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
He's more low-key than Beytin, more deliberate but no less intense. Once he overcomes a certain wariness, he is actually eager to talk and to throw ideas up for debate; it seems to be his second nature. He paces at points, slowly, and tugs at his goatee a lot. His voice is a little ragged -- from teaching for 18 years, from the last year of stress, from both. He grew up in the Valley but sounds a lot like Brooklyn. "I'm not perfect," he says, shrugging. "I've made mistakes. The kids get all of me, which means they get my bad moments. Having high expectations may even be construed as racist, but social promotion -- passing kids from one grade to another without demanding much of them -- is more racist."
Kaplan is mad as hell, partly because his career is on the line but mostly because students might be shortchanged in the future. "Those who don't hold you accountable don't care about you," he fairly snaps. "Yes, I'm speaking to mainly black and Latino students when I say, 'It's shameful that you read four years below grade level.' But I don't single out black kids -- I talk about everybody. I talk about Westside white girls who use language like, 'You know, like . . .' We are elite as a magnet, but that doesn't mean we're better human beings, of course."
He recalls with some bewilderment an incident that occurred last year. Kwabene Haffar, the AAPCEE acolyte and his student nemesis, had put up posters announcing lunchtime meetings of his new black student group; the posters denounced racist teachers at Hamilton, thinly veiled allusions to Kaplan and others. Principal Winter objected to the posters, saying they were inflammatory, but Kaplan taught a lesson on the issue and concluded that Haffar had a First Amendment right to display them. Not long afterward, during an evening open house, Haffar's mother stormed into Kaplan's classroom, where he had a poster displayed. She tore it from the wall and upbraided Kaplan for stealing her son's "property" before storming out. This sort of blind resistance wounds him the most.
Reflecting on the troubles of the last year, he admits, "I contemplate leaving every day. But I owe it to the people who defend me to stay. I love my job. I don't think the [AAPCEE] parents are cynical opportunists, but I think their analyses are flawed. We're on the same path until it comes to what should be done about the problems."
Kaplan has never spoken to the coalition, which refuses to meet with him and will not agree to mediation. (Wade's explanation is a heatedly rhetorical, "Do you negotiate with a Bull Connor? Do you negotiate with an Orval Faubus?") He doesn't have much hope it will ever happen. He does hope that Hamilton will survive. "Hamilton's got it all," he says. "Race, class, underperforming black kids, reform movements, integration, white flight. We're ground zero. It happens here, or it doesn't. We're a model for the city, the nation."
This story did not prove to be as reductive as I'd hoped. All the paths -- expansive and narrow, splintered and righteous, clearly marked or elided by intent -- did not merge into one path, or two. I wound up with more What is this story about?s than I started out with. I lost sleep. I struggled with my own loyalties and preconceptions and sense of absolute fairness. I wondered more than once if there issuch a thing, and decided that, like its parent notion of democracy, fairness is something we must make real for ourselves when the occasion demands it. I wondered if the coalition would make good on its promise to move on to other schools where low black and Latino achievement is entrenched -- Jefferson, Locke, Jordan, Fremont, Manual Arts -- and where there are no white-populated magnets to put these failings in front of television cameras and on editorial pages for a couple of weeks. I wondered if they would hold black and minority teachers and administrators as accountable for racial inequity and psychological damage as they have held these white teachers. I wondered if they would picket and circulate letters and refuse to mediate and make lists of demands. I wondered if they would invoke "our children" so vociferously and with such high purpose.
Alice Wallace doesn't think so. "The real story here," she says matter-of-factly, "is very uninteresting."
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