Saturday, September 11, 2010

Elena is starting kindergarten Monday Sept. 13th

Elena is starting kindergarten on Monday and I don't have enough words to express how worried I am about her and the fate of education in general. There is a sinister force at work on the land and unfortunately some of the "best" minds are in charge. Bill Gates with his gazillions is funding the effort to privatize education, destroy teacher and classified unions, and generally dumb down education to a teach-to-the-test mode. I write about this a great deal and think about it every day. I do believe it's the reason our libraries are going away -- libraries help create critical thinkers and life-long learners. Gates and his ilk don't want people who can really critique a society that is now so inequitable that children are going to sleep hungry, families are losing their homes, and people who have worked all their lives are no longer employed or employable. Closer to home what this means is that Sleazy Deasy (Dr. he says), a Gates man, is poised to take over the Los Angeles Unified School District when the current superintendent steps down next June. Cortines was also in the pockets of the rich -- very ambitious for himself and willing to take money that most of us saw as unethical (such as $150,000 a year from Scholastic, a company that makes a huge profit off our schools). But Cortines at least is an educator. Most of the folks now making decisions for our children do not know anything about education. Witness the Los Angeles Times -- the reporters who went into the classrooms to "judge" the teachers only did so because they knew what "value added" score each teacher already had and judged accordingly. They admitted on KPFK radio last week that they really weren't competent (my word) to judge educators. Yet, their story stands, and everyone thinks it will benefit education that these scores are printed in the Times. In my own experience, some of the best, most interesting and inspiring teachers, are not the ones who "teach to the test" so their students' scores may be lower. So what! Will Elena still love to learn, love to investigate, love to sit and pay attention as she does now? I have my doubts. I will do everything I can to continue her love of learning. We need all teachers, parents, education workers to unite and defeat this effort to destroy education. Check out this link to the group California Advocates United to Save Education (CAUSE) and a group that is calling for a Million teacher mark for July 30, 2011. Please get involved!

Sunday, August 15, 2010


Today's Los Angeles Times has a feature story that is sure to upset everyone involved: parents, teachers, and school administrators. While purporting to analyze teacher effectiveness, in fact it will simply embarrass many excellent teachers who DON'T TEACH TO THE TEST and continually try to find ways to motivate children to learn. Are there bad teachers? Yes -- just as there are BAD administrators, newspaper columnists, rich men (ELI BROAD) who think they know everything and really know very little, doctors, nurses, etc. Are any of these others being graded, IN PUBLIC, and in such a demeaning and hurtful way? No! Are workers in private industry really paid according to their productivity? Not really. The goal of this article as well as Bill Gates, Antonio Villaraigosa, Secretary of Education Duncan, and many other rich and powerful people is to bring down the unions, make hiring and firing of teachers an arbitrary and punitive process. It has already begun without visible success.
And yesterday I heard an interview on KPFK with the CEO of Green Dot about their work at Locke High School, one of the worst schools in Los Angeles. What have they done? Spent millions, ejected the worst kids (something regular public schools CANNOT do), and still have not made obvious strides in "student achievement". The saddest part of this to me is that student achievement ONLY means test scores and nothing else. This is not the world of schooling that I want my granddaughter to face, yet she will be starting in September at a presumably high-scoring school in our neighborhood. I only hope that she does not get completely turned off of learning.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

Sometimes life and books come together in interesting ways. I had planned a visit to my friends Stephanie and Rob's boat on Lake Union in Seattle last week. At the same time I was reading this book for my book group (composed of authors and illustrators and librarians - such a wonderful group). Although I did not have the opportunity to visit Chinatown and the International area where the book takes place in Seattle, I felt that I was experiencing the air they breathed and the foggy days with sunshine and 80 degree weather at 5 o'clock in the afternoon. Summer stays light until 10 o'clock at night. What a beautiful city. But beautiful places can also be the sites of cruelty to human beings. I experienced that same feeling when I went to Selma, Alabama a year after the Civil Rights "Bloody Sunday" incident and the murder of Viola Liuzzo. [By the way, Unitarians were helping that struggle, and today they are also being arrested in Arizona protesting the violation of immigrants' rights. Once again Unitarians take the lead. I joined when I was 16 years old, along with Linus Pauling, the First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles.]
Written by Jamie Ford, Hotel is the story of a 12 year-old Chinese boy who falls in love with a Japanese classmate at the largely white private school they are both attending. It is 1942 and World War II plays a big role in how this story plays out. Henry wears a button on his lapel that says "I am Chinese" so as not to be mistaken for a Japanese person. As Japanese families are rounded up, Henry's differences with his father, a Chinese patriot and Nationalist, deepen to the point of silence, that lasts until his father has a stroke. I don't want to give the entire plot here. Suffice it to say that this is a beautifully written book for adults, and some high school students who will relate to conflicts with parents, loving another from a different ethnicity, problems with bullies, and in Henry's case, sacrificing to help the girl he loves. Henry's best friend, not incidentally, is a brilliant saxophonist who plays on the street until he gets a gig with one of Seattle's greatest jazz musicians. The book flows smoothly and is a good read. But some of the incidents don't ring true and in general it lacks a certain depth. I recommend this for high school and public libraries.

This Book Is Overdue!!

