Layoffs: LAUSD Style (A Labor of Love Deferred)

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?
– Langston Hughes

the school board voted today to finalize the deferment of many people’s dreams. and although i will not pretend to assume what these people’s dreams were… i do know of one dream that was indeed abruptly put on hold by a 5 to 2 vote.

my wife is an excellent teacher. i know this because she is better than me and i am pretty decent. i know this because i love my job so much. and so did she. but she loved it differently than i did. for where i adore the challenge of striving in what some would say impossible circumstances to achieve success, where i drool at the opportunity to create in some of the most stale and stifling environments to some, and when i put work above all else because it is a passion that i love… she does all this too.. but she did it even in the face of knowing that her labor of love was being taken away from her. and she did because she operates on a true pedagogy of love… and not for the job, as i tend to do more so… but love for her students.

the love for her students kept her working harder even after she found out that her job was in jeopardy. love kept her motivated to maintain the community of learners she had facilitated in building and to further humanize the classroom in a way that allowed for the expression and empowerment of her students in manner unique to public schools. love is what i saw the most of on her board when the students had left her classroom for the summer, possibly for the last time ever…

a farewell message to a teacher who should have never had to leave
a farewell message to a teacher who should have never had to leave
school board votes can't erase school board love... never
school board votes can't erase school board love... never

in the end there were many teacher who lost their jobs. perhaps thru that some realized that educating youth was really not their dream. perhaps some of them will not be able to forgot the sour taste that this has left in their mouth and will turn away from their dream prematurely, disheartened. perhaps some will choose to pursue the same dream in a more supportive environment or district.

i know that whatever the case, this really hurt one great teacher a lot.. but she will overcome. she would expect that of her students, and she expects that of herself. and her pedagogy of love extends beyond the walls of any classroom, out into the world… she will continue to teach people and children (one of her own soon) thru her example…

love the life you live,
live the life you love

Contradictions: Cortines Style

although the decisions to move forward on the proposed LAUSD budget that has increased class sizes and laid off thousands of teachers (especially in the inner city communities of color – and including my wife) are all but finalized… there is a final board meeting today that an inadequate number of protesters will be at… i have been even more thoroughly confused by quotes from our own superintendent that i have been reading over the last week of the school year…

here are some of them:

“I’ve always been a teacher. That’s the highest of the hierarchy. That’s not the bottom it’s what it’s all about. We’ve lost sight of that.”
original source: http://www.theamericancrawl.com/?p=291

“What the system needs now is a benevolent dictator for 3 to 5 years. Then you can turn it back to the community.”
original source: http://www.lamag.com/featuredarticle.aspx?id=16800

“L.A. schools can’t afford more cuts. We might as well not have public education. When you do not have adequate nurses, adequate libraries, and I will not increase class size any more because what I have recommended, especially at the middle and high school, is very unrealistic. It is not in the best interest of students or staff. So I just think that the way we are operating in this state is ludicrous. ”
original source: http://www.scpr.org/news/2009/06/22/cortines-says-la-unified-cant-keep-cutting-and-cut/#KPCC%20#AirTalk%20#LAUSD

“In response, I have asked the Los Angeles Board of Education to approve another round of very difficult budget cuts. Click here to view the PowerPoint presented to the Board of Education on Thursday, June 18. I want to be very clear. Some of the recommendations go against my core beliefs and values. There is no choice.”
original source: http://notebook.lausd.net/portal/page?_pageid=33,47493&_dad=ptl&_schema=PTL_EP

now it is obvious that these are taken out of their entire context… but that’s what bloggers do! but seriously, it is interesting to note the seemingly schizophrenic nature of these conflicting ideas and how they reflect the state of public education… indeed how they also reflect the schizophrenic nature of our society.

we want democracy (driven by a well informed and active citizenry) but we do not want to fund it
we want economic security but we don’t want to commit to lowering drop out rates…
the more i write to try and understand the more i confuse myself…

Crisis: California Style

was turned on to this and thought it offered a little bit of context to my last post. catching the last little bit of which way LA this evening (and loving it cuz it has all my interests for the day wrapped into one nicely packaged podcast), i got to hear this conversation in the older medium of radio waves… message was the same tho. california is screwed, especially when our damn politicians play more to partisan “hooliganism” (my favorite warren olney quote of the day) than to problem solvers…

maybe what LAUSD is crying isn’t wolf?…. NAH!! get rid of some other crap like BTSA and then talk to me about no more money..

