Monday, December 24, 2012

LAUSD’s Teacher Jail

"The Actual Trials of Joseph K"

(Joseph K. is a 25-year veteran of LAUSD, a former mentor teacher twice named a Johns Hopkins University Teaching Fellow, who now teaches poor, inner-city children who wake up every morning in their gang-ridden, drug-infested neighborhoods at five a.m. to catch the bus by six. He teaches the old-fashioned way –by ignoring standardized test scores. Instead of teaching bubbling, he tries to instill a love of knowledge and learning in his students and for this reason will probably be allowed to continue teaching for fifteen more minutes.)

-my original "bio" written eighteen months ago.

Who knew that when I originally said I'd be allowed to teach for fifteen more minutes I literally meant FIFTEEN MORE MINUTES! Poof. Your 27-year career is quite likely over. You have been blacklisted in the greatest blacklist since the last great Blacklist of Joseph McCarthy. Displaced teachers have been blacklisted too, but most of them don’t yet know it. Either that, or they are living in denial. Nobody wants a “failed teacher" and LAUSD has already constructed its conveyor belt for their way out as well.

There has been some talk, lately, of Deasy’s ever-gowing Guantanamo Bay, his Made-in-America Gulag for teachers. They are sometimes called “rubber rooms”, an ignominious term first coined in New York City.

First of all, there are no "rubber rooms" in LA Unified, though LAUSD's prison blocks are designed to drive teachers insane. Rubber rooms are designed to house people already insane. They are lined with rubber to protect extremely sick individuals from hurting themselves. Rubber rooms, for all their perversity, connote an element of concern for the patient. They keep the patient safe. There is no such concern for teachers in LAUSD. Deasy doesn’t care about teachers. He grabbed 85 teachers by the scruffs of their necks and stuffed them into a broom closet, then locked the key to the closet for six months because of Miramonte. Since when do you hide behind the veil of “student safety" to grab teachers by the scruffs of their necks, let alone stuff them in a broom closet? Deasy’s LAUSD has "teacher jails" instead of rubber rooms and these jails are not lined with rubber; they are lined with nails. They are designed to torture, punish, and humiliate their victims. They are designed to rob them of their spirit, their humanity, deprive them of what they love most in the world after caring for their families (which is caring for their students) and make their lives so miserable they eventually quit and go away.

That is the goal. By any means necessary, just quit and go away.

If you quit and go away, it will be like nothing ever happened. You never really did anything wrong in the first place, but we forgive you.

Teachers are left to rot, many for years, often without even being told the nature of the complaints against them, let alone being shown any evidence, let alone any credible evidence. LAUSD has jailed so many teachers that the South ESC alone runs three shifts a day. Prisoners are assigned a morning, "swing", or afternoon shift. The West Area runs two shifts. Beaudry operates three separate jail cells, one for administrators, one for teachers, and one for classified staff. I can only speak for teachers. I can only imagine what they are doing in East LA and The Valley where there are two. In the South, teachers serve two hours. In the West, it is three. At Beaudry, it is six, though some are allowed to leave at mid-day seemingly without rhyme or reason. All are paid a full day.

But the rest of the time is not theirs. They must stay locked at home under virtual house arrest and if ever they are caught straying for any reason are threatened with being instantly fired. LAUSD argues "they are doing no harm" because prisoners are being paid. Robbing a person of their humanity, their dignity, their hard-earned professional and personal reputation, their passion in life does quite a bit of harm. Losing your reason to wake up in the morning hurts.There is more to life than money. There is having a sense your life has purpose. Teacher jails take that all away. The harm is immeasurable. Teacher jails make you sick. Just thinking about it makes me sick. It should make you sick too.

LAUSD knows exactly what it is doing. So does the LA Times. I’ve told them the story. At least eight of their journalists know the story, because I personally have told them. They turn a blind eye. I can only surmise they rely on the same corporate money as Deasy, whether it be Eli Broad or Bill Gates. What kind of newspaper turns a blind eye to a modern and growing Gulag network of teachers in the second largest city in the United States of America?

The same newspaper that completely ignored Deasy’s scandalous PhD., a degree he supposedly earned in four months with nine units and a dissertation dated May 2003. He didn’t even enter his four-month program at the University of Louisville until January of 2004. Dean Robert Felner granted Deasy his degree after receiving $375,000 of Santa Monica School District money directly from Deasy while he was superintendent at the beach. Felner awarded the nine unit degree in April of 2004, then received a “no confidence vote” in 2006. Deasy bailed out unexpectedly from his superintendent’s position in Prince George’s County just weeks before the scandal broke and his career would have lay in ruins had he not been pulled from the depths by the Gates Foundation which, in a September 30, 2008 press release, made no mention of the PhD.

Just in case.

Felner stayed busy first by misappropriating a $649,000 federal grant, then sticking with a system that seemed to be working, he was eventually convicted of stealing $2.3 million in federal grants. For a while he was doing real well for himself. But eventually he had to pay back Louisville $51,000 and the University of Rhode Island $1.3 million. His conviction included fraud at other universities as well. He was sentenced to 63 months on May 17, 2010. 

