Kudos to Erin Aubry for her magnificent article [“Unsocial Studies,” May 1420] on the painfully sad situation unfolding at Hamilton High School. Aubry is to be commended for her courage to tell the truth, even when that truth tested many of her own presumptions and loyalties. Amid a complex scenario rife with personal animosities and petty resentments, groundless accusations and race-baiting lunacies, bitter sanctimony and self-righteous anger, an inflexible group of parents (and teachers) and a turgid bureaucracy, Aubry retains her objectivity, delivering a version of the story that has escaped the slavishly politically correct mainstream press. What's more, she does so with impressive style and insight.
Aubry perfectly captures the smug wrong-headedness of Wil Wade and his incendiary coterie of parents. By accusing Alan Kaplan of “brainwashing” the children of color in the magnet, Wade insensitively dismisses their deep and enduring love for this gifted teacher and the effect he has wrought upon their lives. Alan Kaplan has “brainwashed” these kids? Yeah, right: He has “brainwashed” them into Harvard, Brown, MIT, Howard, Columbia, Stanford, Spellman, UC Berkeley, Vanderbilt, Morehouse, Princeton, NYU, Penn State, Clark/Atlanta, Reed, Sarah Lawrence, Fisk, and on and on. Ooh, evil man!
The AAPCEE blames poor grades and low test scores garnered by African-American children on racist white teachers, carefully ignoring the fact that many of these same children are also getting poor grades in classes taught by African-American teachers. In addition, the AAPCEE utilizes the old guerrilla tactic of immediately discrediting any person or party who disagrees with them, rendering ineffective all sincere attempts at viable dialogue and, maybe, a practical solution to the very real problems facing educators today.
Teacher of English,
Hamilton Humanities Magnet
Please convey my gratitude, appreciation and respect to Erin Aubry for her insights into what has been going on at Hamilton High School. I am a big fan of her writing, and I value her contribution to the cultural life of Los Angeles in general. But “Unsocial Studies” was absolutely wonderful: deeply insightful, objective and nuanced — to say nothing of courageous —
I agree with Ms. Aubry that what is happening at Hamilton is a microcosm of what is happening in our society, in general. My concern, as a parent of an 11th-grader in the music magnet at Hamilton, is that the climate there is red-hot and out of control and is about to explode.
If such an eruption takes place, more damage and disruption will occur. If the teachers are terminated, the only people who lose are the students. It is my experience that the good teachers are the ones who disrupt the numbness that happens to our teenagers, who oftentimes need to be shocked into having to think and form opinions. Nowadays, teachers sometimes have to resort to extreme measures to wake up our kids — and unfortunately, at Hamilton, such efforts have been distorted by calling out the “race card” to prove a fallacious point.
As a recent graduate of Hamilton Humanities Magnet, I have witnessed firsthand the ongoing assault by a few misguided people against Alan Kaplan and Gregg Beytin, two wonderful, intelligent and passionate teachers. Their classes are not centered on crossword puzzles and map coloring, but bring to life the problems that we, as a society, face today, and show us how race, as a social construct, has very real and problematic consequences in society.
I have also seen the unfortunate disparities that exist between magnet schools and community schools. The AAPCEE has a legitimate concern when it questions why students of color are not performing as well as their white counterparts.
However, the AAPCEE's solution to this problem, facilitating a witch-hunt against a list of white teachers, is not going to address the problem of educational inequity. Removing competent, caring and compassionate teachers such as Gregg Beytin and Alan Kaplan will only eliminate what public education cannot afford to lose: good teachers.
–Tam M. Ma
Leaving aside the personal anguish suffered by faculty members who, despite their proven effectiveness in the classroom, happen to have been born with the wrong skin color, the ultimate casualties of those teachers' victimization will continue to be the students themselves, whose intellectual development is being grievously com-promised. Empty rhetoric and ä bumper-sticker slogans will never produce academic excellence.
The clarity and thoroughness of Erin J. Aubry's story brought to mind the high level of journalism that wins awards or works its way into high school and college English anthologies for its quality and style. It was reminiscent of Clifton Fadiman's excellent journalistic pieces. I hope L.A. Weekly receives some awards for it.
