. That’s not strictly true. They play with their phones, the same phones they are not supposed to have out.
But then, these are minors who have not obeyed the rules, who have disrupted class. I have been cussed out, and been told, “That one has anger issues.” So do I.
We can start with the School Board. “L.A. Schools will no longer suspend a student for being defiant.” http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-lausd-suspensions-20130515,0,442761.story?track=rss&utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+lanowblog+%28L.A.+Now%29
Or we could go to the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, which helped to create the situation wherein it was decided that each Small School would not contribute to having a single dean on campus, let alone two, and that we are down to about 4 campus aides.
We could go to the several 10th Grade drug dealers who roamed the halls or the girl caught with drugs who was in class the next day. We could talk about kids who refuse to hand over a phone and are told by an administrator to “put it away or it will get taken away…”
When I watched the group of kids in one class (the group I refer to in my head as The Village of the Damned or the Island of Misfit Toys), I remember them smirking because I realized that confronting them would do no good. Last week they were still grinning and nudging each other as I was collecting notebooks from the class, grading them laboriously.
They stopped grinning as I gave out the final project, mentioned that they weren’t working at all. I was told, “Give them their grades.”
And? And do what after that? A shrug. Later, an explanation, “I talked to the kid’s father. I asked, ‘Have you looked at his grades?’ The father said, ‘Why should I look at his grades?’” Somewhere in my head, I’m sure I heard van Halen’s “And the Cradle Will Rock”: “Have you seen Junior’s grades?”
Yes, I’m complaining. I’m trying to understand why minors engaged in criminal activity can steal time and opportunity from those who wish to learn. I’m trying to understand why, in our zeal (well, not MY zeal) for test prep and scores, where schools are managed by CEOs who want raises but who won’t pay teachers on committees, why do those who cause our students to be afraid are allowed to flourish?
For now, courtesy of the Los Angeles Unified School District’s board, I feel they’ve further emboldened these “students.” Now it is we who also get to be afraid.
WHAT IS EDUCATION? BY HT NIEBERGALL (math teacher at Fremont High since 1966)
Below is a mass letter that Herb sent out shortly after the reconstitution of Fremont was announced. Herb has taught at Fremont since Lyndon B. Johnson was president of the United States. The term SLC stands for Small Learning Community. Herb was in the SLC People, Power and Passion which was one of the most successful SLCs at Fremont. Alas at Fremont the bureaucrats make sure nothing successful lasts for long. You might be asking yourself, “How in the world did Herb get rehired at Fremont?” The answer is simple : fear. Herb had taught generations of south LA students math and students who are now grandparents regularly showed up to see him. In other words, the administration couldn’t afford the public outcry that would contradict their carefully crafted lie that teachers at Fremont were “failures.” It was very fortunate for the students at Fremont that Herb was rehired.
To: The Universe (B of E’s, supers, secretaries, all concerned or not)
Re: What is Education?
From: H T Niebergall
Teacher Fremont High School
(SLC P 3)
Looking at the on line New Fremont slide show, the proposed block schedule will make it more difficult than it is now, with our busted up 3 track schedule, to prepare AP Calculus students to pass the national exam.
The outlined plan will emphasize math and English. If we are committed to a useful educated citizenry as founder Thomas Jefferson was, then we need to vastly improve government and history education, not their isolated facts and dates, but their theory and practice, and how they relate to the reality of today.
The outline says everyone is locked into the same “pacing plan” aligned to the “standards”. Who decides what a standard is? Here is an example of what D7 Super had us spend 30 minutes a day on about 12 years ago ( the purpose being to dramatically raise test scores).
1. What was our first president George Washington’s birth year?
A. 1923 B. 1832 C. 1732 D. 1632
“Teachers” were directed to have students eliminate two “obviously wrong” choices then guess from what remained.
