school rant

The schools ain’t what they used to be , and never was .   ————- Will Rogers

I used to teach .

At one faculty meeting an art teacher was bemoaning the sad state of affairs at the school , a public middle school near downtown L.A. ,  sitting smack in the middle of gang territory . Actually , I suppose that might not make it very unique these days in big city schools .

The school  was built right along 1st Street in  1914  , down the street from the now defunct Bimini Baths . Bimini  Baths was a well known swimming facility with cold water pools and hot bubbling pools , the  hot mineral water finding its way  up naturally from under the ground . The Pacific Electric rail line could bring someone to the school or to the baths . Some of the track still lies in the ground behind the greasy spoon and the car repair shop that now subsist there , across the street from the school and just north of what was once the Bimini Baths complex . The Bimini Baths Apartments survive there now , but all other trace of the place is gone , except that the  little street there is called Bimini . The PE  Red Cars are long gone , but Metro   trains now pass by far below ground . Maybe the hot water is still gurgling under the neighborhood . Maybe not .

The two gangs who contest the area , or did while I worked there , Rockwood and 18th Street , weren’t there when the Baths were torn down , when the Red Cars brought kids to school and enthusiastic swimmers to the baths ,  dropping  them off at the corner of 1st and Vermont .  1st Street had become  , somehow , the gang border , as if the asphalt of 1st Street  were a gang -armisticed  no-man’s land .

When I taught at that  school the students were often harassed at the bus stops , or on their walk home . Young punk gangsters stole gold chains from their necks  , or demanded money , or took expensive jackets off their backs  . The cops were usually someplace else chasing the gangsters’  older brothers , frisking them , throwing them in jail , sometimes planting drugs on them or shooting them , maybe simply to show who’s boss . The neighborhood was policed by the Rampart Division of the LAPD . Poor Rampart got a bad reputation due to a few rogue cops who smeared the reputation of the  others , the honest cops , at the Division .

It had been a rich neighborhood early on . Wealthy Angelenos  occupied the ornate apartment houses on the other side of Vermont Avenue . The Shatto house was nearby . Bullocks Wilshire , the chic department store , wasn’t too far away . Neither was the Brown Derby restaurant and the Ambassador Hotel . A little further east is Mac Arthur Park , and then downtown .

Things change .

” It’s getting worse every year ! ” the complaining teacher told the assistant principal . This was several years ago . The assistant principal , parenthetically , is now a superintendent .

The AP said to her , ” You say that every year .”  And he was probably right . She probably voiced a similar frustration every year .

” And it’s true every year ,” she said .woman_karate_transparent

I was a dean at the school for nine years . I  dealt with discipline at the place . It was an education for me . After twenty years of teaching before that at various levels , I was learning , as dean , how these inner city kids think , how they try to handle problems , sensed their pride and dignity , but also realized their insulation within their   squalid and deteriorating but  once grand neighborhood .

I went back into the classroom after working as  dean , went back to teaching  when an  administration came to the school that I couldn’t work with . After a couple of years I jumped ship , transferred to another school .  I went to work for a principal whom I could respect .  Then , two years later , he jumped ship , moved on , got promoted .

Things change .

” It’s getting worse every year , ”  teachers at that  school said over the next few years .

I enjoyed teaching and deaning , but I’m glad to be out of it now . I try to avoid any school stories in the news , the tales of molestation , the charter school stuff , this billionaire’s reform ideas  or that mayor’s reform ideas , or how evil the teachers’ unions are . It all seems to boil down to the public’s tenacious belief that the schools are all screwed up . Always lurking in the background seems to be the suggestion that it’s those damn teachers’ fault . Obviously .

It isn’t what we don’t know that gives us trouble ; it’s what we know that ain’t so .   ———–Will Rogersschool old

My grandfather taught in Dakota  Territory in 1890 . I have a copy of his teacher contract . He got $35 dollars a month and had to cut  enough firewood for the stove .  He was the only teacher in a one room rural school . Maybe , just maybe , if  students didn’t learn at that school it would have been   my grandfather’s  fault  . But , we also would have to  figure  in, I think ,  all the other human factors involved , and others , if we could , before we should start foolishly flinging  blame . We would have to consider family situations  and individual differences among the students  . What about weather factors in that area of the country , or  transportation factors , or family farm situation factors ?  Old Grandpa Joe could have been teaching his heart out , competently , energetically , and still, nevertheless ,  fail with a few students . No ?  But , he’s the only teacher there , and any administration is a hundred miles away . So he’s it .

But things change .

I’m sick of listening to the teaching profession  being trashed in the media . My teacher hackles go up . I don’t even want to  hear it . It’s for the most part , in my mind , crass ax-grinding dressed up as reform . Well-intentioned people , battered by this wall of nonsense , surrender to the  persistent simple-mindedness , and accept it as reality .

Teaching is a difficult job . It’s an art  as well as a science .  The essence of teaching is complex , elusive , never sufficiently spoken of by any of the many recent education gurus .  Schools these days are not the one room schools as the one in which my grandfather taught . But , ignorant critics , including many wannabe reformers , trash the teachers  as if the world had not changed , as if schools were not the complex facilities , the frustratingly  carking  labyrinths  that they now are . [end of rant ]

old bike person

One more quote:

Smartness runs in my family . When I was in school I was so smart my teacher was in my class for five years . ———-Gracie Allen


Filed under humor

2 responses to “school rant

  1. Very well said and an Excellent post!

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