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Good Vibrations

April 26, 2016

My students are fantastic and have kept me focused on my real priorities.   These past two days have been magical teaching days.  The students are calm and into the lessons. maybe because they see land- June 10th- on the horizon.

My juvenile justice unit has promoted much discussion in class and a lesson on Hitler’s mass murders hit home in an uncomfortable way.  My 4th period, which is reading The Man in the High Castle and watching the Amazon Prime series read an intro to our lesson yesterday.  It discussed the publication of a 1920 book by two German “intellectuals” titled The Release of the Destruction of Life Devoid of Human Value.   I then posed the question,”What kind of life has no human value?”  One student replied that there was no life that didn’t have any value but within  5 seconds, someone else spoke up. “Murderers.”  Another student chimed in: “Rapists.”  Soon they were falling all over each other to add to the list.  Within 60 seconds the list had grown to about 10.  At first, it included the type of people that most people think should be locked away but then the discussion took an odd turn.  “Corrupt journalists” was mentioned by a student  whose family are French Jews  and who had ancestors who were victims of Hitler.  I pointed out that one man’s corrupt journalist was another man’s investigative reporter.    Another student mentioned gang members and more students participated: “Murderous parents.” “Extreme racists.” “Dictators.” “Crooked politicians.”

I asked them if they now understood how the Holocaust happened and whether they would be willing to protect any of the above groups.  I also pointed out that the book by the so-called “intellectuals” was published a full 13 years before Hitler took power and that many Germans in the targeted groups had a false sense of security. After all, Berlin was a liberal and cosmopolitan city.  Who could imagine what would become of it just  a few short years later.   I impressed upon them that when someone says what they will do to a targeted group. you best believe them and that includes Donald Trump, who some write off as a buffoon.  Yet, he has endorsed everything from wall building to murder.  He’s stating it- out loud.  I warned my students that anyone willing to say it out loud is willing to carry it out.

My 2nd period is reading A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of  a Boy Solder by Ishmael Beah who survived several years as a child soldier in Sierra Leone.    We are at the part where Beah and some fellow child soldiers are rescued by UNICEF and have to try to readjust to lives as civilians.   I posed the question for my students’ journals,”Describe a time in your life when you felt like you had no control.”    It is for their notebook checks but one student insisted I read his immediately.  In his journal, he stated he had  a stepfather when he was little who was cruel and never let him go outside or play.    One of my coworkers says she doesn’t do “feelings” or “feelings lessons,” yet they are an integral outlet for students to make connections and let out their emotions in a safe way.   I know it’s not the LAUSD way which is to ask students to compare text structure and language and other such detached modes of analysis.  I’m really glad I don’t have to do such lessons. I’m feeling the good vibrations today.  This is the best teaching I’ve done since Fremont.

 

 

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Cold Comfort

April 14, 2016

The Vergara decision was overturned today, which was not unexpected.  Virtually every legal expert said it would be.  Here is a letter I wrote to the LA School Report, the biased blog of the corporate reformers.

 

 

Cowards One and All

October 14, 2015

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.

BIC: Breakfast in the Classroom: LAUSD Sugarfest and Corporate Windfall

November 24, 2014

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.

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Click to enlarge: Four sources of sugar: Fructose, sugar, corn syrup and honey in ONE product.

This “Failing” School Needs to be Reconstituted…. Oh, Wait…..

November 20, 2014

Fremount-e1398467481565

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?

95 LA Schools on State List of 1000 Underperformers

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?

Life Turns on a Dime: A Tribute to Mat Taylor

January 12, 2014

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.

Mat at Pier

John_F._Kennedy_motorcade,_Dallas_crop“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.

Chris Christie : Teacher – Hating Bully

November 3, 2013

christie bully 2what do you people want_just do yourjob

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.

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Joe Sacco’s drawing of Camden, New Jersey in Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt by Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco (2012)