One important theme stands out for me: We should never suspend due process. Human interaction is so complex that, no matter how familiar an issue may seem, it must be examined on its own merits. Some think that to merely hurl a charge of racism is the same as catching someone in the very act. As soon as the charge is uttered, they want to proceed straight to punishment — like a lynch mob. This tendency is all the more frustrating
because, although there has been much progress in this country since the advent of the civil rights movement, racism is still with us. However, bogus charges of racism only add to the problem. If racism is to be defeated, it cannot be with self-serving lies
At the same time, Aubry's story details the courageous behavior of a fine, multiethnic coalition of students and parents who risked standing up for the wrongfully accused. I wouldn't mind living in a community with any of them. If some of our schools are producing such young people, there's hope for the future.
–Robert L. Stoneham
Re: Erin Aubry's problematic article on Hamilton High. I am a former student of Alan Kaplan and Gregg Beytin. Beytin's portrayal of the imbroglio at Hamilton as a clash of fundamentalist versus Enlightenment values gives subtle insight into the kind of swaggering, “balls to the breeze” racial politics he and Kaplan trafficked in during my stint at Hamilton. In Kaplan's classroom, “underperforming” and nonconformist black students were routinely demeaned, and obsession with race reinscribed the black “other” as an object of investigation. The tendentious depiction of black student protesters and the AAPCEE as religious zealots on a witch-hunt plays right into this narrative of black paranoia and irrationality. By posing as victims, Kaplan and Beytin would have the public believe that the fate of Hamilton — and, if I interpret their paternalistic bombast correctly, liberal education in “inner city” America — is hanging in the balance. However, it is abundantly clear that their misrepresentation of themselves as white crusaders battling back the illiberal hordes is merely a smoke screen for a brand of racial politics that has nothing to do with intellectual rigor.
–Dr. Sikivu F. Hutchinson
Hamilton Humanities Magnet class of 1986
New York University
New York, New York
I am a former Hamilton High magnet student, so Erin Aubry's article was of particular interest to me. There are many teachers and students in the school system who want educational opportunity and race relations to progress, but they're hindered by an inability to communicate with those to whom they don't relate.
I didn't have Alan Kaplan as a teacher, but I had an encounter with him once. I was walking through the hall one day, pass in hand, when I ran into a friend. We stopped to greet each other outside Kaplan's classroom. As he saw us, he commented to his class, “Two kids in the hall during class time — must be Original School kids.” I wanted to choke him — this magnet-school elitism that he was passing to his students was the kind that I'd seen firsthand for all my school years. If he is as brilliant as his students seem to believe he is, I'm sure he could come up with a way to express his thoughts without openly offending others around him.
–Christina L. Glaser
Hamilton High School class of 1996
I am a white magnet-school teacher in LAUSD and the parent to two Hamilton alumni, both of them white and Jewish. I am very familiar with all the teachers and administrators mentioned in the article. My sons both had Alan Kaplan as a teacher, and I agree with most of what Aubry wrote. Beytin and Kaplan are not racists. They are, rather, misguided, holier-than-thou neo-hippies! That being said, my sons were challenged in Kaplan's class. And while both Kaplan and Beytin are elitist and egotistical, it has little to do with race. The problems at Hamilton have been brewing for many years; it is unfortunate they have come to light in this manner. I never thought I could support Beytin, Kaplan, etc., but considering the alternative, there is no choice.
No parent on the planet wants to see his child's education neglected. No teacher anywhere wants to fear his every word will bring down the wrath of parents, administrators and students, or bring on accusations of racism in the media. But test scores won't climb if education is confined to “status quo” rote learning. The effort to step up content while encouraging teachers to be creative and involved needs support from administrators, informed parents — and media less enamored of shootouts.
–Ms. Marty Rauch
Thanks for the excellent article by Erin J. Aubry. Picking on two excellent teachers will only make things worse for the minority children at Hamilton. Why doesn't the AAPCEE fight the real power? Throw a picket around 450 N. Grand Ave., the headquarters of L.A.'s school bureaucracy, or picket the next school-board meeting. The institutional policies of L.A. Unified will remain unchanged unless those policies are challenged, along with the bureaucrats and the members of the school board.
Due to an editing error, a quote in last week's paper was wrongly attributed to Katya Komisarauk in the article “Suing the CIA.” It was in fact Donna Warren who said, “I also want those people in jail for drug usage and small sales to have their cases reviewed. And I want these agencies to pay out a lot of money so we can rebuild South-Central and set up the kinds of treatment facilities we need to end this crack epidemic.”
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