Speaking Truth to Power: A Conversation with Cortines

how do you measure the efficacy of a conversation? how do you determine whether you achieved a state of dialogue that was significant? as i attempted to wrap up and reflect on a meeting between our superintendent and my students, colleagues, parent supporters, and community activists… i found myself struggling to answer these questions, not knowing whether the hour and a half conversation between us all was an exercise in naive idealism and futility.

the conversation ranged from general to at times very specific (although the specificity never ventured into the sort of creative problem posing and solving discussions usually necessary to solve such grand and complex issues as LAUSD’s enormous budget deficit). the tone varied between calm reception of multiple perspectives to frustrated urgency, all the while maintaining respect for all participants.

yet is it enough to simply respect someone’s position and then continue to make decisions that inevitably compromise the integrity of that position? this was the question that eventually led to a massive headache all day, one that i am still trying to get rid of… hoping that this blog entry will put to rest some of my after-angst of this meeting. the one thing that made me feel somewhat better was debriefing after school with my students. when i asked them how they thought it went this is what they had to say:

“i thought it went o.k. it was cool. i mean, he already said the same stuff. but i think he listened to what we had to say.
it was kind of weird because we were trying to keep it all peaceful and he was getting defensive, but it was good.” – karen molina

“i think it was good. he is not all evil, like some bad man. he wants to help us and he listened. i think we kinda persuaded
him. i think he is on our side and wants to help but it’s not enough.” – kenya higgins

i think it is this last statement by my student that really sums it up. it was this statement that led me to understand why i had the headache… did i actually believe that we were going to persuade the superintendent to change his mind and save more teacher jobs as to not raise class size simply by talking to him? at first i knew i was not this naive, as i had expressed this sentiment to a fellow organizer while planning for this meeting… yet there was a certain part of me somewhere that was secretly wishing, like a child closing his eyes tight and wishing with all his might before opening a present… and because this was impossible, i feared the meeting had been a waste of everyone’s time. but i was reminded that this was not the case. that there was something more important at work here, something that was recognized by both corines and our delegation of concerned students, parents, and teachers…

our youth participated in a dialogue with people who hold power over them and they were fearless and unapologetic as they spoke truth to power. using the power of personal narrative and the purest and most innocent of logic, they questioned power as to why we as a community, school district, and overall society continue to cause disruption and pain to those who least deserve it? why do we continue to only acknowledge inequities and backwards priorities rather than simply change them? why is the “sacred cow” of this school district a television station (a quote by our superintendent as he proceeded to justify that he could not cut any more anywhere else, as anything else would hinder the fundamental functioning of the district) and not the sacred space of the classrooms our students are to learn in? when are we all (as adults, citizens responsible for our own democratic ideals and fate) going to make the paradigm shift that allows all students to fully partake in the human right that is education?

these questions did not get answered but there were reasons to walk away from this meeting feeling positive. our young participants learned the first lesson in social justice pedagogy… that no matter what the outcome, it is always important to speak truth to power. the adults became a little clearer on where the struggle moves form here. this email from a discussant today summarized the sentiment that i had been feeling, the need for both the district and the union to put redefine what there job roles our in these times… respectively they should change from being about balancing the budget/saving the district and protecting teachers jobs and salaries… to balancing humanizing pedagogy with academic skills and content and SAVING OUR CHILDREN’S EDUCATION!!!

It was an excellent meeting Mark, unless we insist on judging it by outcomes. We worked very well as a group, and were respectful of one another and built on each other’s points. No one dominated (except of course Cortines), kids’ and parents’ voices rang loud and clear, and Cortines was forced to confront people on the front lines who will be badly hurt by his policies.

He also admitted that there were still possibilities, assuming that “bargaining units were wiling to make guarantees,” and I communicated that to Joel already. Of course it was not our place to comment on the feasibility or desirability of “guarantees.” Cortines did admit that he was offering to help some schools, such as Crenshaw and Jefferson, and that that wasn’t particularly legal, but he thought it was the right thing to do. We made the point that he should make all the schools whole, not just a select few.

I will also be happy to talk to Duffy and Julie about the meeting. The UTLA officers to my understanding are all on board with probing Cortines to at least see what he’s willing to do at this juncture. After all, in our conversation he did leave room for some hope, but he did not specify his terms. He did imply that our leadership would have to be the ones to suggest something.

