Day 31 Monday May 31, 2010: “Closer To Home/I’m Your Captain”


Today is Monday, May 31, 2010 and Day 31 of my time left at the Mont. Time’s speeding up. Faster than a decaying orbit. This one’s going to be all over the map, like a compass gone mad at magnetic north.


I remember when Johnny Jauregui and company came back from a meeting with a community group which seeks to benefit from the six million dollar SIG. The message got passed that “Your people on the Save Fremont website better tone it down! They’re trying to destroy the school.” I recall my outrage, thinking how wrong they were, but I couldn’t decide before if it came from ignorance or not. Then I found out they’d been offered a slice of the pie, a seat at the table. So it is not about empowering the people of a community, but about the power that money gives in a community. Good old-fashioned greed. I’m sure there’s a healthy dose of ignorance in there, as well. Never underestimate the power of human stupidity, especially in groups. But, to quote the movie “Brubaker,” “I don’t see playing politics with the truth.” Unfortunately, the reply is, “You can’t reform the system if you’re not in it!” I just can’t believe in that destroy the enemy from within crap.


How would such a group join in what LAUSD has planned for the Mont? Easy. To quote Howard Beale in “Network,” “We'll tell you anything you want to hear, we lie like hell.” After all, how many good folks reapplied to the Mont, based upon threats, dark pictures painted of their futures outside the Mont, promises of what will be given out as rewards, such as “Title I Coordinator” or “Band Director” or “Lead Teacher of an Academy.” (This is just guesswork on my part. My brain likes to pick apart knots like this, worrying at a puzzle like a dog savaging a chew toy.) A little like “The Terminator”: “Come with me if you want to live!” or “You can’t reform the system if you’re not in it!”


A bunch went along. Dr. McKenna hinted that 80% of you went along, then “Um, over 60% did reapply.” (from the “Patt Morrison Show” on which Dr. McKenna appeared on 4/26/10). Then, in the cover letter/timeline send to the School Board, “130 of 253 certificated...apply to remain at Fremont.  This constitutes 51 percent of the existing certificated staff members..." That damned SIG grant requires that 50% of you are gone. Pardon me, I guess I should include myself in that number. But in some ways, I’m channeling that song by The Eagles, “Already Gone.” So if 51% reapplied, who are so many folks getting rejection letters?


By now everyone should have received the letter stating either Yea or Nay. You are either returning to the Mont as a teacher in good standing—or not.  Some of you had no choice, but to reapply. There were extenuating circumstances—single parents or single incomes, stability at work.  But I keep thinking about the people I’ve worked with along the way in the past 16 years at the Mont. Some of them are casualties, too.


While some of my words may have made folks uncomfortable, and the actions of the Committee to Save Fremont made people scuttle past us in the hallways and hurry to their rooms, please, please understand what we have been trying to stop.


Dr. George McKenna III wants to chalk it all up to “UTLA,” the same UTLA that many have been upset with for a seeming lack of support, from an absence of chapter chairs appearing at lunch meetings to the seeming inattention or indifference of attorneys the union has. McKenna wants it to be about the evil wicked teachers’ union, which it isn’t, and others want to blame the union for not doing enough.


This isn’t about them. It is about us. We are the Mont.


And we’re losing it.


People have complained about what I write. If you have a beef, bounce my emails. Block them. Or reply and write “Stop bothering me!” If you don’t want to know, click Delete. There’s a line from the movie Taras Bulba on that score: “You swore would wear a patch over one eye until the steppes were free again. Cover both eyes, Tymoshevsky, so that you cannot see yourself!” Damn, Yul Brynner sounded a lot like my dad.


If you really want to know why I’m bombarding you with emails, why I wear red on Tuesdays (still haven’t given up on the union—it’s about collective action, not individual deals) and black on Thursdays (I wish the slimming effect worked, but it is in mourning over what is being destroyed at the Mont), why I have a countdown on my board that ticks off the days like the survivors in “Battlestar Galactica,” then listen.


It’s also because people are talking to each other and to me. Some come into the O-Zone for other than the coffee or to forage for Kathleen Loggins’ baked goods. There were two conversations I had with our fellow teachers that shook me to the core.


One was in my room, in tears, feeling ashamed because she felt she had no choice but to reapply, then said, “I want my son to have a teacher like you.” I wanted to move mountains for her in that moment, just to not see those tears.


