The More I Learn
By David Riemer
In the last couple of months this column has focused on problems with our local high school, Verdugo Hills. Among these problems are financial mismanagement and declining performance on standardized tests. Many other problems are damaging the school too.
Whether people realize it or not, VHHS is teetering on the brink of becoming unsustainable. It is losing students at an alarming rate, and the staff is demoralized and stressed.
Ever since I began teaching nearly 30 years ago, and long before that, the alarmist brigades have squealed in horror that our schools have been failing, and, as a result, that society is doomed. I am anything but a Chicken Little in the current public education debate. I am one who believes the sky is not falling. But the ground is shaky and has been undermined by Chicken Littles.
This society-is-doomed aspect of the argument is difficult. It leads to a chicken-or-egg problem (there are certainly many chickens around here). Is it the case that society is in trouble because schools are not doing their jobs, or is it the case that schools are in trouble because society is in trouble? This is the essence of the problem.
From what I can see, if schools were as bad as the alarmists make them out to be, we would all be sitting under the railroad bridge eating beans out of a can and drinking cheap wine out of bottles in paper bags. By now, if kids were as pitifully prepared by the public schools to become productive citizens as the critics would have us believe, our society would have fallen apart completely.
This is clearly not the case. I hear countless success stories from my former students. Just last night I “skyped” with a former student who has begun his second year of teaching English at the American University in Armenia.
I am in no way pleased with the alarming course that the Los Angeles Unified School District has taken under the leadership of John Deasey. And, likewise, I am not pleased with what has happened to the school I worked at my entire professional career. But you will not hear me claiming that the public schools are an abject failure.
I know what the problems are. The problems have to do with large social and political issues much more than they have to do with educational practices. In all likelihood, these problems will persist and change gradually and incrementally. But we can sidestep these problems through community-based control of our local schools. The way to do this is through charter schools. The next couple of months we will look at the charter movement and what we can do here to use this tool to the advantage of this community.