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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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