Day 117  Sunday, March 7, 2010: “I Won’t Back Down”


Today is Day 117 of my time left at Fremont.


The subject for today is… bullies.


You see, just because I see administration doesn’t automatically mean I turn into a bull seeing a red cape.  In my teaching career of 27 years, I’ve had 13 principals—before this year.  Of those, I did not play well with 7 of them. In each instance I actively tried to get along with them, professional courtesy, while keeping my distance, never currying favor, just trying to be open and friendly, as I am to all—until you cross me.


How do you cross me? By unchivalrous behavior.


Why chivalry? Isn’t that just some outmoded historical concept? Am I hung up on chivalry because I dress up as a knight?


I belong to a nonprofit educational organization called the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA for short), a living history group incorporated in the state of California and is worldwide in its membership. Our unofficial mission statement (since LAUSD seems to live for mission statements) is “to recreate the Middle Ages as they should have been.” You can learn more about it at, as I’ve mentioned previously. Within this organization we practice chivalric behavior, a code of behavior not really written down, but practiced by everyone within the organization; each person has their own beliefs about what is chivalry, and there are many points which are hotly debated, but there is enough of a consensus that it serves as a framework. In fact, members practice chivalry in their everyday or “mundane” lives, performing acts which will not further advancement within the organization, but trying to help the lives of total strangers. One man, in fact, had a fatal heart attack pushing the stalled car of a total stranger. We live chivalry, whether or not we wear the SCA tokens of chivalry: the white belt, the chain, and the spurs.


One aspect of chivalry involves loyalty or fealty. However, if one’s lord behaves in an unchivalrous manner, the bonds of fealty are broken. This isn’t a matter of blind obedience, obeying a master, be he right or wrong, as some would have it. One of the burdens of an oath of fealty is for both parties to behave chivalrously. (Ukrainians and Russians would speak of being “kulturny.”) The same message echoed throughout the Renaissance in Baldasare Castiglione’s book “The Courtier,” and in Japan in “Hagakure” [“Hidden Leaves”] by Yamamoto Tsunetomo, a guidebook for how to be a samurai, which I discussed in Day 127, “Give Me Three Steps.”


These ideals are a big part of who and what I am—friends have joked about my “Captain America” morality, then make reference to other characters I act like.  In each instance with an administrator, instead of measuring them by how I was treated (not a fair scale, for I know I am… difficult to get along with), I have watched their behavior toward their “lessers.” If they were “kulturny,” I would treat them with respect. But if they chose to pick on someone, to cause pain and misery, especially when they could have taken a higher road, then that administrator will have lost my respect and my loyalty.


When one wishes to win so badly, when one plays “bonding cards” such as “Ah, we’re all Latinos together,” when one plays the “probationary teacher card” and writes a letter telling her to resign from the district when she has never been written up, when one tells a young teacher who refuses to reapply, “Do you own a house? Who’s going to pay your mortgage?  Is the union going to pay your mortgage?” then I have to reevaluate the character of whom I work for.


I’ve heard Dr. Ramon Cortines, formerly of Scholastic Books, when we confronted him in June 2009 as he… came in at a side entrance to the Mont while teachers picketed outside, and heard him in the library three weeks later telling us “Fremont is special to me and is near and dear to my heart.” I watched him again December 9th. I’ve heard the lies and cynicism from Dr. George McKenna III and watched him in action in that faculty meeting, as I wrote in Day 156, “Just Because It Doesn’t Make Sense Doesn’t Mean It’s Not Logical.” I also watched him again on February 11th, when his stood behind locked gates and school policemen as we held a rally, and listened to him speak to reporters at our press conference February 26.


Now I have to add another person to that list.


My family taught me to stand up to bullies. My mom would cry when I was sent hope for fighting, while my dad would chastise me in front of my mother, then take me aside to ask two questions: “What did he do to deserve it?” “Did you win?” I never lied to him in either instance.


We know that this “reconstitution”—which got changed to “restructuring”—is wrong—as  has been so much of the information from LD7 and from the office: “You won’t get paid during the summer. “You’ll all be transferred to BethuneMiddle School.” “You’ll all become teachers in the sub pool.” “With the economy the way it is…” “We want your input…” “We have been meeting with parents…” “We’ve had community meetings…” “I met with the teachers several times…” “The teachers are involved in the committees…” “I never make a Powerpoint. I don’t know what you are talking about…”


Now teachers are being bullied.


I was told by a… colleague who has chosen to reapply, “Unlike the 300 Spartans. I will live to fight another day.” My question is, “When do you plan to fight?” When do you stop turning a blind eye to the actions of those who are supposed to be our leaders?


I decided to start fighting 51 days ago. During this week, I was feeling burned out.  I moved my stuff out of Room 225 for the last time on Tuesday at 5:30 a.m. and moved into Room 223 for the last time. I had some teachers not meet my eye. I had others shake my hand. I had a student who brought tears to my eyes because she told me, “I read your letters—all of them—on line. Wow.” I had kids visiting me all day for the first three days, working on their notebooks because they didn’t want to let me down.  I had a teacher who stopped speaking to me two years ago tell me I’ve been an inspiration, but I was being a brusque bear at the time. All of that means something. All of that strengthens my resolve, as did climbing into the car on Tuesday at 4:20 a.m. and hearing Journey’s “Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)” which I turned up to ear-bleeding volume. Certain songs I view as fight songs and crank them, eh?


Then I heard what was being said to young teachers. Ramon, what happened to you was the last straw. I wish I had been there, because I would have said something. And you know me. I helped get you through Edison Junior High. You donate time for the band. You give your heart and soul to the students at the Mont. You are one of the teachers I refer to as my “drops of water,” alluding to that Ukrainian proverb I am so fond of: “Even a drop of water can wear a hole in a stone.” You came back to help and now you are being humiliated.


I cannot let this go on. It might be the height of arrogance to believe I alone can make a difference. But I have to try. To quote the movie “Silverado”: “That ain’t right and I’ve had a bellyful of what ain’t right.”


You know where to find me.



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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.


    August 2010



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