Sunday, September 25, 2011

Frustrated Teacher Walks Off the Job in Los Angeles: Metaphor for Obama's Bankrupt Education Policy

I'm not expert enough to comment comprehensively on the administration's education policy. Mostly, the White House has been completely hostile to educational initiatives, like charters and vouchers, that would weaken the stranglehold of unions over the public education bureaucracy. And I am not one who is hostile to public education. What I can't stand is that when schools are failing the solutions are always more of the same, and never real innovations that put power in the hands of those who can get results. I think of charters like Providence St. Mel and I'm ashamed that this president has done nothing in almost three years to help alleviate the crisis of inner city education in America. Just to talk about it --- to use his own experience as a community organizer, someone with (purportedly) real ties to the urban grassroots --- would have been something. Instead, we've had failed (spending) stimulus initiatives and the bankrupt and morally decrepit nationalized healthcare law that has issued waivers like they were Tootsie Rolls on Halloween. I guess I'm hopelessly naive, but I hoped that President Obama --- with his majestic, mountain top-style oratory --- would have been able to bring considerable moral authority to the crisis of discipline and under-achievement in the big city schools. Perhaps we might not be having stories like this, "At Manual Arts High, a caring teacher is at the end of his rope":

Art teacher Jeremy Davidson skipped the annual back-to-school-night at Manual Arts High this week.

He'd walked off the job the day before — after 10 years at the mid-city campus — done in by a group of unruly ninth-graders who'd hijacked his sixth-period drawing class.

While Davidson was "trying to give a lesson on shading," the troublemakers were "whacking each other with rulers, throwing paper across the room, getting up and walking around."

They blocked the door when he tried to close it, talked over him when he tried to teach.

The first time it happened this semester, he summoned security "four times during the period and help never came."

Day after frustrating day, he said, the scenario replayed. And when he sought support, administrators met his request with a checklist: Have you contacted their parents? Have you encouraged the students? Have you treated them with respect?

Davidson bristled at the implication. "Seven students needed to be removed, so I could teach the other 45. … And I'm expected to spend a week providing all this documentation, while these kids spend 50 minutes each day destroying the class for everyone else."

So two weeks after the school year began Sept. 7 — after a string of sleepless nights — Davidson called his principal from class midmorning and said: "It would be best if you got me covered so I can pack my things and go."

Davidson shared his story with me a few hours after he left campus. Two days earlier, he had emailed The Times, complaining about "the awful conditions" at Manual Arts.

"The overcrowded, dirty classrooms, and lack of support from administrators, is demoralizing and crushing the teachers — and not fair to students," he wrote.

Still, I had to wonder, what kind of teacher abandons those students when the semester has barely begun? A teacher at the end of his rope, Davidson told me; one who has had his fill of broken promises and dashed hopes.

"You keep raising your expectations, but nothing changes," he said. "After all these years, I look around and see that things are just getting worse."
Dashed hopes. Things getting worse. Sounds like the Obama administration's record on education and social policy. (And don't even get me going about the economy and urban unemployment.) The 2012 election can't come soon enough. Perhaps we can still turn things around for the generations of students whom this administration has cast off and abandoned.