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!!!