Nachum Shifren is an ordained rabbi in Los Angeles who spent 18 years of his life as a secondary school teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District. He was also known as the "Surfing Rabbi" because of his abilities as a former professional surfer. He is quite familiar with youth culture and can be a pretty hip fellow -- despite his long beard, yarmulke and phylacteries that hang from his waistband. His level of coolness, however, never prepared him for a public school system where he received a death threat in class by a student and, on another day, found his classroom burnt to the ground.
Shifren's book, Kill Your Teacher: Corruption And Racism in Los Angeles City Schools, is a harrowing, yet brief tome by a Rabbi who details his pedagogical trials. He tells how he continually landed in hot water with school administrators for demanding even the most rudimentary tasks from students in order to help them learn something. The administrators had a greater priority: to advance and graduate students who lack any of the knowledge they will need to function later in life.
Shifren was a Spanish language teacher at Dorsey High School in Los Angeles. He was eventually run out of the school system for not caving in to administrators who, as he shows, condoned tardiness, failure to bring even paper and pencils to class, rudeness -- and outright violence and assaults against teachers. Moreover, outside political activists were allowed to excuse errant and sometimes violent behavior by students in the classroom in an official capacity.
The Rabbi received accolades from fellow educators and even well-known leaders in the Black and Hispanic communities, such as Reverend Jesse Lee Peterson, Ezola Foster, and even US Congressman Dana Rohrbacher. All of them approved Shifren's attempts to get his students to become educated members of society. Nonetheless, Shifren spent years battling an administration that would not even support him when his life was in danger from death threats by gang members and hooligans in his classroom.
Shifren also fell prey to parents who encouraged such behavior from their children. But it was school administrator Evelyn Mahmud who was ultimately promoted by the school district and became his arch nemesis. After Shifren's classroom was burned down, resulting in hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage, Mahmud called the Rabbi into her office, threatened his tenure at Dorsey and urged him to get students to "like him" more. Being liked in this case, of course, required not teaching students or making sure they learned something.
Why didn't the students like Shifren? For starters, he demanded they come to class on time and not wander around the room visiting friends during instruction and bring paper and pencils to class to do their work. He further aggravated the system by demanding students turn in homework on time with proper punctuation and grammar and do class assignments. Shifren was also a victim of reverse racism; being a white teacher and a religious Jew, he worked in an inner city school populated with mainly Black and Latino kids.
Shifren tells of his referral of one student to the principal's office for discipline for stabbing another student in class with a pencil. The student soon returned to class with a taxpayer-paid community activist, designated as a "parent rep," who screamed at him in front of the class. "I'm tired of you kicking Black kids out of your class," she yelled. But Shifren points out that every student in his class was Black.
Being recognized as an Orthodox Jew also made Shifren a target. Some students made anti-Semitic remarks openly to him during class time -- and the administration refused to apply any discipline. This culminated in one parent of a problem student complaining to the school district that Shifren was teaching Hebrew in his Spanish class. Whenever Shifren compared the names of parents who sent complaints about him, no matter how outlandish, they always matched those of the students who were repeatedly causing disciplinary problems. In each case, the usual evidence of lack of class participation, goofing off, or absence of homework was apparent.
Shifren attributes a lot of these problems to what he calls a period of "pay back" by certain minorities who believe previous injustices excuse the need to learn. In their minds, students should be advanced to higher levels because they are oppressed -- even if they are ill-equipped to survive in a competitive society. Shifren touchingly recounts how, while working at a prison ranch as a teacher years later, he was approached by one of his former students, who by that time was an inmate. The student literally began crying to the Rabbi about his circumstances because he was graduated without even having the ability to read or fill out a work application. In a more ominous tone, Shifren recounts how one student at his school was murdered for his tennis shoes and how his classroom of students expressed little remorse or objection to the killing. And the reaction of the school administration was little better to this general indifference.
Shifren writes of how he was deliberately ignored by his administrators in regards to his repeated requests for an American flag to be put in his classroom so that the pledge of allegiance could be recited. He also proposed to an administrator that December 7th, 1941 be marked as a day of remembrance for Pearl Harbor on the heels of month long celebrations for Cinco De Mayo and Martin Luther King's birthday. But he he was informed that the day would not be earmarked because it might be "offensive to Asian students."
The last quarter of the book contains an account of a female colleague of Shifren's, another teacher who was beaten down continually despite an honest desire to help her students. Many days she was forced to hold class outside on the grass or on the football bleachers because the school would not even provide her chairs for her students. She also recounts harrowing tales of lockdowns with SWAT teams on campus and administrators who were always curiously absent the days such developments occurred.
This book is a powerful example of how the political correctness and reverse racism on our college campuses seep into other corridors of our educational system. College graduates become the very teachers and school administrators that Shifren describes in his book.
Taxpayers, educators, concerned parents of children in high school and anyone concerned with the state of education in America should read Kill Your Teacher for insight about what is happening to our schools -- and what we can expect from the next generations of students emerging from them.
It isn't a pretty picture.
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