Day 77 Saturday, April 17, 2010: “What’s Going On”


Today is Saturday, April 17, 2010 and it is Day 77 of my time left at the Mont.  I’m listening to Marvin Gaye’s album, “What’s Going On” while I sit in Elephant Bar and peck away at the keyboard. I know many of you might dispute the number of days, cleverly alluding to the four furlough days in June, but we are all still Pathfinders until June 30th, for on July 1 the new school year begins, as does the launch of the New Fremont (oh yeah, can’t call it that… sorry) and the beginnings of our new assignments—unless you were non-elected or resigned in the face of such intimidation… And, as anybody who really knows me is aware, I have a really wide stubborn streak (after all, in the SCA, I am known as Yaroslav the Persistent—go figure, eh?).


It’s been a remarkably busy week. We hardly saw any administrators most of the week—and the Mont didn’t fall apart, amazingly enough. Wow, I just re-read those words as I sit in my favorite watering hole. We actually functioned without seeing administrators roaming the halls, yelling “All right, all right, all right.” Maybe it was because Mr. Balderas was on vacation and the radios weighed too much to carry up the stairs. For the benefit of the readers, I just shrugged. (It’s sort of like the Jameson’s Irish Whiskey ads: “Jameson eyes the steeds, then his whiskey, then the steeds again and then his whiskey”—which is what I’m doing).


The Mont managed to function and we had a little fun along the way. I learned that Superintendent Cortines wasn’t at the school board meeting because he was enlightening Washington on the state of education (I have to assume), which meant he wasn’t meeting with UTLA to fix this problem; after all the word I’m hearing from Beaudry-land is that our fate at the Mont is sealed. All of our gestures are just that, like the cartoon of the mouse flipping off the swooping eagle, captioned “Last Act of Defiance.”


So why are some of us flipping the bird, if our fates are already sealed? Because we’re not resigned to our fates. You see, I see victories in odd places. When the stats for Fremont get pulled off the LAUSD website and get “zeroed out,” that’s a victory. I remember someone asked me, “In what universe?”; it implies that the facts were there will not support what the Superintendent is doing.


When Diane Ravitch spoke at UCLA on Monday (and I’m sure she sold a butt-load of her books, with people eagerly waiting to get them autographed) she carried the message that this nightmare of reconstitution she helped to unleash, under the auspices of NCLB WAS AND IS WRONG! Now, if she’ll do more than simply hawk her wares and actually confront the powers-that-be to stop the systematic rape of public education, well… that would be better. But she is in the public eye right now, and who better to say this is evil than the person who helped to create it, eh? So, there’s another victory.


The school board meeting on Tuesday was a victory. Did the school board actually do anything? Nah. Did you really expect any action without the Superintendent there? But we got to air our views in a public forum, and they nodded politely as the cameras rolled. Mr. Johnson spoke eloquently, as did a number of teachers, students and alumni, others having signed up, like some sort of forlorn hope, only to yield our spots to others (although I was told I displayed “attitude” during my brief introduction of Terra Bennett—ah well, to quote one of my SCA buddies, Lord Hagar Stromburg Blackrune, “Wow, we sure pissed somebody off—let’s find out what we did and do it some more.”). Will anything come of the board meeting? Who knows? But it’s like the scene in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” when McMurphy tries to lift the sink; his hands bloody, out of breath, he gasps out, “At least I tried, damn it!” That’s what we’re doing. Maybe the Chief Bromden among us—which is all of us—will lift that sink and bust out the bars in the window.


The kids have been gathering letters, evidence to bring before Superintendent Cortines that this plan for the Mont is going to be a freakin’ disaster of Biblical proportions. Having all the remaining rehire interviews cancelled can certainly imply that the Mont has all the teachers it needs to run the place—but I don’t think so. I think there’s going to be a lot of long-term subs filling the slots of those teachers who left. Never mind the new student-to-counselor ratios have increased from 400/1 to 500/1 in the “Academies” (although someone’s math is on the mouth-breather level because on C-Track, the Magnet Academy will have 300, while supposedly “The School of Law, Justice and Government” will have 500 students, but in reality, according to one of the counselors, will have about 750. SEVEN HUNDRED FIFTY. With One. Lone. Counselor. Can anyone think of Kevin Bacon in “Animal House? “Remain calm! All is well!” No wonder so many Magnet students are reversing polarities and looking for other Magnets which are more… attractive.


We’ve been having other meetings, which are victories.


And the way Dr. McKenna waffled about meeting with UTLA and then canceled, in a manner worthy of getting on as a celebrity on “Dancing With the Stars” (or “Dancing Around the Truth”, eh) was also a victory, especially when Superintendent Cortines appeared that same day on campus. (No doubt, the lesson I was teaching, which I’ve taught for years—fighting WWI, showing art by soldiers, reading poetry about it—and the way it was taught, I’m sure, either was garbage or improved only because of the threats of reconstitution/restructuring/re-something…) When you’ve got to do bait-and-switch, when you can’t just stand up and tell the truth, you’re building on a foundation of sand.


I had the word passed to me that, “Some of those writers on the Save Fremont website need to tone it down. They’re trying to destroy the school.”


WRONG. We’re trying to stop this madness. We’re not counting on others to do it. What? Do you think we’re going to hold our collective breaths for Diane Ravitch to brandish her book, wave a magic wand and the powers-that-be will stop posturing and pull their heads out of dark places? No, I doubt that the perpetrators of this travesty will do little except read the back cover. I also believe Ms. Ravitch, when she told Fremont teachers who stood there with copies of her book in their hands that she was unaware of what was happening to the Mont was… well…  I hope you sell a lot of books. I also hope you trade your “historian” hat for an “activist” beret.


Do I really think that speaking to Arne Duncan might sway him (which is why Anthony Cody talked me into Facebook, which got me involved in the “Teachers’ Letters to Obama”, good stuff, but now I’m discovering just how many people seem to not have anything to do in their lives except be on Facebook)? I don’t know, but, like Randall McMurphy, I have to try. Just show me where that sink is and where the window is. I’ve bled before and I’ve failed before. The trick is, when you fail, to get back up.


We’ve gained some allies in this struggle—and Anthony, I can’t thank you enough even though you suckered me into Facebook ;)—but it will be about the teachers, the parents (notice I did NOT say community, because the parents will not treat their own children like pawns for political gains) and the kids who ultimately will either stop this madness or show the district and those in support of reconstitution for the frauds they are. It is up to us. Pathfinders For Life, eh? It is not about the ethnicity of the parents—it is about BEING parents, and any normal parent wants for their children to surpass them. If you can’t understand that, then get the hell out of the way and let the parents who have been signing our petitions, the kids, and the teachers save the Mont. (Listening to Bill Withers now…)


So we dance around each other. Just flashed on the coach, played by Gene Hackman, in “The Replacements”: “You have no future. For you, there is no tomorrow. And that makes you very dangerous men.”


What to dance?


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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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