Exactly seven months later, January 11, 2010, Deasy was named LAUSD’s Superintendent with a 6-0 vote by a Board of Education who had not bothered with an interview, much less a national search. As Gates’ and Broad’s quid pro quo, he’d been the assistant only since August, a scant two months after Felner’s conviction. You doubt the quid pro quo? Superintendent Cortines had to immediately move out of his large corner office to make room for his “deputy.” Why should Deasy have to go to all that bother of changing offices twice? Where is Deasy’s dissertation? No one has seen it. He still refuses to show it. Why didn’t  the LA Times ask for it? Eli Broad perhaps? Deasy is Broad’s lap dog after mastering Broad’s Nazi-Style Leadership at his Broad’s Academy. The connections will make you puke. Brace yourself. He’s wanted the LA Times at least since 2007 when he failed to purchase its parent company which is now insolvent and thus a MUCH better deal now than before. Eli Broad seems to want the LA Times as badly as the LA Times wants (and needs) Eli Broad. He gets Deasy too? Broad sees the currently belabored paper as the deal of the Century. He wishes to become the Rupert Murdoch of Los Angeles. Perhaps he aspires to BE Rupert Murdock. I don't know.

LAUSD bought the notoriously dilapidated Beaudry Building (winner of two downtown lemon awards) and an endless litany of structural problems for $33 million from Eli Broad and others, despite its needing an astounding $121 million to make it at least habitable and hopefully not downright dangerous. The floor, for example? It didn’t work. Not one of them worked. And Beaudry had 29 of them. Then-Deputy Cortines called it atrocious. In 2003, the LA County District Attorney’s major fraud division investigated the purchase for overpayment to investors. A federal grand jury followed in 2004. Eli Broad knows something about jails and convicts too. His pal and business partner Bruce Karatz was convicted of four felony charges and faced 80 years. He was extremely lucky. He was acquitted of 16 others.

The only difference between LAUSD’s Teacher Jail Prisoners and Deasy and Broad’s convict friends is Broad and Deasy's friends have been convicted. Deasy’s prisoners share no such luxury. Teachers in Deasy’s teacher jails have only been accused. That is literally all it takes: An accusation. Witnesses? Nope. Don’t need those. Common sense? Not necessarily. In fact, let’s go right out and say it. Common sense? Not at all. Many, including me, have been completely acquitted. Still we sit.  Last year, I sat next to a teacher who'd been jailed for years. The accusation was an anonymous email and described a supposed “inappropriate” event ten years in the past. The accusation was traced to a computer at school. The accuser was never found. More astonishing, though, is that after a thorough investigation, LAUSD could not even find a victim. It could not find any witnesses. All it could find was that accusation. And that accusation just wouldn't go away. Accusations cannot be ignored. The district never issued a formal accusation. It never made any attempt at enforcing discipline. How could it? LAUSD never communicated with that teacher in any way. So the teacher just sat.

For years.

He kept hoping the school district would fire him. Then he could sue for wrongful termination. They never did. Eventually he retired, LAUSD's goal all along.

Quit or retire.

Teachers must "do work commensurate with their duties" yet they have no duties. They are denied the Internet which right off the bat eliminates a rather large number of commensurate duties. We do, after all, live in the 21st Century. Not in Teacher Jail. In Teacher Jail, the Stone Age is good enough. Prisoners might start emailing their lawyers or something. Could risk exposure. Nope, we can’t have that. Denying teachers the Internet is to cut them off from LAUSD’s own email. You can’t look at it when you are home. “You are to be assigned no duties when you are at home.” The first thing they told us in Teacher Jail back in August was that we were to be assigned no duties while at home. I raised my hand and asked, “How are we supposed to do the District’s required on-line suspected child abuse reporting (SCAR) training program?” 

She said, “Oh, you can just do that while you are at home.” 

"But didn’t you just say….?” 

Rhyme or reason? Not when they are just making all this up as they go. They keep changing what they are doing. I was sent home for three days, the three days before all the lying set in. Then I was ignored and tortured for seven school days. I was not assigned to teacher jail. I hadn't done anything. I was forced to sit like a dog in a lobby. But on the seventh day, I discovered the teacher jail. They discovered me discovering the prisoners. That sealed my fate. Within half an hour of them seeing a prisoner come over to talk to me, I was assigned to teacher jail retroactively if you can believe that. They could not let me escape. I "knew too much." And they had to cover up seven days of their torture. Now teachers come straight to prison. They have kind-of-a deer-in-the-headlights look. They don’t know what’s hit them. They have no idea what they have allegedly done. They are cooked and don’t know it.How on earth can you deny professional educators in 2012/13 access to the Internet? Where are we, Aparthied South Africa? Are we in the old Burma, er, make that Myanmar? This is what we are doing to professional educators who in many cases have done nothing wrong. Guilt or innocence pale in comparison to the omnipotent accusation. Teachers are told to do work with no work to do. They are provided no materials. "Bring your own," I was told. But all my materials are still in my classroom. I am banned from my classroom. I am banned from the entire school. I am banned from all district property.

Except for jail.

At the end of the day, you are expressly told, “Do not linger.”

At Beaudry you must spend every minute of your work time working, at least in the beginning. And to do this work, you must be facing your little cubicle. Your eyes cannot stray. Everywhere in the world, teachers collaborate. But not in teacher jail. In teacher jail, collaboration is banned. If you collaborate, if you communicate in any way, you are punished --sometimes severely. No talking. No talking at all, though now I’ve heard they’ve eased up somewhat. It's like the old South African jails.

In some of the teacher jails, prisoners are forced to wear special badges marking them as prisoners, Deasy's version of Hitler's yellow stars.

