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EDUCATORS, DISGRUNTLED AND OTHERWISE

DEAR EDITOR:

If you read Erin Aubry Kaplan’s rather disingenuous article “A Famed Reformer Resigns” [August 3–9], you can easily recognize the real reason behind reformer George McKenna’s resignation: “McKenna is technically on paid administrative leave from his $150,000-a-year job through next June, when his two-year contract expires.” Wow! Talk about fringe benefits! With a perk like that, who wouldn’t resign?

As one of those educators handpicked by McKenna to teach at Washington Preparatory High School (please, Erin, get the name right), I was constantly reminded that I was a “child advocate.” As such, I had to dismiss any personal concerns about working conditions, health, personal safety, economic security, etc., and put the interests of the students first. Very well. As an ardent believer in Chairman McKenna’s Great Leap Forward, I willingly accepted these conditions. Still, I can’t help thinking about what I could accomplish as a child advocate if I could get my hands on the $150,000 the LAUSD is paying McKenna to stay home and watch reruns of Denzel Washington in The George McKenna Story.

When former Mayor Richard Riordan’s handpicked candidates took control of the Board of Education, they awarded generous 20 to 40 percent raises to themselves and to high-ranking administrators. Then they recruited “reformers” to save the district. Suffice it to say, each reformer had his or her own personal agenda, one that involved hiring a small army of aides and assistants, including community activists, flush with a sense of pride, power and a God-given mandate. Naturally, those aides and assistants expected generous salaries, with bailout provisions in their contracts, and the community activists expected jobs for all their relatives. (With a limited number of high-paying sinecures, it’s no wonder we witness the sort of infighting and political intrigue documented in Kaplan’s article.)

In addition, what Kaplan labels “reforms” are often no such thing. Take McKenna’s requirement — apropos of nothing — that all teachers begin submitting weekly lesson plans. As a classroom teacher, I wouldn’t dream of setting foot in a classroom unless I’d prepared a syllabus for the entire year, not to mention daily or weekly updates when necessary. During the first month of school, however, I could expect my teaching assignments to change several times without prior notice, making my yearly lesson plans an exercise in futility. Then I would find much of my teaching time arrogantly pre-empted for other, nonacademic activities. As a consequence, I would accomplish in class only a fraction of what I had intended. As one of my colleagues put it, “We plan. They un-plan.”

I do not mean to deprecate McKenna. He’s a brilliant man — certainly more intelligent than stooges like myself who are lame-brained enough to choose to teach in the LAUSD’s worst schools because that’s where they’re “needed.” That mentality is a lousy way to get ahead in the LAUSD, and an excellent way to get an ulcer. The lesson for teachers is clear: Quit teaching. Instead, become an educational “reformer.”

—William Joseph Miller Los Angeles

 

DEAR EDITOR:

Re: Howard Blume, Dave Perera and Dennis Dockstater’s “Manual Dexterity” [August 10–16]. Any attempt at balance when reporting on recent events at Manual Arts High School was artfully whisked away at the end of the story when the Weekly writers — choosing to leave readers with a sense of pervasive “despair” and “hopelessness” they erroneously believe exists at our school — quote a solitary faculty member “who said simply, ‘I hate my job.’”

That person’s truth is not shared by most of our staff, and I sincerely hope that my quotable colleague is professional enough to mask his or her true sentiments while working with our young people each day. And I pray fervently that this person finds suitable employment elsewhere sooner rather than later.

I think I speak for an overwhelming majority of the teachers at Manual Arts when I say, “I love my job.” It has its challenges, to be sure, but the rewards are plentiful enough to make it all worthwhile. The students we serve deserve the best, and despite considerable odds and adverse factors that are often beyond our control, we consistently deliver quality instruction. The mood here on campus is decidedly upbeat. I defy any objective reporter to spend quality time in our classrooms and conclude otherwise.

Let me issue the same caveat to Weekly consumers that I impart to my students: Read defensively. A selected quote may say it, and writers may write it, but that doesn’t necessarily make it so.

—David Williams Teacher, Manual Arts High School

DEAR EDITOR:

Wendell C. Greer Jr. and Irene Anton did much to better Manual Arts High School. Under Dr. Greer’s leadership, Manual was recognized as a California Distinguished School. He is recognized and respected for his leadership in integrated technical education. And indeed, he probably helped some teachers more than others. Dr. Greer tended to aid those who brought added value to their â program or school, or provided something extra for their students.

Yes, it is not a perfect system. If you look for dirt, you will find it. But when was the last time you sent three reporters to cover some of the unique and successful programs at Manual Arts?

Finally, if a teacher hates it that much down here, he or she should leave. There are plenty of teachers here who give it all we’ve got, every day. We don’t have time to hate.

—John Santos Teacher, Manual Arts High School

 

DEAR EDITOR:

Thank you for your courageous article about Manual Arts High School.

—Jeanne Lamb Teacher, Manual Arts High School

 

APOCALYPSE THEN

DEAR EDITOR:

Re: “Ludwig’s Rhinoceros” [A Lot of Night Music, August 3–9]. Alan Rich displays ignorance in describing as an “absurd proscription” the state of Israel’s reluctance to sponsor Wagner’s music. Wagner, whose anti-Semitic writings inspired Hitler, composed the music in which the Nazi regime draped itself. This music, forcibly witnessed daily by millions dying in the camps, remains a central symbol and visceral memory for Holocaust survivors. Israel exists as a nation state founded by Holocaust survivors. Does Rich likewise insist that Israel publicly embrace the swastika because its cultural heritage precedes the Nazis? Neither a symbol nor a work of genius floats free of history.

—Dina Fisher Los Angeles

 

UNSEEN VOICES

DEAR EDITOR:

Thank you so much for printing Celeste Fremon’s incredible article on the Pico-Aliso projects and Roman Gonzalez [“Life and Death in Pico-Aliso,” July 27–August 2]. It reflects the lives of those whose voices are not often heard, let alone put on the cover. Please continue to delve into this part of Los Angeles.

—Joe Hernandez-Kolski Los Angeles

 

METAL, HEAVY AND NOT-SO-HEAVY

DEAR EDITOR:

Re: Greg Burk’s “Children of the Grave” [July 13–19]. Over the years I’ve read many articles about heavy metal/hard rock and can honestly say I’ve never stumbled over any paragraph half as incisive, profound even, as this one, from Greg Burk’s Black Sabbath article: “Jaded media watchers tend to call [rock history] a sequence of entertainment: shock trumping shock. Strange how few perceive it as art: human beings feeling worse and worse, and trying to express that condition.” Thanks for having the brains and empathy required to see deeper into the music.

—Chris Hocking Ann Arbor

 

DEAR EDITOR:

Whoooo-eeee! Laying on the bullshit really thick. Mentioning Black Sabbath and jazz in the same sentence? Come on! These dorks are the original Spinal Tap, and this article was right out of “Break Like the Wind.” And Black Sabbath and Kiss were about as scary and wild as a Saturday-morning cartoon! Get real.

—R. Duncan Bond Seattle

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