The best thing we can do now in my opinion is to stand with our officers as they try to find out what Cortines might be willing to consider. Just so we have a clearer picture. Meanwhile, we continue to support our negotiators in our schools and in the streets as they engage in this complicated work.

Of course Cortines’s main point was: “I feel your pain and share your concerns. But balancing the budget with available funds for the next three years is my job, and only layoffs and class size increases balance my budget. So, sadly, I have no alternative but to….”

What else did we expect from the superintendent at this juncture? At least he gave us some slight sense of possibility. We’ll see where that goes

reflecting from a different perspective; FATHERHOOD!!! (yes i am going to be a dad!)

this year has been a whirlwind of emotions and events… as can be told by the infrequency of my posts. although i feel that personal reflection is something that comes natural to me, there has been many events, ideas, conversations, news (both good and bad) that i have not had the time nor space to adequately look back on to assess and apply their valuable lessons… for all that has happened this past year has taught me a lot… about myself if anything.

let’s get the mundane out of the way first. the battle ranges on in our professional lives. although it is hard to feel like a professional these days. my wife continues to be at risk of losing her job, along with 1,996 other “non-permanent” elementary teachers. our union is all but broken, as is my confidence in any truly effective organizing thru UTLA in behalf of educational justice. however there have been many spirited leaders who have emerged in this fight who continue to do what is in their power to fight for the reprioritization of our children’s future:
http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-walkout23-2009may23,0,749624.story?track=rss
http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2009/05/hunger-strike.html
http://utla.net/node/2309

at our school, the general apathy and hostility (that is symptomatic of adults who have forgotten that their roles as educational guardians and advocates for our students obliges them to put their own personal issues aside momentarily for the greater good of educating children) is really starting to wear on me… i have come to the realization that it is an allergic reaction or fear to change that drives this unnecessary and at times inappropriate and unprofessional behavior. in light of my new shift in perspective i have elected to step down as chapter chair, hoping someone as dedicated and hardworking, as many of my colleagues and i are, will step up and man/woman the post for the next school year… although so far no dice.

in this same vain i move on to the more profane. it took me longer than i would like but i have realized that i am much happier dealing with children issues than with adult issues. not that you can often separate the two in the field of education, but my soul is satisfied so much more when experiencing the smile on a student’s face when they make a connection, or express a passion, or struggle successfully to some perceived understanding about some concept. i have rededicated myself to this endeavor, for the way things are going right now in public education, i might not have as many years of opportunity as once anticipated to do this!!!

in this effort i have been lucky enough to continue my pursuit/passion of taking students into wilderness, despite the many bureaucratic barriers LAUSD attempts to erect in front of true educational experiences for their students… and i am proud to say that i have been able to create an integral part of program that i hope continues to grow. going out with boys to men and helping to establish an annual rites of passage wilderness trip for the young boys in the program has been a very satisfying professional accomplishment for me. reminding me many times as to why i even got into the field of education in the first place…

with each step up the mountain, we all understood manhood a little more
with each step up the mountain, we all understood manhood a little more

the most profound news in the last months since i have written here is obviously the main subject of this post. my wife and i have known for about three weeks that we are going to have a child! and we could not be happier. the sense of joy and excitement is refreshing, especially in the face of such turmoil and discouragement in our jobs… as well as some personal business. this new perspective is an adjustment o be sure yet it bears this sense of grander importance. just last night i came to the full realization that i have an opportunity here before me that not everyone gets. the chance to be a father, although biologically natural (and easy i guess – in terms of simply procreating) is an honor of the highest spiritual significance. in understanding that it has become easier to relinquish some of my side jobs that have kept me so hunkered down and at times far away from some of the deeper truths of life. in giving up my role as union chapter chair, and varsity football coach, i feel stronger and more proud as opposed to somewhat guilty and weak as before, feeling fearful that my stepping out of these roles was somehow akin to defeat… yet knowing that i am about to embark on possibly the most meaningful mission of my life… how can i not feel a new sense of strength? in the coming months i feel that any reflections and posts here will be driven by a new perspective on life, one that takes into account first hand the miracle that it actually is…
btw… my child is the size of a blueberry this week:

that is kinda big actually
that is kinda big actually