The three shifts in the South and the two in the West are usually not because of space. In the West, prisoners sit in a room large enough to accommodate both shifts. The two shifts, then, are about power and not space. To conduct an illegal, immoral operation you need to maintain power. You do this by instilling fear in individuals, destroying their humanity, and keeping them isolated. Isolation is the key. An isolated teacher is a powerless teacher. In my cell last year we were free to talk, though we were not supposed to discuss our cases. I sat with one of the smartest men I've ever known, a teacher with National Board Certification in Mathematics. Do you know how rare a teacher like this is? We can't even find teachers credentialed to teach Algebra. Here is a man with National Board Certification. You want to talk child abuse? How about this? Take the best and the brightest students a high school has to offer. Take those who have worked their tails off to reach Calculus, Analytic Geometry, Trigonometry, Math Analysis while still in high school. Take a lifetime of hard work those students have applied. And then take away their teacher because of student scurrilousness. Supply instead a substitute who can't even do algebra, or a string of substitutes, perhaps a French Literature major in his place. You want to talk child abuse? THAT is child abuse. All that hard work for nothing. A year wasted for those students. 

That, my friends, is child abuse.

All modesty aside, we were the two smartest people in the room. Three of us rivaled each other in chess, the third I just mentioned who retired. We combined our knowledge. We shared that knowledge. We communicated that knowledge to other teachers. How best should we fight this district? This year we were separated to two different shifts. They inserted half an hour between shifts so we would not even see each other. Coincidence? I think not. “Do not linger.”

In the Valley they are imprisoning so many of teachers, they are exempting many of them from jail entirely. Don’t let anyone see anyone. Power and powerlessness. These people do not know each other. How do they even contact each other? Especially with no UTLA.

And then shoot them like ducks, one by one, two my two, or three by three.

Until all the senior teachers are extinct.

If we’ve done something, then just fire us today. Why do we sit? Either we did or we didn’t. Make a decision and we’ll demand our appeal and have a right to one within 60 days. LAUSD always delays. It takes years to fire a teacher? That’s because LAUSD makes it that way. Delay, delay, delay. It is in their interest to exhaust and starve the teacher. It is a very effective strategy. Difficult to fight. Sooner or later we all get tired and hungry.

So far none have won. All but two settled last year. Two fought. Both lost.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Here's a Great Stock Tip For You All:

If you want to make a lot of money and screw over millions of children, particularly inner-city children, all at the same time (and who doesn't want to do that?), then join my favorite Governor Paul LePage and invest heavily in on-line learning. 

Studies have shown on-line learning to be a total sham when it comes to educating children. But hey, when the State will pay someone like K12 Inc. or Rupert Murdock or Bill Gates seven to ten thousand dollars or more per student and all you have to do is provide a kid a $300 computer, some cheap software, and a couple dozen teachers of dubious quality in some data center in Florida to service all those millions of students simultaneously, who cares? The returns to shareholders will be enormous! Assuming, of course, the CEO's of these companies don't steal all the profits first. They seem like honest guys. K12 Inc. has extremely weak academic results which no-doubt accounts for the CEO earning five million dollars per year. Isn't that a much better use of funds than all those wasteful public school bureaucracies and teachers?

Teachers. They're just so....outmoded.

I'm telling you folks, there's a lot of money to be made here. And Governor Paul LePage (such a wise man) is leading the way in Maine. With so many family members in Maine, I'm just so proud. I get teary-eyed just thinking about it...

Sorry, kids.

K12 Inc. contributed $19,000 to the Republican Governors Association's Maine PAC, which made independent expenditures to help Gov. LePage win election.

Of course if you really want to strike it rich (and who doesn't want to do that?), then you'll need to do more research. There's Pearson (my favorite), and Wireless Generation (Yo, Rupert!). Call Jeb Bush. He knows a lot about this stuff. So does Bill Gates.

And then there's the Gates Foundation. God bless those people. They keep using their hundreds of thousands to screw things up across this country first destroying much of public education, then much of what was left of public education after screwing up so much of it in the first place. They are so nice about it. They always apologize later, like they did in New York where their small schools program destroyed everyone's neighborhood school.

Right now they are apologizing for spending all that money promoting evaluating teachers by test score, now that apologizing is too late of course. Did you know, for example, that teachers in Tennessee are now being evaluated and even fired based on the standardized test scores of students and classes and grades they do not even teach?

Nevertheless, the Gates (and Waltons) keep pulling out new hundreds of thousands, or millions, at a time (they have so many of them) to screw things up even more everywhere they can. Who cares? They can always apologize later! Keep pushing charter schools. Keep increasing segregation. Keep shunning low-performing children, or those in need of discipline, or special education (or any education at all for that matter.)

I love Bill Gates. He gets tons of money to make all these education speeches. He's going to make one later this year in Pasadena. I may go. He always says, "Now admittedly, many of the things we've tried so far haven't worked...."

I'm going to stand up and say, "Then why don't you sit down and just shut the fuck up? Take all your ignorant, ill-gotten money home with you and just shut the fuck up! Buy more mosquito nets or something."

But back to the money. We are talking 1.3 trillion dollars per year here, folks. One point three trillion! Some of it can be yours! Rupert Murdock is no idiot. He knows 1.3 trillion dollars when he sees it.

This is long too. Sorry about that. But if you really want to know how public coffers are being robbed in this country (and how to make lots of money too) all at the expense of children, read this. It is one of the best summaries I've read so far explaining what is happening today in education. Why isn't any of this being covered in the mainstream media?


(Featuring Paul LePage near the bottom).

Finally, if your brain needs washing again since it's been so long since "Waiting for Superman" (marketed with 2 million dollars of Gates Foundation money), if it needs a new cleaning, I highly recommend the soon-to-be-released movie "Won't Back Down", starring Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis --Funded by the Sam Walton Foundation (love them too!!!!) with help from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Who doesn't love Maggie? She's so young and lovely and innocent-looking. And I'm sure she knows a lot about education too!

