Something important took place Friday at Hamilton High School in Los Angeles. Students at the highly successful magnet school with excellent Humanities, Music, and Drama Magnets as well as six small learning communities who were threatened last week with the loss of 22 of their teachers decided to fight back.
Using Facebook and other social media they organized thousands of their fellow students, parents, and supporters to stage a walkout from the school to say in the clearest of possible terms that they were not going to passively roll over and allow their educations and futures to be compromised by politically inspired manipulations throughout this state and country that were trying to impose draconian cuts to education that really had no rational justification.
As one of the organizers of the event, student Olivia Natt, said in some of her remarks addressed to the whole student body, which had walked out of Hamilton High School in an orderly manner at 9:00am, “Children should not be used as leverage by politicians for their partisan political goals.”
Parent Jay Sargent spoke in support of the students and described in detail what the American Dream had been to people of his generation, where his grandparents had come to this country for the promise of an education that would be the basis of their children doing better than they had. How his father had finished high school and worked three jobs, so that he and his brother could go to college. And in something that had been unique to America, his brother had gone to Harvard, one of the finest universities in this country based solely on the quality of his mind and his willingness to work hard in realization of his potential without any consideration of the social class of his origin.
As was pointed out by one of the speakers, “Hami,” probably more than any other school in the Los Angeles Unified School District reflects the rich ethnic diversity of this country, which has always been our strength and yet continues to be the self-destructive flash point of an American society in 2011 that is militantly ignorant as to what it is that has always given us an edge over more homogeneous cultures.
For me, the high point of this event was the speech given by drama student Jasmine Williams. As a teacher who is presently being harassed and in the process of LAUSD trying to dismiss me for trying to educate all my students to their highest potential, I sometimes lose heart and start to doubt that we can ever turn it around. All those doubts disappeared today listening to Jasmine Williams poetic presentation that insightful picture of where we stand today in the fight for great public education as the greatest equalizing force for change in our society.
Williams used poetry to succinctly say, “Art and education are the only things that make the Los Angeles Unified School District truly unified.” Nothing could be truer. With all the purposeful failing of public education that is being attempted by those corrupt forces still in control at LAUSD and UTLA and trying to destroy public education in an attempt to recreate the rigid and socially segregated class cultures that most of our ancestors came to America to avoid, Ms. William, with her face painted with white grease paint with black tears going down her face, brought tears to my eyes when she said,
“We are not a tragedy, we are America’s last hope for opportunity.”
While the battle is not over, I am gratified to know that there are well-educated and insightful young people who get the class war that is going on around us in this country and will not passively allow themselves to be devalued. The thought occurred to me while listening to this high school student Jasmine Williams speak that she would clearly make a better superintendent than The Gates Foundation’s John Deasy, who is being paid $330,000 ($80,000 more than his equally pathetic predecessor Ramon Cortines) to finish the dismantling of public education in Los Angeles in hopes of capturing the $370 billion-a-year prize that will go to them if they succeed in the neo-liberal plan to privatize public education..
As a first step, this was truly awesome.I fervently hope that my fellow presently apathetic teachers stop waiting for UTLA, a union that has clearly sold them out. Rather, teachers can come to the irrefutable conclusion that if administrators don’t show up to school, school goes on, but if teachers don’t show up, school is over. No union or organized labor movement has any power unless they are ultimately able to get their rank and file into the streets and out of the classrooms when necessary.
This time, the students never left campus and I am sure that LAUSD will disregard what Hamilton High School students did Friday, because it did not cost them anything in terms of Average Daily Attendance (ADA) money from the State of California. Next time — and you can bet that there will have to be a next time — students, and hopefully teachers, will have to leave the school to assure that LAUSD is not able to collect money for a purposefully failed public education system that they are responsible for decimating. Organizing a teach in at a nearby venue might offer a better and more appropriate education for several days if necessary.
Any teacher can tell you that it is not possible to teach, if there are no consequences, both good and bad, for the actions of their students. Well, the same thing is true for teachers and, more importantly those corrupt elements within LAUSD that don’t give a damn about education, but are exclusively motivated by their own privilege under the present dysfunctional system, where their exclusive concern is warm butts in seats, so they can get paid from the state irrespective of whether any learning is going on.
As a final note, I would like to say that it seems remarkable to me that nobody seems to connect the two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that we have been fighting for the last 10 years, the 1000 military bases we maintain overseas, and the oppressive regimes that we have kept in power in Egypt, Libya, and elsewhere around the world with the budget cuts in public education and all areas- except the military- that we are now being subjected to in this country.
In the final analysis, there is a certain irony in realizing that what we have more damage to ourselves than Al Qaeda could have ever dreamed of doing. The problem is that the only way we can get smart as a people is in excellent public schools to assure that our citizens, who are the repository of power under our constitution, have the knowledge to keep those in power honest.