Sunday, September 25, 2011

This is not Onward!/ Esto no es ¡Adelante!

Onward! 4LAKids
4LAKids E X T R A: Sunday•25•Sept•2011
In This Issue:
READING IS ELEMENTAL: How to preserve the humanities
What can YOU do?

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Dear gentle reader:

Sorry about sending out this extra missive – but this is too important to wait for next week!

The LA Times, through columnists Hector Tobar and Steve Lopez, have told the story of LAUSD's assault on school libraries.

The truth, as they said on the X Files, is out there. See following.

The Times and the Tribune Company is heavily and nobly invested in children's literacy in the Reading by 9 initiative and he annual LA Times Book Fair.

But where is the Times Editorial Board when the children really could use them?

California is 51st in the nation in school librarians per student; with these new cuts LAUSD has to be lagging in the rest of the state.

"Best in west and first in the nation?" I think not.

This is not Onward! / Esto no es ¡Adelante!


By Steve Lopez, LA Times columnist |

Sunday, September 25, 2011 - Monday morning, when the school day begins across Greater Los Angeles, there will be some notable absences:

Two hundred twenty-seven Los Angeles Unified library aides worked their last day Friday, when their positions were eliminated. Roughly an equal number of office assistants, who performed various clerical duties critical to the daily management of schools, also got the ax Friday.

When the school bell rings tomorrow, everyone will pay a price. Principals will be further stressed, trying to make sure phones get answered and information gets disseminated. Teachers won't have the staff support they need. An additional 500 people will be looking for work in a horrible economy. And roughly 300 L.A. Unified libraries will have no one left to staff them.

We're no longer at the edge of the cliff. This is free-fall.

District officials told me some progress had been made Thursday in negotiations with the union representing the laid-off aides, but the next session won't be until Monday. Even if an agreement is reached then, there's no telling how many jobs might be reinstated, but it would take several weeks to process the return of fired employees.

It's possible, I suppose, that this could have been handled in a more last-minute, haphazard way. But I don't know how.

On Friday, the district was forwarding suggestions to principals about how to use teachers and the few remaining aides to keep libraries open, as though they didn't have enough on their plates already with larger classes and less support.

As ham-handed as the district's recent actions have seemed, you can't lay the bulk of the blame for this madness on L.A. Unified. Like other California school districts, it's been rocked by brutal budget cuts. The district has eliminated nearly half its administrative costs, laid off thousands, and is close to the point where it's hard to cut more without dire consequences.

Still, when you do the math on the library aides, it's hard to believe there wasn't a better option than letting 227 of them go. Those aides work three hours a day with no benefits. Their pay is about $10,000 to $12,000 a year, which adds up to roughly $2.5 million annually.

Libraries are sanctuaries. They're safe havens. They're filled with ideas.

Is it worth the diminishment of such a treasured institution for the sake of saving a measly $2.5 million in a budget of $5 billion-plus?

I had trouble getting answers to these questions from top district officials last week. Supt. John Deasy was too busy to talk, and most of the school board members ignored the query I emailed them.

Board member Tamar Galatzan was out of town, but a member of her staff called to discuss the cuts, and board member Steve Zimmer met me for lunch.

Zimmer was clearly frustrated. The goal has been to avoid more teacher layoffs, he noted, which is why custodians, library aides and office assistants have been tossed overboard. But he agreed things were getting out of hand, and he suggested considering something radical.

It's time "to at least have a conversation," he said, about when the district should dip into reserves that currently amount to $65.4 million. A district spokesman told me the state dictates that such reserves be spent when "economic uncertainty entails an unexpected, unavoidable emergency."

I think I'd call it an emergency when you've spent millions on library books that students may not have access to now in a district with a desperate need to improve literacy.

Beyond that, Zimmer suggested, there's a more important conversation Californians need to have. How can we continue to shred schools across the state and not ask why there isn't an excise tax on oil companies whose profits are in the billions? How can Sacramento refuse to talk about a property tax increase on businesses so they begin paying their fair share and catch up to homeowners?

Here's another one:

Gov. Jerry Brown wants to kick $1 billion to schools — including an estimated $100 million or more to L.A. Unified — by eliminating the redevelopment agency trough that keeps developers well-fed. And yet Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who fancies himself a champion of public education, is fighting Brown's move even as hundreds of thousands of students take a beating.

I'd like to end this with a note of thanks to the employees who lost their jobs Friday. I spend a fair amount of time at L.A. Unified schools, so I know how important their work is, and can only hope some of them end up back in their old positions. I know that the parents at Kester Avenue Elementary in Sherman Oaks would like that, too.

They wrote to me recently about the school's wonderful staff, including longtime office assistant Maria "Gabby" Munoz, who knew every child and parent, kept things running despite repeated cutbacks and even pitched in as a volunteer at fundraisers.

"She makes it OUR school, not just some neighborhood school," wrote one parent.

"She isn't just a classified employee, she is part of the Kester family," wrote another.

Munoz will not be at school Monday. Friday was her last day.

