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School’s Out for Protest By: Aaron Hanscom
FrontPageMagazine.com | Sunday, April 02, 2006

When some 24,000 students walked out of 52 Los Angeles-area schools last Monday to protest restrictions on illegal immigration, administrators from the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) did not punish them with detention. Instead, they rewarded them with buses.

The LAUSD’s website reported that 30 buses were “dispatched today to shuttle students back to their home schools, many of them making repeated trips because of the large number of students needing transportation.” The website further revealed that school “administrators often accompany [students] for their safety” on similar outings.

And in fact this week’s fiasco was not the first time that politics trumped education as the school district’s top priority. Last year the district used the same rationale to explain its decision to provide buses and “adult supervision” to nearly 800 high school students who walked out of ten high schools to attend anti-Bush and anti-war rallies. At least one LAUSD teacher gave his students class credit for attending one of the rallies.


Indeed, LAUSD administrators are notorious for crossing the line from classroom education to social activism. This March 17, for instance, the LAUSD sponsored “Live Violence Free Day.” Wearing black bracelets embossed with the message, “Live Violence Free,” more than 727,000 students participated in activities “related to non-violence and positive human relations.” Teachers were asked to facilitate ongoing discussions and dialogue in the classroom. One might wonder why students did not use this time to, say, practice their reading and writing. The reason can be found in the official resolution for “Live Violence Free” day, which states: “By choice, design, or necessity, schools are largely responsible for socializing America’s youth…and the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education strongly supports the theme of nonviolence.” In other words, political preaching comes before teaching.


The timing of “Live Violence Free” day was not accidental. It was the last school day before the third anniversary of the coalition forces’ invasion of Iraq and it corresponded with the worldwide protests against the war. Similar bouts of anti-war fervor are standard operating procedure at the LAUSD. In 2003, for example, the school board considered passing a draft resolution condemning the war in Iraq as an act of imperialist aggression. That resolution cited “massive global protests against the prospective war” as evidence of its folly and, in a preemptive justification of in-school anti-war advocacy, averred that “[d]istrict students should be allowed to engage in critical debate about the implications that geopolitics have for democratic citizenship, civil liberties and venerable American traditions of civil resistance.”


In October of 2005, the district offered a further illustration of its political agenda when it introduced a professional development course for teachers called “Teaching About the Middle East.” The course, which earned teachers points toward salary increases, was vetted and accredited by the LAUSD. Aside from teaching about the Middle East’s people and customs, the class offered the standard left-wing treatment of non-violence, human rights and so-called peace movements. Not everyone applauded the course, however. Jewish organizations noted that the course was put together by Linda Tubach, an LAUSD staffer and one-time advisory-board member of Café Intifada, an organization that spotlights pro-Palestinian figures and raises funds for “cultural programs in Palestine, highlighting the current plight of the Palestinian people.”


Also in 2005, the district approved an eight-page policy making it more difficult for military recruiters to gain access to schools. This policy is wholly in keeping with many LA-area teachers’ aversion to the military. (Typical are the T-shirts sported by the United Teachers of Los Angeles, a powerful teachers union, which proclaim: “A War Budget Leaves Every Child Behind.” A similar message--“$ for Education NOT Occupation”--was on some of the signs held by protesters at the anti-war rally in Hollywood on March 18.) Following discussions with the ACLU, the school district portrayed its politically motivated restrictions as a means to protect the children. Ranjana Natarajan, a staff attorney for the ACLU of Southern California, explained: “Parents and students are concerned that they are being targeted by recruiters while at school and that they have little defense against the military's strong-arm tactics.”


What parents are really concerned about, however, is the fact that LA-area schools, even as they take political activism to new levels, are demonstrably failing to educate their children. The statistics are frightening. Nearly half of all 11th graders in the Los Angeles Unified School District read below grade level. Only 24 percent of third-graders and 30 percent of seventh graders scored above the national average in reading on their 2005 standardized CAT/6 tests. According to LAUSD and California Department of Education data, the District has the third worst dropout rate in the country, and only 20 percent of its 9th graders will graduate with diplomas that qualify them to apply to the University of California or California State University systems. It’s no surprise that parents don’t want their children to join the 200,000 students currently trapped in close to 200 Los Angeles schools considered low performing under the No Child Left Behind Act.


Yet the school district seems to take it all in stride. Of the recent decision to pass a resolution establishing “Live Violence Free” day, Mike Lansing, a member of the Los Angeles Board of Education, explained that the creation of “safe and secure learning environments in our schools” was necessary for students to “reach their full potential.” (How reciting anti-violence pledges in the classroom served that end went unexplained.)


Meanwhile, Los Angeles School Superintendent Roy Romer has said that “Live Violence Free” day would help students “understand that violence is never a solution to a problem.”


This, in the end, is the lesson that Los Angeles public school students are most likely to learn. Unfortunately, as the evidence from the city’s chronically underperforming schools indicates, it may also be the only lesson they are likely to learn.


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Aaron Hanscom is a freelance writer in Los Angeles.

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