By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
"I don't condone his temper, but his temper has absolutely no color line," says Winter Johnson, a senior in Beytin's government class. "I'm very outraged. I don't have a teacher, my magnet is crumbling. I totally disagree with all the allegations of racism. [Kaplan's and Beytin's] attitudes aren't always the best, but they're such great teachers. I've learned so much. They've totally revolutionized the way I think about everything. This whole thing is dumb."
Even those inclined to assign Beytin and Kaplan the greatest culpability stop short of calling them racist. "These guys can be insensitive," says Stu Bernstein, director of the district's Office of Intergroup Relations. "They could do with heavy-duty human-relations training. Race is something that we all live and breathe -- that's our legacy. But I honestly don't think they're racist."
A large problem notdiscussed by the coalition is the students' self-segregation: On the quad, magnet kids tend to hang out with magnet, main school with main school. Among black students, such cliquing is more loaded, and no doubt contributes to the parents' general sense of campus inequality, though the blame for this particular inequality can hardly be laid at the feet of teachers. One recent graduate of the humanities magnet recalls her and her friends' overt derision of their main-school counterparts: "We looked down on these students as ghetto, uncultured and unintelligent," says the alum, who asked not to be named. "The term 'original Hamilton,' which referred to the main school, was code for 'black.'"
After promising to do so, the coalition never put me in touch with dissident black students other than the two present at the Leimert Park meeting. In contrast, at a school management meeting the Monday following the protest, the outpouring of support for Beytin and Kaplan was oceanic; one ex-student testifying to their influence openly wept. Kaplan's supporters in particular are astonishing in their number, ethnic variety and consistency of comments. When he was being threatened with removal after the gospel-choir incident last year, students circulated a "Save Kaplan" petition that garnered well over 100 signatures in one class period, and more than 100 letters of support arrived from parents, students, alumni. To a person, they cited his uncompromising academic standards and intellectual rigor. He could be overly impatient, they said, withering at times and overbearing, yet it was all in the interest of getting students to challenge their lazy assumptions about the world and think for themselves.
"He's so strict, you have no choice but to learn," says Nefertiti Takla, an 18-year-old humanities magnet senior. "He catches your attention by talking about the real world -- racial problems, social problems. He does it all. Once in a lesson, he totally destroyed stereotypes of people, especially those of African-Americans. A lot of people take him the wrong way, if you're oversensitive or immature. If you call him a racist, you have to point to the fact that he's Jewish and he makes fun of Jews."
Kaplan got letters in Spanish, from whole families, from black and Latino students in the magnet and the main school, who claimed they had learned more about black and minority history from him than from anywhere or anyone else. They said that Kaplan is great because he doesn't just teach history or social science, he teaches the interconnectedness of everything. He examines concepts, attitudes, ideas that tether history to psychology and literature and pop culture; parents say that they began looking forward to their kids bringing lessons home so they could learn something, too. Sample lines from the letters tell a formidable story: "From this painfully honest man, I have learned to search for the reasons policies are the way they are" . . . "As one of his students, I have been exposed to new ways of seeing society and its composition, without a biased mentality. Mr. Kaplan teaches in a â way incomparable to any other by allowing the student to uncover thematic similarity through historic information" . . . "While I was on an interview for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, I told the interviewer that Mr. Kaplan is the best teacher I ever had. I am a black student, a male student who knows from my experiences that Mr. Kaplan is not in the least bit racist" . . . "As an African-American male, my desire to succeed and dispel the distorted societal view of African-Americans is now considerably stronger because of Mr. Kaplan's commendable lesson plan and teaching ability." If this guy is brainwashing people, it would behoove us all to find out how he's doing it.
Many black parents and students say AAPCEE is doing some serious mau-mauing, beating everyone over the head with accusations of white oppression and creating such a charged atmosphere that no one who takes issue with them -- black or white -- will do so publicly. That includes such mammoth "white" entities as the teachers union and the entire school district; the only school-board member to address the Hamilton situation thus far is not Valerie Fields, who represents the Westside, but Barbara Boudreaux, who doesn't. At a recent board meeting, Boudreaux, a self-styled champion of black causes, loudly sympathized with the coalition and declared that the district must look into the possibility that black children "might be experiencing retribution from those teachers currently under investigation." Clearly, Boudreaux knew nothing save what AAPCEE had told her. With the exception of student-body president Dominique West, an African-American, the students who showed up at the board meeting to speak in support of Kaplan and Beytin were not allowed to take the podium.