Why don't we all make a night of it? We can all get our brains washed together. But read the articles first.

After all, they are REAL.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

History Should Be Honest

  -Governor Jerry Brown upon signing Senate Bill 48 into law (July 14, 2011)

This is in response to LAUSD's “Inter-Office Correspondence, Subject: Conference Summary” directed to me dated 1/23/2012.

Before I do what is natural in this case, defend myself and balance these accusations with the reality that I experienced, I would like to take a moment to assure those who might encounter this memo that while I am deeply disappointed in the content of this paper, I am certainly open to the possibility that in the three minutes that district administrators happened to enter my classroom, the unexpected comment of my student might certainly have been misinterpreted by anyone without prior experience in my classroom.

I would also like to open with the courtesy of regard for my composure, my teaching professionalism, my serious dedication to the standards I teach, and my own personal ethic about teaching. I take all of these things, all aspects of myself and of my profession, seriously. I am a teacher with experience enough, as well as intelligence enough to manage to adhere to codes, ethics, as well as the administrative rules and protocols. I take great pride in knowing and following the protocols and also in being the best teacher I can be, accurately perceiving the level of my students and following the guidelines of curriculum appropriately and sensitively to their level. I find the aspects of this memo which disparage my ability or ethic on these points way overboard in relation to the reality of this extremely brief, unfortunate encounter.

I regret if I misrepresented myself in any way and I hope deeply that this misunderstanding will be resolved with appropriate courtesy and respect for the fine work that I have and will continue to do for the students I teach.

I have been accused, after a few minutes’ observation, of teaching inappropriate material, not focusing on the standards, not sticking to the curriculum, not being fair and balanced in my presentation, violating the Code of Conduct with Students, of harassing and demeaning students, and not having evidence of planning to name just a few. Such accusations, after only a few minutes in the classroom, cannot be supported or defended with facts.

To be clear, these charges came from the fact I was reading from the Torah (from the Old Testament), Genesis to be exact, the story of The Garden of Eden to be even more exact. The criticism of what I was teaching comes from a complete lack of context regarding the lesson, and a lack of understanding of the State Standards. At the time of this spontaneous visitation with the Standards posted, in plain view on an over-sized poster-board as is rarely required (Appendix A), I was midway in a reading from The Garden of Eden narrative to cover the aspects of comparative religion and literature influenced by that story in social studies.

Apropos of the range of levels in my sixth grade class, I was discussing, with responses from the students, in order to define key words and concepts in this unit of study. (Incidentally, I teach these myths in the context of other religions including, but not limited to, the creation myths of the Ancient Sumerians, Egyptians, Greeks, Hindu and even the Maya to name just a few to promote the agenda of our school designation as a global awareness magnet school.) My teaching is a paragon of a “balanced academic presentation of various points of view” and never comes from a position of “advocacy, personal opinion, bias or partisanship” as asserted against me.

When I was unceremoniously pulled out of my classroom, in front of students, the first question asked was, “What standard are you teaching?” This was puzzling as there is a three foot by four foot poster of the specific standards I was teaching prominently displayed in the classroom (Appendix A again). Perhaps observing for only a few minutes, there was no time to notice the over-sized poster  of the State Standards
(Apendix A was it?) regarding the Ancient Hebrews. I confess to being a little perturbed that my instructional program was interrupted when the applicable State Standards were in plain view (Appendix A. Yes it was.)

Let’s start with the State Standards, all of them, regarding teaching religion in the sixth grade. As I say, I try to the best of my ability to teach all of them without bias, advocacy, personal opinion, or partisanship. Here they are with my underlining of key vocabulary: Keep in mind these standards are only those related to religion. I try to the best of my ability to cover all the standards in a thorough and rigorous manner. My primary goal as a teacher is to develop within my students the highest level of intellect possible.

6.2 Students analyze the geographic, political, economic, religious, and social structures of the early civilizations of Mesopotamia, Egypt and Kush.

Understand the relationship between religion and the social and political order in Mesopotamia and Egypt.

6.3 Students analyze the geographic, political, economic, religious, and social structures of the Ancient Hebrews.

Describe the origins and significance of Judaism as the first monotheistic religion based on the concept of one God who sets down moral laws for humanity.

Identify the sources of the ethical teachings and central beliefs of Judaism (the Hebrew Bible, the Commentaries): belief in God, observance of law, practice of the concepts of righteousness and justice and importance of study; and describe how the ideas of the Hebrew traditions are reflected in the moral and ethical traditions of Western civilization.

6.4 Students analyze the geographic, political, economic, religious, and social structures of the early civilizations of Ancient Greece.

Explain the significance of Greek mythology to the everyday life of people in the region and how Greek literature continues to permeate our literature and language today, drawing from Greek mythology and epics.

6.5 Students analyze the geographic, political, economic, religious, and social structures of the early civilizations of India.

Explain the major beliefs and practices of Brahmanism in India and how they evolved into early Hinduism.

Discuss important aesthetic and intellectual traditions (e.g., Sanskrit literature, including the Bhagavad Gita…)

Know the live and moral teachings of Buddha and how Buddhism spread in India, Ceylor and Central Asia.

6.6 Students analyze the geographic, political, economic, religious, and social structures of the early civilizations of China.

Know about the life of Confucius and the fundamental teachings of Confucianism and Taoism.

6.7 Students analyze the geographic, political, economic, religious, and social structures during the development of Rome.

Note the origins of Christianity in the Jewish Messianic prophecies, the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as described in the New Testament and the contribution of St. Paul the Apostle to the definition and spread of Christian beliefs (e.g., belief in the Trinity, resurrection, salvation).

