By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Beytin, who taught journalism and government, had allegedly thrown a chair and cursed at two black students, who voiced complaints; he was subsequently reassigned to a nearby administrative "cluster office." The Beytin incident is what sparked the April protest, according to the Times story. I asked for details. "We don't know exactly what happened," Wade said, almost casually. He deferred to a student, Kwabene Haffar, who said that according to what he knew, Beytin did not throw a chair; he wasn't entirely sure if Beytin's outburst was aimed specifically at the black students. It was here that I felt the first stirrings of doubt -- if Beytin acted in this instance like a hothead but not a racist, orchestrating an anti-racism protest around the incident seemed rather manipulative. I was down with the general cause, the big issue, but realized I had no fix on the teacher issue yet.
The discussion moved swiftly on to Alan Kaplan, the teacher for whom the parents reserved most of their animus. In his social-science and American history classes, Kaplan addressed racially inflammatory topics. Haffar said he transferred out after only one day because Kaplan put the question: "Why is it no one sympathizes with the slavemasters?" The most egregious of his lessons, the one that set AAPCEE in motion against him last June, centered on the school's gospel choir. The parents said they had to do battle with the Student Improvement Committee to secure funding for the choir, which was led by a non-credentialed teacher named Fred Martin. The funding was granted, and the next day Kaplan held a discussion in his classes on the dynamics of interest-group politics, using the gospel choir as a model. This lesson, the parents asserted, was one of many ways in which Kaplan degraded black kids. He also co-opted the affections of his pet students -- the "talented tenth," Wade said derisively -- and cowed the others, then set the two groups against each other. Kaplan was not only racist, he was facilitating nothing less than intraracial warfare on campus. He had to go.
The coalition had been pressuring the school district for his transfer, and that of several other magnet teachers, since last summer. But the district was not cooperating, and the "good ol' boy network," as Wade put it, was still in place. The parents wouldn't rest until it had been broken up. They had called me because I am black and write extensively about black issues, and they had confidence in my ability to do this story justice.
I shifted slightly in my seat. I rubbed my eyes. I suggested for the sake of argument that Kaplan and company had many students and parents supportive of them who were black, perhaps as many as were sitting around this table. What could I assume about that?
Wade nodded knowingly. "He brainwashes people," he said. "They're afraid to speak up. There are people who don't want to be on the front line. They may look like us, talk like us. But they're not us."
II. Fear and Loathing
Magnet schools were created in the late '70s as a response to a federal court order to desegregate public schools across the nation. By law, they can be no more than 40 percent white; students must apply for admission and are chosen by a combination lottery and point system. In L.A., as elsewhere, after mandatory busing proved a political and practical disaster, magnets were ushered in as the most viable alternative to forced integration, though they were not without their critics.
The dissension over Alan Kaplan and his role as guiding light of Hamilton's humanities magnet has a long and turbulent history. Since he joined the magnet in 1982, black parents, faculty and administrators have grumbled sporadically about his confrontational teaching style, his push for college-level work from high school students and, most of all, his insistence on dissecting the roots of racism as a way of fully understanding American history and the American gestalt. Gregg Beytin, who's also been at the magnet for much of its 18-year life, has a similar philosophy and teaching methodologies; he and Kaplan were chief architects of the magnet's "whole life" approach and its integrated course work. But it was Kaplan who first raised hackles, in 1987, when he shared a lesson with other Hamilton teachers about the impact of racism on the test scores of minority students; one of the readings for the lesson was an article on black test scores written by Salim Muwakkil, who cited a group of education experts â who were exclusively African-American.
Three black teachers in the room promptly began complaining that Kaplan had no right to be teaching anything about racism because he was white, and as far as they knew he might have some nefarious plan to destroy the minds of black children. Beytin eventually came to Kaplan's defense; the other teachers later petitioned the principal for Kaplan and Beytin's removal, but ultimately failed. Still, both teachers were investigated exhaustively before school officials declared there was no evidence of racism. And the die was cast: Kaplan and Beytin, and by extension the entire humanities magnet, had been branded a hotbed of racist and professionally elitist activity. That Hamilton's magnets were fast acquiring national reputations as public schooling that worked only seemed to stoke the fires of discontent; faculty divisions widened. Beytin says there are black teachers on campus with whom he has yet to have conversations.
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