A father’s view
To the editor:
For what it’s worth, I share my own experiences of high school racial tensions. I attended Bryan Adams HS in Dallas, Texas, 71-74. Court ordered bussing was instigated my first year with about 600 inner city blacks bussed in to a predominantly white school of about 3000. Everything was fine for the first few months; then there was the first fight between a black student and a white student at lunch time. The brothers of both fighters jumped in and it quickly spread but was stopped minutes later.
However, the line had been crossed and at lunch the next day, two groups of white and black students faced each other across the tennis court, which was basically our quad. Security, coaches and some teachers kept the two groups apart. You could slice the tension it was so thick. Suddenly, two senior hippies (yeah, this was back in the days) walked out onto the center of the tennis court and began circling each other, like WWF wrestlers. Nobody, including the staff, knew what they were doing until they began ’wrestling’, including, head locks, begging for mercy, etc.
Both groups of whites and black were roaring with laughter, cheering these two clowns on. Totally broke the ice. There were no more problems the rest of the year, until the last week of school. Then some trouble maker put up racist flyers and we had our first full-on riot the last day of school involving upwards of two hundred students. Kids got hurt, but school was over for the summer.
Unfortunately, the black students took it on the chin that day, so the first day of school the following year, a large group of black students, about 80-100, attacked a group of about a dozen white students. Ironically, the white students were hippies and I was one of them. They backed us up into the lunch room where the majority of students were still eating lunch. The fighting spread into the cafeteria, then throughout the school. The papers said 500-700 students were involved. I thought that was conservative, considering the scope of the riot. This was the worst rioting ever at a US high school, before or since. Worse than South Boston, worse than Central High in Arkansas. Ambulances pulled up to the back of the school and I carried a buddy down to the clinic. We played on the soccer team and his face was cut open by a belt buckle. I then snuck out to the parking lot with some other friends to get away. We saw students getting jumped by roving gangs of other students as we drove off, an unforgetable image and memory.
The next day, the riot squad, or swat team, was stationed at our school. There were at least twenty police cars parked around the perimeter and every hallway had at least two, sometimes four uniformed and plains-clothes policemen. This level of security remained pretty much in place for the first semester, then was scaled back for the second semester. Suffice to say, there was no fighting the rest of the year. When I returned my senior year, everyone pretty much thought the problems were over. Security was greatly reduced and things remained calm…until the last week of school when tensions began to mount. There were a couple of incidents, then the last day got real ugly. A large group of white students from other schools and white non-students from outlaying areas showed up with bats, clubs, etc., to confront the blacks getting on the buses. These same buses had been stoned a year earlier in an ’ambush’ of sorts. The police were there this day, but not nearly enough to contain the situation. Fighting broke out, debris was thrown, but the black students got onto their buses and escaped this mob. I will never forget the look on some of their faces. Fear mainly, which no doubt later turned to anger.
I graduated, there were a few incidents the next year and not long after court-ordered bussing ceased in Dallas at any rate. All in all, it was a disaster for most of the white students I talked with years later (I never ran into any black students). People were embittered by the experience and only had their prejudices reinforced, certainly not healed. It took me quite awhile to get over it and I now realized just how much my high school years were affected by the turmoil, especially academically and socially. The atmosphere was poisoned by the violence.
The administration carted out the usual standard ineffective solutions such as forming endless committees and discussion groups to improve race relations and ’move forward.’ The same people who participated in these charades had absolutely no influence or credibility amongst the student population who probably viewed these students as I did – as opportunists simply padding their resumes for college. You never saw these kids out trying to break up fights or stave off potential fights, like me and my hippie friends did later, once we were seniors.
By the way, I spoke with some blacks after we hippies were attacked and asked them why we hippies WERE attacked–since we were the ones who were actually cool with blacks being bused into the school, compared with the redneck types who were typical southern racists and against it. I was told it was because we had long hair and “looked like girls.” I was baffled then. Now, I think it was a merely a lack of REAL communication and interaction between the two cultures. In other words, I think if we had parties with these same blacks…there would be no problems.
How could this be done now? Don’t get me started, but you can’t simply get a small diverse group of smart students together in a classroom to come up with simplistic solutions to very complicated problems, and the problem of race relations in greater Los Angeles is much more complicated and evolving. There has to be an active change in the culture of the school. You have to get very large groups of students, say the entire grade together in Barnum Hall and get the students up on stage who are causing the problems and let them answer to their peers. Most likely, it would be a humbling experience.
Also, the administration has to be clever. The two seniors who staged the mock wrestling match probably had a greater effect at diffusing tension than all the security, committees, and endless discussions combined. The administration might want to consider a similar tactic though I doubt they will, but keep in mind, as Mark Twain said, nothing stands against the onslaught of humor. Get students laughing together and they may not take themselves and their conflicts so seriously. Another idea is to play classical music at lunch time. Police departments are starting to do this in major cities in the US and Europe and it has proven to be effective in reducing crime and cleaning up crime ridden areas. It has a soothing effect on people. Some don’t like it, but it will definitely set a particular tone that may be conducive to non-violence. At any rate, do not play rap on campus, or any other popular music for that matter. The students can and will listen to that stuff all they want outside of school. Introduce a little mainstream culture, I say.
