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 .
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 .
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 ]
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