Describe the circumstances that led to the spread of Christianity in Europe and other Roman territories.

Suffice to say, religion is a significant component of sixth grade social studies. I neither endorse, promote, nor criticize any one religion. I simply teach the standards in as fair and objective and interesting a manner as I am capable. (Incidentally, the first standard below 6.4 is factually incorrect. Judaism is the oldest surviving monotheistic religion. It was not the first --not even close. The Zoroastrian prophet, Zarathushtra (or Zoroaster) appears to have lived among the proto-Indo-Iranian people of southern Russia, somewhere around 1700 BCE. Ancient Egyptians worship was a form of polytheism, except briefly during the reign of Pharaoh Akhenaten, who became an uncompromising monotheist in the 14th Century BCE. The Zoroastrians predate the Hebrews by a thousand years and Akhenaten followed shortly thereafter. You may be interested to know that while teaching that particular standard, it was one of my students and not me who pointed out the error.)

The following standards bear repeating as these were the standards I was accused of not teaching and being inappropriate about.

6.3 Students analyze the geographic, political, economic, religious, and social structures of the Ancient Hebrews.

Describe the origins and significance of Judaism as the first monotheistic religion based on the concept of one God who sets down moral laws for humanity.

Identify the sources of the ethical teachings and central beliefs of Judaism (the Hebrew Bible, the Commentaries): belief in God, observance of law, practice of the concepts of righteousness and justice and importance of study; and describe how the ideas of the Hebrew traditions are reflected in the moral and ethical traditions of Western civilization.

These standards, prominently displayed that day, are very specific with regard to the ethical teachings and central beliefs of Judaism. The last one, the ethical teachings and central beliefs of Judaism, the Hebrew Bible, a belief in God, observance of law and the moral and ethical traditions reflected in Western tradition are an integral part of the Biblical text we were studying.

Apropos of this standard, and reading from the Hebrew Bible, my students were interacting in an appropriate fashion by processing and assimilating the meaning of words that were new to them. (We do the same, by the way, with Hammurabi's Laws.) I was reading the Hebrew Bible and the children were trying to make sense of it as a way of getting to the above standards and simultaneously “get into the head” of an Ancient Hebrew who lived more than two thousand five hundred years ago. It was an extremely rigorous, though perfectly age-appropriate lesson.

To include some background information about teaching history to sixth grade students, I have approached this task, which is highly academic and lays a useful foundation for students to understand literature, history and social studies in successive years, in an extremely methodical manner. The story mentions specifically the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers which we have studied previously (Sumeria and Mesopotamia) as well as the Kingdom of Kush (also studied) and the children must infer that either the Pishon or Gishon Rivers probably refers to the Nile. My Egyptian unit immediately precedes my Hebrew unit. The word Eden itself may come from the Sumerian word “edin” which means “delight” among other things.  According to the Torah, Abraham came out of Ur in Sumeria and when we are studying Sumerian myths, we study their account of the Great Flood and compare it to the account in Genesis. In my class, we make all these possible connections. I do not advocate them. We (my students and I) simply investigate and debate them.

Throughout the year and in this unit, I teach many creation myths (stories about God). This is one of them. The Garden of Eden story teaches the Hebrew concept of obeying God’s law, and the idea of a protective but vengeful God, to name just two. Western tradition (to say nothing of Ancient Hebrew tradition) is rooted in the story including the idea of Man’s dominion over Nature (to say nothing of women), and the concept of sin. It is fundamental to understanding the Hebrew belief in the observance of law, the practice of righteousness and justice, etc. which come directly from the State Standards. The Garden of Eden pops up again and again in Western Civilization including art, literature, and even politics. Take a look at Dante. How many times is a snake a symbol of evil in Western tradition?

The Garden of Eden is fundamental to Judeo-Christian theology (6th grade), as well as Islamic tradition (7th grade) and the increasingly multicultural and secular society we live in today. Here are but a few references in Western Tradition that you did not see in two minutes: The Garden of Earthly Delights, a painting by Hieronymus Bosch, Expulsion from the Garden of Eden, a painting by Masaccio, and countless other paintings of the Italian Renaissance taught in 7th grade. There is also The Garden of Eden, a novel by Ernest Hemingway (to say nothing of the subsequent film based on the novel). Bob Dylan wrote a song titled The Gates of Eden. Even Inna Godda da Vida, by The Iron Butterfly is a slurred variant of "In the Garden of Eden".

As per the standards, the lesson did involve a passage from the Bible. In The Garden of Eden, it is God who sets down the moral laws for humanity. I am supposed to teach the Bible in the context of the Ancient Hebrews. I was reading from the Bible. To clarify my position, at the time of the observation, I was not endorsing it. I was reading it. The children were trying to analyze it to get at some of the core concepts of Hebrew theology. And they were doing their best. I was teaching the Standards quite well, as a matter of fact, but you wouldn’t know it in two or three minutes. Furthermore, I wish to state for the record that Standards-based instruction does not mean Standards-limited instruction.

I am also supposed to teach the Bhagavad Gita. I am supposed to teach the Bhagavad Gita (The Song of God), and cannot imagine being chastised for reading it aloud and discussing it with students.

I teach history. A fundamental aspect of history is primary sources. Although there is much controversy over the issue, many historians consider books like the Bible to be primary sources. I teach my students the controversy over this issue. I do not teach down to students. As Governor Jerry Brown has said, “History should be honest.” I try to be as honest as possible with my students. They deserve it.

