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It's All About Expectations

Leonard Isenberg: Could it be that LAUSD is a de facto racist institution that has no belief in the equal potential of its Latino and Black students and chooses to accommodate to their low level as a matter of course?
academic decathlon

LAUSD's Granada Hills Charter High Wins Academic Decathalon: It's All About Expectations, or the Lack of Them

My take on Granada Hills Charter High School's national victory in the Academic Decathlon last Saturday, April 30th, is quite different than that of Reporter Rick Rojas of the Los Angeles Times in his article "Granada Hills wins top decathlon tiltle."

I have two questions and one answer that seems to me to focus on and explain the apparent contradiction in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) being so successful in the Academic Decathlon over the years and yet such an abysmal failure when it comes to educating the lion's share of its students.

  • How can students in a school district where close to 50% of the students quit school in frustration or indifference just between the 9th and 12th grade be able on a regular basis to win the National Academic Decathlon 12 times?
  • Why it is that in a school district like LAUSD where the total enrollment in 2010 was 73.4% Latino and 10.2% Black and only 5.9% Asian and 9.5% White, that the predominant make up of the 12 LAUSD teams that have won the National Academic Decathlon are disproportionately Asian and White?

The only answer that seems to rationally address and reconcile these facts and results on the Academic Decathlon is that LAUSD is a de facto racist institution that has no belief in the equal potential of its Latino and Black students and chooses to accommodate to their low level as a matter of course, while at the same time demanding the best of it's "minority" White and Asian populations.

I am not blind to the deficits that Black and Latino students bring to school with them due to conditions derived from poverty, familial instability, and the generational ignorance that LAUSD has continued to cultivate for generations in the Black and Latino communities, instead of challenging these cultures that have come to give little or no value to education, because it has never been a reality in their betterment in this society.

The strength of America has always been from its immigrants -- that is the ones that choose and were not forced to come here. One can see by the surnames of most of the Granada Hills Charter High School team that they appear to be 1st or 2nd generation Americans. This country has always derived a disproportionate contribution from the strength that cultural marginal people give, who are able to draw from two cultural traditions that create a 3rd synthesis and a stronger America.

But they did not come from countries like the U.S., where it was illegal until 150 years ago to educate a negro, which has been followed by an outright inferior public education system whether it be de jure or de facto segregated.

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As for Latinos who for the most part come from working class and predominantly agrarian cultures that have had little opportunity for education, it is all the more difficult for these people to succeed, when the schools do nothing to pick up the slack for what is unrealistic to expect from the majority of parents, who themselves have little education or understanding of its value as something more than an ideal.

Ironically, LAUSD administration is one institution that is fully integrated, but alas, there is no honest belief among these administrators- whatever their ethnicity- and many of the teachers and staff, that Black and Latino children can learn to the same extent as White and Asian students.

Where there is no expectation, there can be no achievement.

Saying, "I am somebody" or "All LAUSD students are going to college" is a poor substitute for the substantive commitment and hard work necessary to address standard English Language Learners whether they be Latino or Black. Giving teachers no support for discipline and structure, when frustrated students and parents want to kill the teacher messenger, makes the difficult at best job of teaching in this environment downright impossible.

De facto racism is all the more insidious than the in your face de jure segregation from era more than half century ago before Brown vs. Board of Education and the Civil Rights Acts, because school districts around the country like LAUSD can continue to give lipservice to notions of equality, but in reality cannot see past the generational underachievement of Black and Latino students and truly don't believe these students are capable of the achievements of Asian and White students.

Rather than engage in the relatively easy task of addressing all students needs in a timely manner that would insure universal student achievement, unless the racists are right and Blacks and Latinos are inferior, human ego stacks the deck against these students.

The fact that if you educate the Latino, you would loose your cheap labor force and if you educate the Black, you would have to deal with 400-plus years of incredibly disgraceful history that is never mentioned. But if Latino students achieved up to their potential, then we all would have to figure out how to harvest our crops, mow our lawns, bus our dishes, take care of our children, and do our own construction for a living wage - something we don't have to worry about now, no matter how much we complain about how much undocumented workers are costing us.

And as long as Black students act like damn fools, because they are not required to comport themselves in an acceptable manner, we can still harbor feelings of racial superiority, while ignoring the ever increasing positive mark that Blacks have made to every aspect of this society under the worst possible conditions..

I could not help thinking that the "transformational process" the Academic Decathlon achieves by spending a great deal of time and money on a relatively small number of students for the administrators that bask in the reflected glory of these exceptional students, might have the same results on the majority of LAUSD students, if there was the will to do so and the belief that all students are truly created equal.and it is only the way that we treat them that give the illusion of something else.

leonard isenberg

Leonard Isenberg