Day 149  Wednesday, February 3, 2010: “The Drumhead”

 

Today there remains 149 days of my career at Fremont.

 

So there was a mouse on stage, upstaging the administration? And the topic was committees (remember my reference to Robert Heinlein—“A committee is an organism with six or more legs and no brain”)? Reminds me of the old joke: “What do you mean ‘we’? Do you have a mouse in your pocket?”

 

I could have gone further back: The Lone Ranger sees he and Tonto are surrounded by hostile Indians. He says, “Tonto, we are in trouble.” “What do you mean ‘we’, white man?”

 

I’m sure there are jokes about the Pied Piper of Hamelin out there which we could also apply, but I’m just not that witty…

 

It’s pretty hard to join a committee when your future is uncertain—even if it is the Committee to Save Fremont. Some of us want to—need to—play it safe. I understand, especially if you usually have either gotten along with the powers-that-be for your academic career, or if you’ve just never crossed their radar before.

 

Lately I’ve been hearing that this stunt being pulled by the district is… let me think (something I don’t do too often)… “to remove a group of teachers who have been obstructing reform at Fremont.” There, I said it.

 

So if this is about a small group of trouble-makers (I heard something about 40-50 of them) why are 240 teachers, plus I have no idea how many counselors, clerical staff, cafeteria workers, custodial staff, security and school police—and administrators, too—being asked to re-apply? I’m also now hearing that there’s a deadline to re-up (something like March 18th) or it’s “Going South” time…

 

If you’re one of the … Fifty (as good a name as any—reminds me of the ones executed in “The Great Escape”—true story and the movie is dedicated to their memory—by the Nazis), I suppose it would be kind of flattering to think that all this fuss about reconstruction/reconstitution/revisionism/some-other-r-word would be about THEM (I just heard the little girl screaming from the movie, “It’s Them! It’s Them! It’s Them!” Veteran teachers should now take a few moments to explain to the young teachers the movie I referenced so wittily—‘Them”). That’s akin to burning a house down and proclaiming, “See? No more rat problem!”

 

So all this drama (Remember Dr. George McKenna III on 1/26 in his opening remarks at the faculty meeting? “If you want to transfer, let’s dance now!” “Nah, Mongo straight.”—“Blazing Saddles”) is to “get” 40-50 of those evil teachers who actually model the behavior they are supposed to teach their students by having opinions and voicing them? Aren’t there other, more efficient ways to deal with the perceived problems? (Oh, yeah, we’re not terribly efficient at Fremont—money’s been misspent, the district doesn’t know what happened, but somehow the teachers who have no freakin’ access to the money somehow squandered it.) 

 

“And while they’re at it, throw in side issues like uniforms, block scheduling, and taking away golfcarts from security to distract the public and the staff and create sideshow fronts which waste energy and get us to turn on each other.

 

And now the faculty (and staff, I presume) are to be called in one at a time to meet in the office and say “Yea” or “Nay” to re-applying. Admittedly it will be harder to say “Nay”, especially in what might be a star-chamber situation (a star-chamber is when you get called in and face an inquisition completely on your own, if you’re not getting the reference, like being told you have to meet with Mr. Higgins at 6:30 a.m. alone in his office before even God gets up to discuss an observation and standards—like I did).

 

I guess that’s when you find out who you are. When there is no one there to hold your shield, you yourself are a battlefield wherein your ideals and morality and your reality are at war with each other. As Bob Seger said, “When you don’t seem to have that much to lose, strange how the night moves…” But when you sit there in that office, remember those ideals we are teaching—it’s not just about data and standards to raise test scores. We teach life lessons every day. We use our subjects as the vehicles to teach life lessons.

 

We want to create independent thinkers and life-long learners. To do it, we have to model behaviors we hope the students see as worthy of emulating. Funny how Ray Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451 about censorship, but some school districts get the heebee-jeebees about teaching the book, while we talk about evil totalitarian governments using censorship. We have to have opinions, and let students see them, in order to teach them HOW to form opinions. We teach students about idealism all day long, all year long, throughout our careers (just flashed on “The Breakfast Club”—“When you get older, your heart dies.” Speaking in quotes, see “Just Because It Doesn’t Make Sense Doesn’t Mean It’s Not Logical”). I always talk to students about a choice they have before them: get their education and then cut and run, never looking back at the neighborhood—or coming back and trying to change things, harkening back to the Ukrainian proverb I’ve mentioned before, that even a drop of water can wear a hole in a stone. Students have asked why I don’t leave. My answer: If I leave, that makes all of my words about them coming back and making a difference a lie.

 

Now I am faced with the decision: which is the bigger lie?  Should I sell my ideals and remain, supporting what I consider an evil, cynical lie—but remaining in the neighborhood I’ve worked in since 1987—or do I have to model the difficult decision and refuse to lend credence to the lie I might be asked to support. Which teaches the students the greater life-lesson? (I’m blaming my sister, just told her this is all her fault—she took me to see “Spartacus” in the theatre when I was four—for those of you working out the math, “Spartacus” came out in 1960; having a Ukrainian immigrant for a father who made me watch “Taras Bulba” with him didn’t help.)

 

I think it might be a little late for me to reboot, get a do-over. To quote “Babylon 5”: “The avalanche has started. It’s too late for the pebbles to vote.” Yeah, I guess when I pushed that “Send” button a couple of weeks ago, I knew there would be turning back only with the greatest of difficulty. But I guess I’m still stuck on all those damned ideals I kept getting exposed to and why I will have to give the answer I must. “With the first link, the chain is forged. The first speech censored, the first thought forbidden, the first freedom denied, chains us all irrevocably.”—Captain Jean-Luc Picard, , Star Trek: The Next Generation, (The Drumhead)

 

Hold your shields high!

--Chuck Olynyk

 

 
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    Chuck Olynyk is a Social Studies teacher who saw the effects of reconstitution upon John C. Fremont High in Los Angeles. These are reposting of his original blogs from the Save Fremont website.

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