Another came, when he was packing to go off-track and said, “All my life, I’ve stood up, I’ve walked away from situations rather than give in. I read your emails. All of them. This is the one time in my life I played it safe, and I wish I hadn’t.”  That was a month ago. I found out a few days ago he isn’t getting rehired. He’s damned good at what he does. It almost seems like this is being done to break people’s spirits and to let them taste ashes or the dregs of this foul drink.


There was a science fiction novel I read what feels like about a thousand years ago called “Always the Black Knight,” by Lee Hoffman, about jousting on mechanical horses in the far future and the man who acted like a knight becoming a real one. There was a quote at the front of the book (I’ll spare you the period spelling):

“For knighthood is not in the feats of war,

As for to fight in quarrel right or wrong,

But in a cause which truth cannot defer.

He ought himself for to make sure and strong

Justice to keep, mixed with mercy among,

And no quarrel a knight ought to take,

But for a truth or for a woman’s sake.”

The author was Stephen Hawes, and it’s an excerpt from “The Pastimes of Pleasure,” written in the early 16th century.


I knew this situation was coming up. Lots of good folks who believed that they would be rehired. Why? Because Mr. Balderas and Dr. McKenna and Superintendent Cortines either told them so directly (see the January 26th meeting, written about in Day 156 “Just Because It Doesn’t Make Sense Doesn’t Mean It’s Not Logical” and Day 153 “Should I Stay Or Should I Go” or implied it. Lots of you got burned. You wanted to be left alone in your classrooms and be able to teach.


But the District came knocking. Dr. McKenna demonized us. The quest for a SIG grant was a reason to cast us on an educational dungheap. The school will be “deep-cleaned”—not for us, because we we’re not good enough, but for the new occupants of the New Fremont. There are new doors, lights are being replaced, Mr. Balderas is NOW worried about the appearance of the quad.


And the kids remain forgotten. They’re an afterthought, a box to check off, a group of “stakeholders” to claim were met.


Isn’t there just a little anger here at the injustice of it?


“I don't have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad. It's a depression. Everybody's out of work or scared of losing their job. The dollar buys a nickel's work, banks are going bust, shopkeepers keep a gun under the counter. Punks are running wild in the street and there's nobody anywhere who seems to know what to do, and there's no end to it. We know the air is unfit to breathe and our food is unfit to eat, and we sit watching our TV's while some local newscaster tells us that today we had fifteen homicides and sixty-three violent crimes, as if that's the way it's supposed to be. We know things are bad - worse than bad. They're crazy. It's like everything everywhere is going crazy, so we don't go out anymore. We sit in the house, and slowly the world we are living in is getting smaller, and all we say is, 'Please, at least leave us alone in our living rooms. Let me have my toaster and my TV and my steel-belted radials and I won't say anything. Just leave us alone.' Well, I'm not gonna leave you alone. I want you to get mad! I don't want you to protest. I don't want you to riot - I don't want you to write to your congressman because I wouldn't know what to tell you to write. I don't know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crime in the street. All I know is that first you've got to get mad. 'I'M AS MADAS HELL, AND I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!' I want you to get up right now, sit up, go to your windows, open them and stick your head out and yell - 'I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore!' Things have got to change. But first, you've gotta get mad!... You've got to say, 'I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!' Then we'll figure out what to do about the depression and the inflation and the oil crisis. But first get up out of your chairs, open the window, stick your head out, and yell, and say it: ] "I'M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!"—Howard Beale (Peter Finch), “Network” (1976). No, I don’t think I’m Howard Beale. "I am but mad, north northwest. When the wind is southerly, I know the difference between hawk and a handsaw." “Hamlet,” I believe. I know the difference between hawk and a handsaw.


You wonder at what I’m doing and why? What the Committee to Save Fremont is doing? Could we be accused of trying to destroy the school, to ruin chances for a grant, as if money without morality can fix this place, as if money alone can provide justice? Is this supposed to be some sort of Pyrrhic victory or Slavic “scorched earth”?


Captain Kirk (witnessing the destruction of the Enterprise which he ordered): My God, Bones… what have I done?”

Dr. McCoy:  “What you had to do. What you always do: turn death into a fighting chance to live.”—“Star Trek III: The Search For Spock”


For those of you who received those letters, please let someone know. You don’t have to go it alone. Talk to each other.


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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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