In the few minutes the observers were actually listening to my teaching, they seemed to have heard one passage, God’s curse of Eve. “I will greatly multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband and he shall rule over you.” Perhaps they did not even hear that much as they were not in class long enough. The study of religion and criticisms of teaching it deserve more than a sound byte. I felt that my professionalism was being attacked because of a sound byte.

I was surprised and deeply regret the unusual response the observers took to this small fragment of an overall wide, complex, and extremely important aspect of social studies. I was surprised by their reaction and unusual attention to one aspect of this when the obvious reality is that no one part of this lesson stands alone and teaching of this nature requires a great amount of subtlety and finesse, especially as I am relating to eleven and twelve-year-old children. This passage was a tiny part of a complex lesson which was in turn part of a series of complex lessons. Often, in the process of teaching varied levels of children in particular, there is a great deal of variety in maturity and in understanding. As a veteran teacher, I pride myself on managing any questions or misinterpretations in a manner that brings no shame to the child nor allow for conversations that stray too far from the core topic.

My teaching of social studies is rich, rigorous, detailed, and most of all interesting. It is interesting that the Principal Leader instructed me to limit myself to the textbook. With all due respect, there is no better way to teach children to hate social studies than by limiting them to a textbook. I have never heard an educator worth his salt urge a teacher to relegate himself or herself to the textbook. Quite the opposite, in fact. If my students love social studies, and many of them do, it is decidedly not because of the textbook. I rely on the textbook. Make no mistake about that. But the textbook is a jumping off point, not the end of the discussion. Not even close.

In Section I.a. the citation reads: “You engaged in an inappropriate discussion with 6th grade students.” Reading from the Bible, I said the words “childbearing” and “desire”. Neither is inappropriate for 6th grade. In trying to interpret (not mandate) the meaning of Hebrew religious scripture going back thousands of years, one of my limited-English-speaking, special-education students did interpret “desire” incorrectly. I told him so. But he was not being glib, sarcastic, or disrespectful. He was trying his best. In fact this particular child faces extraordinary challenges, but has a very good grasp of Judeo-Christian traditions because of his home background. He has reveled in this unit because for the first time in his life he feels he is by far “the smartest kid in the class.”

I encourage my students to try their best and I do not discourage them from making mistakes. In fact I teach the opposite. I encourage students not to be afraid to make mistakes. On occasion, I even reward mistakes. I was encouraged to “scaffold questions to help students formulate answers…” Such an approach can be counter productive. I teach divergent and critical thinking. I do not lead my students to “the correct answer” as this memo would seem to urge, especially in the case of religion.

Moments before the administrators entered, another of my special education students asked perhaps the most intelligent question I have ever heard from the mouth of an eleven-year-old. “Mr. Joseph K, why would God want to deny people knowledge?” Pretty good question, wouldn’t you say? We spent a fair bit of time trying to answer a deep philosophical question generated by a student, a question theologians and much of Western Mankind has struggled with for nearly three thousand years. The students, not I, tried to come up with answers. Their answers were extraordinary and they got to the heart of the State Standards. Too bad they were not included in a two minute observation. I am proud of my teaching and I am even more proud of my students.

Cite I.b.: “Your lesson was not appropriate to the age and maturity level of the students.” This cannot be determined in a few minutes. Even in a few minutes, the charge is inaccurate. Mentioning the pain of childbirth in the context of the Old Testament is entirely appropriate and, as previously stated, tied into the standards (the observance of law).

Cite I.d.: “Your lesson was not related to and consistent with the curriculum, course of study, and the textbook…” The textbook states, “Historians use the Torah to understand the history of the Jewish people and the development of Judaism.” How is the Garden of Eden narrative not consistent with that?

Cite I.e.: “Your lesson was not a fair and balanced academic presentation of various points of view consistent with accepted standards of professional responsibility, rather than advocacy, personal opinion, bias, or partisanship.” This citation is inaccurate and to make a charge like this after only a few minutes of observation is as absurd as it is ignorant. I advocated nothing. I encouraged the students to think for themselves and to try to get to the heart of Ancient Hebrew thought. And as I said before, they did a terrific job. And they had a great time doing it.

“Education should be fun and interesting.”
-Joseph K

I did not “violate the Code of Conduct,” (I.h.). I did not say anything that was age inappropriate, unprofessional, or which might be considered sexual in nature, harassing or demeaning unless you consider the mention of childbirth as sexual in nature. The very next day in English, in the State-approved literature book (Prentice Hall), the students read an excerpt from Kipling’s The Jungle Book. In that story, a naked brown boy explicitly breast feeds from a wolf. Both the story The Jungle Book, and the Bible, are effective means toward teaching the State Standards. Taught appropriately, neither should be considered, nor are they sexual, biased, harassing or demeaning. Both are taught as a foundation for literary and historical comprehension and intellectual skill-development.

The textbook discusses the Ten Commandments. I read them to the students as I have the students read Hammurabi’s Laws (also a standard). This is the center of the “ethical teachings of Judaism,” (one of the standards) and forms the basis for Western Civilization’s laws and ethical teachings. According to the standards, teaching the Ten Commandments is appropriate. There is no exception excluding any of the commandments. One of the Ten Commandments is, “Thou shall not commit adultery.” “Adultery” is in the textbook specifically (page 100). In teaching social studies, whether it is the study of Taweret, the Egyptian God of Pregnancy and Childbirth (who is always depicted with a protruding belly and exaggerated breasts), or the profligate philandering of Zeus and the reactions of his jealous and angry wife Hera (concepts fundamental to an understanding of Greek mythology), there are legitimate issues relating to sex.