What facts does one really need to know? When the bank made a error in my account interest one summer, the experienced loan officer correcting the error involving a 30 and 31 day month, in 365 day year, after many complex calculations she put her calculator down, added by hand and said the bank owed me $117.43. I said I calculated $116.43. She said “Isn’t 8 and 8, 17!? So I lost a dollar.
When an interviewer was surprised when Albert Einstein did not remember a certain physical constant, he replied, “Why should I need to remember what I can look up in books!” (Have you, my readers of these comments, learned the net skills necessary to find what Thomas Jefferson said about the purpose of education, or were only tested on remembering what number he was, and can you then also find Washington’s birth year? I always remember it because it is the 3 place decimal approximation to the square root of 3)
Right now, today, can you calculate the slope of a line from its equation or its graph? That question is on exams from the CAHSEE thru AP Calculus. Many of my former students have become teachers and administrators for LAUSD. 30 years ago they could answer the slope question. But like the bank officer most would make a small error in calculating it today. And none of them had to pass an exit exam or worry about AYP. If they had good grades, they received “free money” to go to college and they graduated to pursue a variety of professions, yet our school then as now ranked low in the state in graduation rate and students going on to higher education. And what they had then and we still have now is a cadre of inspiring teachers, one is now a well known feminist lawyer, and many moved on to be top LAUSD officials.
When I started teaching, an LAUSD math teacher had written a text book (Mathematics A Human Endeavor) followed by a series of books that were used widely through out the district. They contained “Inspiring Math” lessons, many of which I modified and still use. But our new outline has us teaching “Accelerated Math”, which will re-run slope of line until the student will remember it long enough to raise state test scores and that skill then will soon be forgotten, all this at the expense of necessary and useful education (ref. Thomas Jefferson).
Our country does not support education as it did for the 40 years after WW II.
The false Texas “Miracle in Education” along with the text book and test makers corporations helped propel the election of a president that gave us NCLB. Now with “Race To The Top”, we are leaving many behind.
What is more important, the dates of the French Revolution, or the causes, results, and how they relate to events in today’s world? Are we helping our students learn how to find and use information that will stop the “disaster course” the world now finds its self on? If the Secretary Of Education wants to help us, he will advise the “Commander In Chief” to move all our “troops” involved in destructive actions to Haiti, and clear to the rubble in 6 months (not 3 years as now projected) and help rebuild hospitals, schools, and homes in 3 years or less. Hey now, wouldn’t that have the whole world saying WOW!!, look what the old US of A is doing for humanity. Only when other countries stop seeing us as “Economic Terrorists” of the world, will we stop being attacked by the recipients of those actions.
Nazi Germany had a great and successful nation wide educational plan that suited its goals. The world sat back and saw fields of youth in lock step calisthenics and passing all their exams for “The Father Land”. A system of education that developed a generation of rule followers that were given and learned all the “right answers”, and obeyed directions without critical analysis as to where they were being led.
I teach inspiring math, not accelerated math.
As the Teamsters changed from mules to trucks, corporations must re-tool from our present “War Machine” economy to a “Building and Recycle Machine” economy for all. We must “ educate”, not“ train”, our children so they know how to understand and use information to develop solutions to the “greed and injustice mentality” of today that if not stopped is capable of destroying “Space Ship Earth” (ref: Buckminster Fuller)
And finally redo the New Fremont outline to emphasize a broad “relevant” educational foundation that has a world view, an outline that will allow our teachers the freedom to implement their vision of a better world, allow constructive criticism and revision of the plan, and changed procedures to rid the profession of the less than proficient persons.
Myself personally, I am not going to teach students to “stand in line”, memorize answers and follow directions without questioning the reasons why.
I would like to stay at Fremont.
I would like the many excellent teachers now applying to transfer to stay at Fremont.
I would like the People making the changes to use their Power in a Passionate way for the benefit of all involved. ( our P 3 philosophy is forever)
Thank You For Your Consideration,
H T Niebergall