READING IS ELEMENTAL: How to preserve the humanities

by Helen Vendler - Opinion in Harvard Magazine /Harvard @375 |

September/October 2011 - In my dentist’s office, when I was a child, was a sign that ran:

Without teeth there can be no chewing.
Without chewing there can be no nourishment.
Without nourishment there can be no health.
Without health, what is life?

Its rhetoric of concatenation struck me even then as irrefutable. I’d propose a different concatenation for the humanities: without reading, there can be no learning; without learning, there can be no sense of a larger world; without the sense of a larger world, there can be no ardor to find it; without ardor, where is joy?

Without reading, there can be no learning. The humanities are essentially a reading practice. It is no accident that we say we “read” music, or that we “read” visual import. The arts (music, art, literature, theater), because they offer themselves to be “read,” generate many of the humanities—musicology, art history, literary commentary, dramatic interpretation. Through language, spoken or written, we investigate, describe, and interpret the world. The arts are, in their own realm, silent with respect to language; amply showing forth their being, they are nonetheless not self-descriptive or self-interpreting. There can be no future for the humanities—and I include philosophy and history—if there are no human beings acquainted with reading in its emotionally deepest and intellectually most extensive forms. And learning depends on reading as a practice of immersion in thought and feeling. We know that our elementary-school students cannot read with ease and enjoyment, and the same defect unsurprisingly manifests itself at every level, even in college. Without a base in alert, intense, pleasurable reading, intellectual yearning flags.

In a utopian world, I would propose, for the ultimate maintenance of the humanities and all other higher learning, an elementary-school curriculum that would make every ordinary child a proficient reader by the end of the fourth grade—not to pass a test, but rather to ensure progressive expansion of awareness. Other than mathematics, the curriculum of my ideal elementary school would be wholly occupied, all day, every day, with “reading” in its very fullest sense. Let us imagine the day divided into short 20-minute “periods.” Here are 14 daily such periods of “reading,” each divisible into two 10-minute periods, or extended to a half-hour, as seems most practical to teachers in different grades. Many such periods can be spent outside, to break up the tedium of long sitting for young children. The pupils would:

1. engage in choral singing of traditional melodic song (folk songs, country songs, rounds);
2. be read to from poems and stories beyond their own current ability to read;
3. mount short plays—learning roles, rehearsing, and eventually performing;
4. march or dance to counting rhymes, poems, or music, “reading” rhythms and sentences with their bodies;
5. read aloud, chorally, to the teacher;
6. read aloud singly to the teacher, and recite memorized poems either chorally or singly;
7. notice, and describe aloud, the reproduced images of powerful works of art, with the accompanying story told by the teacher (Orpheus, the three kings at Bethlehem, etc.);
8. read silently, and retell in their own words, for discussion, the story they have read;
9. expand their vocabulary to specialized registers through walks where they would learn the names of trees, plants, flowers, and fruits;
10. visit museums of art and natural history to learn to name exotic or extinct things, or visit an orchestra to discover the names and sounds of orchestral instruments;
11. learn conjoined prefixes, suffixes, and roots as they learn new words;
12. tell stories of their own devising;
13. compose words to be sung to tunes they already know; and
14. if they are studying a foreign language, carry out these practices for it as well.

The only homework, in addition to mathematics, would be additional reading practices over the weekends (to be checked by a brief Monday discussion by students). If such a curriculum were carried out—with additional classroom support and needed modification for English-language learners or pupils in special education—I believe that by the end of the fourth grade, the majority of the class would enjoy, and do well in, reading. Then, in middle school and high school, armed with the power of easy and pleasurable reading, students could be launched not only into appropriate world literature, but also into reading age-appropriate books of history or geography or civics or science—with much better results than at present. If reading—by extensive exposure and intensive interaction—cannot be made enjoyable and easy, there is no hope for students in their later education.

And since the best way to create good writing is by a child’s unconscious retention of complex sentence-patterns and vivid diction from reading, the act of writing—when it is introduced in the classroom—is not a matter of filling in blanks in workbooks, but rather a joyful form of expression for the child. After all, in the past, people always learned to write from reading books. Breaking writing down to “skills” subverts the very process of absorbing the written language unconsciously as one reads, an indispensable inner resource when one turns to writing.

But now, when the school day is fragmented into many different subjects that do not implement intensive skill in “reading” (as broadly defined above), the result is the current lamentable lack of competence and swiftness in the encounter with the written page. And since all subsequent intellectual progress is dependent on successful reading, without that base, all is lost.

The humanities are intrinsically verbal subjects, and depend on a student’s ability to take delight in complex reading. In my Utopia, the students, after having been read to 180 times in each school year for four years, will have absorbed basic narratives intrinsic to the comprehension of literature, from the Greek myths to the ordeal of the Ancient Mariner, to the “Midnight Ride of Paul Revere,” to the narratives of the Hebrew Bible and Christian literature (and will, from their concurrent exposure to art, have images in their minds attached to those narratives). The aesthetic dimension will appeal without being formally identified as such, especially if paintings (e.g., of Pandora and her box) accompany the myth or story being read to the children.