“History should be honest.”

I assure you, when these topics come up, as they inevitably do, I always handle them in a straight-forward, accurate, discrete, professional, and age-appropriate manner. Always. I insist my students speak of these matters in a “mature and professional” manner as well, one befitting the dignity of a sixth grader.

I was quoted inaccurately in the memo as saying I teach sexuality. I do not, other than the fact that I would end or discourage any conversation that openly portrayed a lack of tolerance for the diversity of the human condition in general. I teach tolerance of others’. This is in accordance with long-standing District policy as well as the recent law regarding tolerance signed by Governor Brown which went into effect January 1, 2012.

To the best of my knowledge the record keeper of the conference has no degree in stenography or even any formal training in stenography and therefore his record cannot be assumed to be accurate. What I said (or at least tried to say) was I do not deny to my students the fact that sex exists and the topic occasionally comes up in the legitimate pursuit of social studies. If I expressed myself imperfectly, I regret that. For the record, however, I disagree with this point and want to clarify here that I do not teach nor encourage the discussion of sexuality as a rule in my classroom.

In Section II.t., the recorder asserts, “In response to being given the LAUSD Code of Conduct with Students and the LAUSD Code of Ethics, you (meaning me) responded, ‘I reject that.’” This is a gross misstatement of fact. What I meant is by handing me the policies, “I reject the allegation that I have violated the Code of Conduct or the Code of Ethics.”

Teachers, great teachers anyway, supplement textbooks frequently. We read stories all the time, novels, for example, and primary and secondary historical sources that are not in the text. As a professional educator, I always evaluate the appropriateness of supplementary materials. In this case, the Torah was entirely appropriate.

I was accused of failing to have “evidence of planning for a standards based lesson.” Incidentally, a standards-based lesson requires a hyphen. Yet the specific standards being taught were clearly posted on a three foot by four foot poster. The specifics of the lesson were written on the board as they are every day. I was accused of failing to “have evidence of planning” and directed to “provide weekly lesson plans or evidence of lesson planning in a format of your choosing that is appropriate to your assignment and demonstrates alignment with LAUSD curriculum, standards, materials that are age appropriate…” This charge is baseless and the directive is inappropriate. The contract states:

Lesson plans or evidence of planning in a format appropriate to the teacher’s assignment, shall be furnished by each classroom teacher upon request from the teacher's immediate administrator. No special format for a lesson plan shall be required (Section 4.1).

“No special format for a lesson plan shall be required” means no special format for a lesson plan shall be required. There is no ambiguity there. It bears repeating that the specific standards being taught were writ large in my classroom and the agendas for all three classes were clearly posted. I was directed to “observe all district policies and procedures, laws, and the Collective Bargaining Agreement.” I do all of that. A demand to specify the type of “evidence of planning” conflicts with the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

I provide evidence of planning.

I was directed to review and practice the LAUSD Code of Ethics and the LAUSD Code of Conduct with Students. I have done so and for the reasons stated above have clearly not violated either one.

I do “Engage and redirect students in age-appropriate discussion...focused on lesson objectives, curriculum and the standards” (Cite Sec. IV.e.), despite the accusation. I do an exceptional job of this, especially in dealing with issues as delicate and controversial as the teaching of numerous religions.

I was directed to plan lessons that are related to and consistent with the prescribed curriculum. My lessons always relate, usually directly (but often indirectly), to the prescribed curriculum. The textbook contains two entire chapters on the Ancient Hebrews, one specifically on the origins of Judaism (History Alive, Chapter 12) which includes a full-page illustration of Moses and the Ten Commandments, including “Thou shall not commit adultery” (page 100) in plain view. In my class, students learn the meaning of all Ten Commandments including adultery. As previously stated, I do this in an entirely professional and age-appropriate manner.

I do nothing but “maintain a fair and balanced academic presentation of various points of view. To assert otherwise following a three minute observation is ludicrous.

I feel compelled to make one further comment in regards to the specific content of the Inter-Office Correspondence dated 1/23/12 directed to Mr. Joseph K, EN 666-666, and from ***** *****, Principal, LAUSD School. Section IV, the Administrative Directives, is incomplete. Not included in the written list of directives, but included in the conference was, “Do not teach controversial issues.” I suggest you cannot teach divergent thinking without controversy.

Or religion.

Or social studies.

Shortly after being directed not to teach controversial issues, the Principal Leader abruptly stood up and said, “We don’t need to do the rest of those,” and hastily ended the conference. I ask myself what directive(s) could have been more ridiculous than, “Do not teach controversial issues”?

My last question in the conference was, “How long do I have to respond.” As Mr. Baird started to tell me, he was interrupted by the Principal Leader. “We aren’t going to worry about that in this case,” he said. Yet when the Inter-Office Correspondence arrived, my response had a due date.

I do not believe this Interoffice Correspondence was written by our principal, though it bears his name. My principal has observed me carefully over a period of five years. This year alone, he has visited my classroom at least half a dozen times as he does all our classrooms. He has never been critical of my teaching, though he has not hesitated to suggest ways of improving and I have always been open to his input. I am fond of saying (and have told him personally), “Mr. ***** has made me a better teacher and I like to think I have helped make him a better principal.” He has defended my teaching, endorsed my teaching, and asked me to lead staff developments on occasion. He has gone out of his way to ask me to present my students’ work to the staff on a number of occasions. I do not believe, “You need to know that if I had to evaluate you today...,” (final paragraph) are words he would say, at least to me.