Another suggestion…recently my son went to the Samohi Alumni Awards and spoke with a ’65 alum. She told him that back then, they got 1 hour and 15 minutes for lunch and most kids would go down to the beach and hang out, swim, surf, just generally have a good respite at the beach. My own personal suggestion, a big beach party for the entire school, well supervised and organized with food, games, music (reggae), etc. In fact, the Samohi Surf Club put on such a party last summer at the end of school. Hardly anybody from the school showed up but we had a blast anyway. But what do I know…I’m just a surfer. I can’t even get my calls returned by the administration or district concerning the surf program at Samohi. I doubt they would be interested in what I have to say about the current problems on campus. I’m sure they don’t need my help. Do I think these problems will get worse? I have no idea. Did I see it coming? I did indeed. My kids tell me about every fight and altercation because they know what their dad went through. I do know one thing…each time my kids tell me about a fight or altercation, the incidents seem to get worse and worse…and this DOES remind me of my high school years. So, if anybody does have a line in with the district or administration, feel free to forward my email…for what it’s worth.
Feuding and fussing in Venice
To the editor:
I read with great amusement the story about a symposium on Venice “self-government.” I was particularly amused because two of the organizers, Suzanne Thompson and Jim Smith, managed to bring the concept of neighborhood councils in Venice to a grinding halt. In your rush to publish Mr. Smith’s press release verbatim you failed mention a number of pertinent details. Namely, that under the leadership of these two, the Grass Roots Venice Neighborhood Council had its 2004 election invalidated, lost its quorum and has had its funding rescinded by the City of L.A. for misappropriation of city funds.
Perhaps in the future, it would better serve your readership to do a little actual reporting rather than republish press releases as if they were actual news stories.
Ed. Note: If even half the writer’s allegations are true, surely a discussion of self-government by these people is newsworthy.
Phonics vs. whole language
To the editor:
On Saturday April 16, RAND Corporation presented a Community Forum: “The Future of California’s K-12 Public Schools.”
Jackie Goldberg (one of the panelists) addressed the issue of teaching reading in school. It is clear to me by her comments that she does not embrace the California Reading Initiative developed by the California State Department of Education. This I find unfortunate as Ms. Goldberg is also the Chairperson on the State Assembly’s Education Committee, a very critical, important and powerful position. Based on the current research on reading instruction, her stance can only be considered regressive.
The California Reading Initiative states that 30 to 40 % of children will have significant difficulties learning to read. In today’s society, the inability to read proficiently has profound educational and life consequences. It is one of the reasons that students drop out of school, are retained, or are referred to special education. Poor reading skills greatly limit postsecondary school and work options so the importance of teaching children to read cannot be understated. Partnered with the Reading/Language Arts Framework, the California Reading Initiative recommends that struggling readers have at least two and a half hours of reading instruction per day in grades 4 – 8. In grades 9 – 12, it recommends that these students have a minimum of one course per semester. Some children with significant reading difficulties may need 3 – 4 hours per day of well designed instruction, regardless of grade level.
Ms. Goldberg appears to embrace the Whole Language approach, which has failed our students miserably. Her opinion is that reading should not be taught as separate subject; that students have enough phonics. I do agree that teachers should have a variety of strategies available to them in order to teach reading because one size does not fit all. We must, however, give reading as a separate subject, the importance that it deserves. Teachers must be trained to teach reading, must be given the materials needed to teach it, and it must be emphasized at all grade levels so all children can reach their highest potential.
In the past few months, I have attended two community forums addressing gang violence, where the opportunities after high school available to high risk youth were part of the focus.
The Special Education District Advisory Committee also recently hosted a presentation on the options for students in special education after high school. Many high risk youth are also special education students so they often overlap. CSU Northridge, Santa Monica College and Venice Skills Center presented their postsecondary programs, all of which stated students must be able to read at the 7th or 8th grade level in order to access and be successful in their programs, including vocational classes. Venice Skills Center provides a reading class when the students cannot read at the 8th grade level. I find it appalling that students can leave any high school without reading at a proficient level. The California State High School Exit Exam (a test that must be mastered next year in order to get a high school diploma) requires students to read proficiently in order to pass the test. Students who do not pass the test do not get a high school diploma. This will drastically reduce their opportunities for success in life and could possibly lead to high risk activities such as gang participation.
Lora Morn RN
Special Education District Advisory Committee Member
Goldberg does a disservice
To the editor:
Last Saturday at a RAND sponsored conference on the state of education in California, former teacher Jackie Goldberg, Chair of the Assembly Education Committee, (D-45) did a disservice to the work of those of us who are trying to move public educators toward approaches that reflect current research.
Ms. Goldberg is a dynamic speaker and describes herself as a “reading specialist” and yet she chose on Saturday to explain the continued low reading scores of California students as being attributable to a lack of books and librarians in our schools. Ms. Goldberg denigrated instruction that includes phonemic awareness, which according to current research must be a component of good reading instruction. In doing so Ms. Goldberg was using code for a call to a return to the antiquated “whole language” approach to reading instruction that proved so disastrous for California students and is now thoroughly discredited.
While no one who cares about public schools would argue that our students need more access to reading material, encouraging educators to cling to the belief that simply surrounding students with books is the answer to this instructional challenge is very dangerous. California educators have much work to do in recovering from the whole language movement. Pandering to ill-educated teachers serves no one – not the teachers and certainly not the students who depend on them.
Chair, Special Education District Advisory Committee