a year that has included a close read of Fast Food Nation (frightening)
and a screening of Bowling for Columbine (saddening), nothing has left
me more infuriated, more devastated, than Ben Ehrenreich’s incisive piece on
Locke High School [“Locke
Down,” February 7–13]. As the child of two veteran public school educators,
I have seen firsthand the long-term effects a public school system’s deterioration
can have on the enthusiasm, optimism and spirit of those who accept the challenge
of providing our youth with a meaningful educational experience. I have seen
the exhaustion, I have heard the exasperation — and yet, nearly 30 years into
their chosen profession, my parents still go to work every day and give their
students all they can muster. I am in awe of their seemingly inextinguishable
determination to bring hope and inspiration to the hundreds of students they
have taught over the years. When they retire in two years, they can do so with
their heads held high.
In contrast, I read “Locke Down” and wonder how these hacks who dare call
themselves educators sleep at night. To take my tax money and piss it down the
drain is nothing short of criminal. I wish Ms. Webb, Locke’s former principal
who is currently on medical leave, a speedy recovery — and sincerely hope that,
upon regaining her health, she promptly leaves the education field permanently.
While she didn’t act alone, the buck stops with her — and if she doesn’t like
it, she should get out and stay out.
What a waste. What a disgrace.
What took place at Locke High School unfortunately is distinguished from what
happens at other high schools only by the success of the Locke Student Union
in publicizing such appalling conditions. Until we acknowledge that disproportionate
numbers of inner-city students go to class with huge deficits in socialization,
motivation and intellectual development — and address the reasons for this —
we can expect to read more such reports in the years ahead.
At Locke High School, we see another example of teachers who came of age in
the ’60s manipulating their students. These students are also being used by
United Teachers of Los Angeles to push their failed agenda, and the teachers
that encouraged this walkout should be removed. These students are also an example
of youth out of control. I fear if this type of activity is to continue, we
will see another 1992-style riot.
Your cover story on Locke High School’s “soul-shriveling
assaults of apathy, petty vindictiveness, and demagogic paranoia generated when
a stagnant bureaucracy goes rank” commanded my attention. Ben Ehrenreich brings
some needed attention to the continuing crisis in public education. He also
seems to reach very grand conclusions from quite limited data. Does the author
really believe that the teaching staff, support staff and administration are
to blame for Locke’s violent atmosphere, gang problems and a murder outside
the school grounds? Doesn’t it seem reasonable to note the background atmosphere
of violent streets, violent students, racism, pervasive poverty, rampant broken
homes and a tolerance for chaos? The media glorification of thuggish behavior
might also be a factor.
As a former teacher at Locke in 1994, I encountered some problems getting
books and some resignation among staff members. The LAUSD bureaucracy was —
and remains — a tragic nightmare and cesspool of inefficiency. Yet it’s unfair,
malicious and somewhat deluded to blame Ms. Annie Webb for the cult of ignorance,
gang affiliations, and almost daily fights between students in hallways. Student
misbehavior, including race riots during assembly meetings to honor Dr. King
and Cinco de Mayo, is far more responsible for the fact that “Just 3 percent
of Locke students were classified as ‘proficient’ in English.” The state correctly
took note of “a chaotic, fragmented and dysfunctional environment in which students
cannot focus on learning and teachers on teaching.” Didn’t student misbehavior
have something to do with the situation? Didn’t student misbehavior also have
something to do with the administration’s
decision to search students for weapons, patrol hallways and expel students?
Are mistakes possible? Do teachers and administrators sometimes overreact?
Of course. Mistakes are, in fact, almost inevitable when “macho” students refuse
to answer simple questions, seek conflict and protect other gang members — on
a daily basis. It’s hard to be patient and loving when students are cursing
and spitting, literally, in your face. Let’s look at ä what Mr. Ehrenreich didn’t
tell us while trying to promote the hip concept that “The kids are all right
— but the adults are the problem.” How many guns, knives and other weapons have
been confiscated on school grounds? How many times have the police had to come
to campus? How many students have been arrested? How many rapes have been reported?
How many classes have been disrupted by students? How many illiterate students
hide their inability to read beneath a hostile attitude toward teachers? It’s
wonderful to read about the rare successes of a few dedicated students who graduated
from Locke and go on to college. Their commitment and activism are inspirational.
But the Locke Student Union members are, as even Mr. Ehrenreich knows, the exception.
Zuno’s admission that “The students weren’t focused 100 percent on school” is
an understatement beyond parody.
I left Locke after a mere semester because of the violent atmosphere in hallways,
classes and school grounds. I decided to spend my considerable energy working
with more mature students at adult schools and community colleges. Adult students
are focused, dedicated and serious about taking advantage of educational opportunities.
(Many adult students, by the way, are former high school dropouts who have learned
that knowledge is a good thing — and that prison, poverty and illiteracy are
bad things.) I have never regretted leaving Locke. I’m not a saint or a warrior.
I’m just a teacher, and too many students made a very difficult and challenging
situation far, far worse on far too many occasions. Why should I subject myself
to verbal attacks, physical threats and continual stress? I deeply respect,
therefore, the teachers, administrators and office staff who work in very difficult
conditions, for minimal pay and with limited gratitude, on a daily basis. They
are not paragons, but they are resilient. The vast majority are trying to bring
information, insight and perspective to misinformed, testy teenagers who believe
Tupac is a god. They are trying to help students and making a difference. It’s
not easy, fun or glamorous. These teachers don’t get on the cover of the L.A.
May I suggest Mr. Ehrenreich walk a few miles in Ms. Webb’s shoes before he
so condescendingly second-guesses the difficult judgments made by a dedicated
professional under exceptionally stressful and chaotic conditions? How many
hours did Mr. Ehrenreich spend at Locke before he felt justified in slamming
the teachers and staff who work there full time?
—Eric H. Roth
WHEN IS A DOOR NOT A DOOR?
If Greg Burk had turned 14 pages past his Concert Pick of the Week [“The
21st Century Doors,” February 14–20], to the Politics Pick of the Week on
Page 150, he’d have had the answer to his question (which was written quite
eloquently, I would like to add). Obviously, if I am playing a benefit “For
the Arts” in Santa Monica schools, I am over the ear affliction. It’s the integrity
thing that is holding me back from cashing in with the 19th Century Doors (to
me, they are looking backwards).