Again, I find it human and natural to counter this memo with a fair and accurate accounting of my standing at the time of this incident and during the entirety of my career as a teacher in LAUSD. First, I do not accept these statements as accurate, nor do I believe that they came from my Principal, ***** ***** . I am pained that he had to sign a memo that, I am sure, caused him much personal regret.

I present, in counter to the reference on my professional standing at this time, that I have never received anything less than exemplary STULL evaluations from any principal, including ***** *****, ever, in more than 25 years with LAUSD. As to the appropriateness and skill of my teaching, he has gone out of his way to showcase the work of the students in my classes as examples of what our students are capable of to RAISE the level of expectations of our teachers and thereby the achievement of the students at our school.

While not always reflected in standardized test scores, the level of sophistication in my students’ expression, both oral and written, is frequently extraordinary. Mr. ***** knows this. He frequently praises the manner in which I accomplish getting my students to this level. The day after receiving this memo, the principal asked me personally in front of the entire staff during professional development how it was that I achieved such sophisticated (written) responses from my students following a very recent school-wide task designed, among other more important matters, to raise test scores.

I have excellent relationships with him, my students, my peers, and have functioned as a mentor to new teachers for many years. In fact, I was officially a mentor teacher for six years when the district identified, and substantially compensated, mentor teachers. I have excellent relationships with parents, and encourage them to become involved and take an active role in the educational process of their children. Most, though not all, of my students are progressing beyond expectations and many continue to rely on skills learned in my classes to maintain a subsequent and enduring positive skill set in the classroom over the years. Most importantly, though my curriculum is extremely rigorous, they are having fun. Lessons like these convince them they are smart and getting smarter. There is no better way to build self esteem.

My credentials include a Master’s Degree in The Clinical Supervision of Instruction from Cal State LA (including a credential in education administration), and a BA (and K-12 teaching credential) from Occidental College during the years when Barack Obama was also in attendance. I have been named a Johns Hopkins Teaching Fellow twice. I possess Level A fluency in Spanish.

I have been teaching 27 years in LAUSD and dedicated most, though not all that time to our neediest students. I am an athlete, and remain in excellent health. I plan to teach, which is what I love and what I am good at, for a good many years to come.

While I have had offers to teach in more affluent schools (most notably Arcadia), in schools that house a higher proportion of students with better resources, perhaps a better set of academic potentials given the effects of poverty, I choose to stay at a school where the highest percentage of students have a rare opportunity to profit greatly from the skills I have developed and want to share with them.

I enjoy what I do and I am good at it.

In closing, I would like to admit that I can relate to the tension experienced by the contingent of the two administrators, and for that I feel regret. I also felt an element of that same tension at being asked to leave my class, disrupt my students’ learning opportunity, and be challenged on points, seemingly inappropriately, following an observation of only a few minutes.

If my demeanor, my passion, and/or my intensity offended anyone, I regret that deeply. My heart it seems, spoke first, before my diplomacy in this matter.  It is my purpose to maintain an academic environment that invites the students into their own journey of learning, in a structure soundly rooted in standards and ethics. In other words, I was caught off guard and I regret it if my conduct with the District # Superintendent and the Principal Leader caused them discomfort. If such is the case, I did not live up to the extremely high professional standards I set for myself as a teacher and an advocate for students, teachers, and public education.

I am honored and humbled to be a teacher, and I assure you that it is a responsibility I take very seriously.


Joseph K          

Los Angeles Unified School District
January 27, 2012

Appendix A. The Three Foot by Four Foot Poster (Twenty feet from the Superintendent)
Students analyze the geographic, political, economic, religious, and social structures of the Ancient Hebrews.

·      Describe the origins and significance of Judaism as the first monotheistic religion based on the concept of one God who sets down moral laws for humanity.

·      Identify the sources of the ethical teachings and central beliefs of Judaism (the Hebrew Bible, the Commentaries):  belief in God, observance of law, practice of the concepts of righteousness and justice and importance of study; and describe how the ideas of the Hebrew traditions are reflected in the moral and ethical traditions of Western civilization.

·      Explain the significance of Abraham, Moses, Naomi, Ruth, David and Yohanan ben Zaccai in the development of the Jewish religion.

·      Discuss the locations of the settlements and movements of Hebrew peoples, including the Exodus and their movement to and from Jerusalem and the rest of Israel after the destruction of the second Temple in A.D. 70.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Dear Mr. President

From: June K, Mother of Joseph K
Sent: Tuesday, January 31, 2012 2:43 PM
Subject: Support public education

Dear Mr. President,

As the mother of a teacher in the Los Angeles Public Schools, I can see what NCLB and the continuing policies of Arne Duncan are doing to the public school system.  It is becoming disastrous.  My son has always chosen to teach inner city kids who face innumerable problems of poverty, lack of any skill in the English language, minimal parental support.  At present many of his children wake up at 5:30 in the morning, some earlier, to be bussed and arrive at school more ready for bed than learning. The ride home isn’t much better.  Even the most concerned parent in the inner city can't come to their child's school for conferences, back-to-school activities, even if they could speak the language.

Also present policies seem to favor charter schools which can pick and choose their students and, not incidently add to the coffers of companies supplying testing materials, textbooks, etc.

It is essential to include parents, teachers and public school administrators in all discussion of public school policies.  It is essential to stop basing teacher performance on test scores, rather than on the individual progress of students.  Our school policies should be left in the hands of the local district, not mandated on a federal level by unfunded policies.  They best know the needs of each school in their distract.

I hope you will not reappoint Mr. Duncan and even replace him NOW before further damage is done to our schools.

Thank you for your consideration.