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!