Later in my ideal schooling, a familiarity with authors would arise as three successive cycles of literary acquaintance would take place. In the fourth, fifth, and sixth grades, the students would read short excerpts in chronological order from major authors A, B, C…Z. In the seventh, eighth, and ninth grades the very same authors would appear, but in longer or more complex excerpts. And finally, in the tenth, eleventh, and twelfth grades the same authors would again recur, but now in larger wholes. With Shakespeare for instance, the first time through, the child perhaps sings two songs by Shakespeare; the second time, the child reads some sonnets or a soliloquy; the third time, the student ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­reads a play. By the third time through, the students have garnered an idea of “Shakespeare.” And the same could be said of the other authors encountered, from Homer to Dickinson.

As it is, far too much “learning” is purveyed in elementary and middle schools by worksheets and exercises. These are not natural ways into reading. The natural ways into reading are reading aloud, listening, singing, dancing, reciting, memorizing, performing, retelling what one has read, conversing with others about what has been read, and reading silently. As it is, our students now read effortfully and slowly, and with only imperfect comprehension of what they have seen. They limp into the texts of the humanities (as well as the texts of other realms of learning). I dream of children who have become true readers, who like to sing together, to act together, to read aloud together, and to be read to. After that mastery of reading, the encounter with science textbooks and lab manuals will not daunt them. In college, the history of science will seem a natural bridge to the humanities, and vice versa. Students who read well will look forward to discussing a problem in philosophy or writing a paper in art history. They will be the next humanists—but only if we make them so. And I see no way to do that aside from devoting the first four years of their education, all day, every day (except for a period of mathematics) to reading in all its forms

Much stands in the way of my Utopia: established curricula, textbook publishers, current teacher-training, teacher salaries, dependence on video and workbooks, and governmental requirements for several different subjects in each grade. But since what is in place has failed notoriously to make our younger students eager to read, proficient in reading, and drawn to the conceptual world of learning, it is time, it seems to me, to try to generate a reading practice that will lead to a future for the humanities and all other advanced reading. I have never taught elementary school and grant that I wouldn’t know how to do it. I only see the results downstream, and wish that reading at the earliest levels provided better preparation for the higher-level intensity of the humanities.

Porter University Professor Helen Vendler is the author most recently of Last Looks, Last Books: Stevens, Plath, Lowell, Bishop, Merrill and Dickinson: Selected Poems and Commentaries.

the sad historical record:

‎Los Angeles Times - Steve Lopez - Sep 21, 2011
Library aides, the de facto librarians in many schools, aren't the only ones whose jobs are on the line in the current round of LAUSD budget cuts, ...

‎Los Angeles Times - Steve Lopez - Sep 13, 2011
LA Unified lays off library aides and slashes their hours when it should be ... in LAUSD, unsure as to whether they'll have libraries or who will run them. ...

May 13, 2011|Hector Tobar. In a basement downtown, the librarians are being interrogated. On most days, they work in middle schools and high schools ...

May 13, 2011 – ... Friday by Los Angeles Times columnist Hector Tobar ...

Behind student success, an LAUSD librarian. Rosemarie Bernier, an LAUSD ...

What can YOU do?
• E-mail, call or write your school board member: • 213-241-6386 • 213-241-6180 • 213-241-5555 • 213-241-6382 • 213-241-6388 • 213-241-6385 • 213-241-6387
...or your city councilperson, mayor, the governor, member of congress, senator - or the president. Tell them what you really think! • Find your state legislator based on your home address. Just go to: • There are 26 mayors and five county supervisors representing jurisdictions within LAUSD, the mayor of LA can be reached at • 213.978.0600
• Call or e-mail Governor Brown: 213-897-0322 e-mail:
• Open the dialogue. Write a letter to the editor. Circulate these thoughts. Talk to the principal and teachers at your local school.
• Speak with your friends, neighbors and coworkers. Stay on top of education issues. Don't take my word for it!
• Get involved at your neighborhood school. Join your PTA. Serve on a School Site Council. Be there for a child.
• If you are eligible to become a citizen, BECOME ONE.
• If you a a citizen, REGISTER TO VOTE.
• If you are registered, VOTE LIKE THE FUTURE DEPENDS ON IT. THEY DO!.

Who are your elected federal & state representatives? How do you contact them?

Scott Folsom is a parent leader in LAUSD and is Parent/Volunteer of the Year for 2010-11 for Los Angeles County. • He is Past President of Los Angeles Tenth District PTSA and represented PTA on the LAUSD Construction Bond Citizen's Oversight Committee for ten years. He is a Health Commissioner, Legislation Team member and a member of the Board of Managers of the California State PTA. He serves on numerous school district advisory and policy committees and has served as a PTA officer and governance council member at three LAUSD schools. He is the recipient of the UTLA/AFT 2009 "WHO" Gold Award for his support of education and public schools - an honor he hopes to someday deserve. • In this forum his opinions are his own and your opinions and feedback are invited. Quoted and/or cited content copyright © the original author and/or publisher. All other material copyright © 4LAKids.
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