Marilyn Johnson has written a book in defense of librarians for the 21st century called This Book Is Overdue! How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All. CSLA has recommended that all of us read this book for the November conference. I was reading it and trying to pull quotes from it that might be useful. The problem is that every page contains numerous useful quotes than we can use to defend our jobs. Page 1 - "In tough times, a librarian is a terrible thing to waste." This speaks to the great leveling force that librarians play to bring information and materials to everyone, not just the rich. Marilyn Johnson wrote a book about obituaries that she had researched. She says she became interested in librarians because their obituaries stood out among all that she perused. She speaks of "visionaries like Frederick Kilgour, the first to combine libraries' catalogs in one computerized database back in the early seventies." And Judith Krug who "fought censorship for four decades while running the Office for Intellectual Freedom in the Chicago headquarters of the American Library Association (ALA)."
My favorite quote so far is "In a world where information itself is a free-for-all, with traditional news sources going bankrupt and pulishers in trouble, we need librarians more than ever." Librarians can help save democracy from its worse excesses, from the oligarchy of the corporations that it has become. Our value is inestimable. We must continue to fight to save our school and public libraries. In Los Angeles that means supporting our LAPL librarians - Writing letters to Superintendent Cortines and the Board Members of the Los Angeles Unified School District. Writing letters to the Los Angeles Times and the Daily News are also very helpful. Keep up the fight!! We must win this fight for all of us!!!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Will the arts and libraries be in my granddaughter's future?

There's a scourge on the land and it comes from the top unfortunately. President Obama is facilitating the destruction of public employee unions. I don't think he realizes it but that doesn't matter either. The fact is that our rights as employees are being taken away -- sometimes brutally.
I worked for Los Angeles Unified School District for 30 years. I saw that the lowest paid worker was always the first to lose a job when the economy was in a downturn. Right now the economy is seriously in trouble, particularly in Los Angeles, where unemployment is about 12%, but that's only data from people who are actively looking for jobs. The LAUSD is cutting 50% of the clerical workers, attempting to outsource janitorial duties, and cutting arts and library teachers like crazy. Meanwhile, our students who are largely Latino and African-American are being denied access to quality libraries and music and art in the elementary schools. 250 Library Aides (paraprofessionals) were cut this year alone. And statistically it seems to have fallen hardest in the areas where there are no bookstores, and public libraries are either inferior or inaccessible due to crime. Closing a school library means that there will be no one there to help students find books, teach information literacy, guide them to the right Internet sources, teach them to take notes and research documents and resources, and more. The list is enormous. Technology without a talented librarian is just bells and whistles. Using a cell phone, creating images on the internet, googling and "wikipedia-ing" for all your information is not education. Yes, it teaches some skills, but the depth of education will go down the tubes.
Scariest of all to me is that the Unions are not rising to fight the cuts to education as a group. There needs to be a united effort to keep workers' rights -- and teachers are still workers.
Yesterday LAUSD voted to do away with seniority for teachers. And in fact they do not respect seniority unless it's convenient to their purposes.
To add insult to injury, the City government under Mr. Villaraigosa, is cutting their libraries as well. They, too, seek to destroy the unions that have protected workers.
There is no denying that some workers, teachers, whoever, don't do a good job and deserve to be let go. But let it not be an arbitrary and subjective judgment of a disgruntled principal or supervisor who wants to put in his/her friend instead. This is more often what happens.
There has to be a better way to ensure that workers' rights are protected while students, urban dwellers, and citizens are properly served. We can't solve the problems by cutting off one group's rights to ensure rights of another. All will lose. The quality of life for all will go down. After all, as Cortines, LAUSD superintendent did say, our workers ARE the parents of our students. So are many of the teachers the parents of our students. And we all live in Los Angeles which clearly isn't meeting the needs of its citizens.

I am so afraid that my granddaughter, who starts kindergarten this september, will enter a school without a library and little access to the arts!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


I've been back from Costa Rica for two months. So far it has been non-stop trying to restore central funding for library aides (paraprofessionals) in LAUSD elementary schools, and Teacher Librarians in the middle schools. It has been an uphill battle. Our district does not value libraries, does not mention libraries in any literature about cuts to our schools. From the superintendent, board members, to the teachers' and aides' unions, there is no concern that our children will not have equal access to books and computer literacy in our vast, and multicultural district. Our students have few books at home if any, and little access to bookstores. In addition, our public libraries are cutting hours. This is a crime! We have written and advocated all over Los Angeles. We have collected over 1700 letters in support from the public. What will happen to our students who are already behind in their educational level? No access to books means no access to developing a love of reading and becoming life long learners.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Sloths are not lazy!

January 3, 2009 -- I didn't post at all in December. Hope everyone had a great New Year! I visited the Avarios Sloth Sanctuary near Cahuita, Costa Rica where sloths are rescued, especially babies who have lost their mothers. I fell in love with Buttercup, the 19-year resident of the Sanctuary which is also a hotel and restaurant. Buttercup stays in the hotel's restaurant hanging from a hanging basket. She moves so very slowly and apparently sloths sleep 18 hours a day. I will post a photo of her but it isn't very clear. We aren't allowed to use flash which is understandable. The babies are also bottle fed at a table in the restaurant. Sloths don't carry diseases and are very clean. Their website is which I can't get right now because my Internet connection is down. Electricity is very fragile here in Costa Rica. I don't even know if this will get posted or not. That's why I wrote about books and how important they are. They still are. We need to keep publishing them, and distributing them to countries where children don't have them.
Sloths are the most misunderstood mammal we have. They live mostly in trees, the three-toed kind are vegetarians but the two-toed sloths are omnivores. The three-toed (like Buttercup) are very gentle and could be a pet. The two-toed are feisty and unfriendly. I thought that was a comment on diet perhaps!! Don't know. I'll write more about them later. Our guide did say that they stay in the tree for a week and only come down once to eliminate. Have to check that one out for sure. The beauty to me was watching Buttercup move at such a sloooowwwww pace. Gorgeous!!