I arrived home from a spirited Sunland-Tujunga Neighborhood Council meeting (STNC for short) just in time to find an article posted on the LA Times website about the spineless Board of Education voting to fire accomplished teacher Rafe Esquith famous for the Hobart Shakespeareans. The Board is just as weak as our LA City Councilman Felipe Fuentes, who garnered the wrath of Sunland-Tujunga when he evicted the STNC from the local city hall and handed it over to two non-profits for $1 a year [corrected thanks to Liliana Sanchez below]. That’s right- our neighborhood council which is an elected city board will have to find private space and pay rent.
Fuentes didn’t have the spine to show up at the STNC monthly meeting tonight, just as the LA School Board voted to fire Esquith “unanimously behind closed doors.” That includes Zimmer and Ratliff. Should we really trust those two to protect us from Eli Broad’s school privatization plan? I think not. It’s impossible for Esquith to fight back against all of this, but not so for our neighborhood council which thoroughly embarrassed Fuentes’ minions sent in his place- minions who were texting and rolling their eyes at us “local yokels” who took turns at the public comments time to excoriate King Fuentes. I noted when it was my turn at the mic that Fuentes was trying to weaken the STNC because he has seen the history of this small but mighty community fighting back against big box stores and mansionization. He wants to stop that so he gave our neighborhood council two weeks to leave the home it has occupied for 11 years and he had the locks changed. He thinks he and the Gang of Five, as the Valley’s five Democratic political machine members are known, can weaken the Neighborhood Council system but alas for them, some of the most powerful neighborhood councils showed up tonight to support us. Felipe was no where to be found. I’m confident we’ll win this thing but not confident that teachers will save public education. We’re up against a much more powerful machine and Rafe Esquith- the most famous teacher in America -was brought down by it.
I have a new name for BIC: Believe it’s Crap because it is! So this is the kind of crap my students are fed for former superintendent Deasy’s much -heralded “Breakfast in the Classroom.” This particular morning it was Cinnamon Crisps ( with less than 1% cinnamon and a whole lot of sugar) and Chex cereal with almost as much sugar. There were also some fresh apples and milk I wouldn’t trust to drink- but that’s just me. With so many other healthy options available and this being largely grant -funded, it would make sense to survey and see who wants the breakfast and then order something healthy like the following: Go Raw granola and rice or almond milk and fresh fruit. Those are sustainable and healthy items.
I used to work at Fremont, but not the Fremont you see above. Not the one with the mascot that looks like a cross between Cantinflas and an ISIS militant in a tutu. It certainly doesn’t look like a Pathfinder. Four years, 80 million bucks and a whole slew of the “best and the brightest” teachers later and Fremont has reached the top 1000- of “failing” schools in the state. Sound familiar?
I wonder who they’ll blame this time- they can’t blame the teachers. After all, once we were chased out, the moronic administrators said they had 600 applications for our jobs- plenty of high caliber teachers to choose from, right? The next gimmick on the horizon appears to be the Parent Trigger or a state takeover. Funny, no one seems to have any memory of the reconstitution of four years ago. There’s no reflection, no analysis, just the same finger pointing.
It’s been four years since Superintendent Cortines strode into the cafeteria flanked by armed school police and proclaimed Fremont and its staff failures. Four years of trying to find my place again as a teacher. Four years of watching some colleagues land on their feet and others fall to the depths of despair. Four years of trying to rationalize not giving 150% to teaching anymore, simply out of self-protection. Perhaps I and other former staff members should feel vindicated by this latest piece of news but all I feel is anger at the senselessness of disrupting students’ educations and denying them experienced teachers; the senselessness of changing to a hellish 8 X 2 schedule just so someone could say that 700 students “graduated.” The press was there for that phony charade. Where are they now?
“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.”