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Education Reporter

Kill the Teacher?

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By Nachum Shifren

I have been a language teacher with the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) since 1991. In 2005, after an exhaustive grievance process, I signed a final agreement never to teach in the District again. For its part, the District removed my negative teacher performance evaluation.

In the fall of 2003, I was a Spanish teacher at Dorsey High School. My classroom was burned to the ground; I had a death threat, physical assaults, and constant accusations of racism.

I endured countless demeaning "parent conferences" where lack of student comportment and academic achievement was inevitably spun into my "lack of classroom management and insensitivity to the needs of a diverse student population."

Students who did little or no homework, refused to turn in term papers and did not pass a single exam, were able to manipulate conferences with allegations of racism or personal animosity. When students were sent from my classroom to the Dean's office for outrageous behavior, such as stabbing another student with a pencil, obnoxious epithets or racial slurs, and open defiance, they would never arrive. Instead, they were picked up by security (after being found walking around the campus) while our ever-resourceful administration documented against me a "clear lack of student-teacher rapport and managerial skills."

The picture I've painted becomes clearer when one considers that the student who threatened to kill me was allowed to run for student body office! If I had any doubts about my stature on our campus, they were quickly dispelled.

True racism is in the presumption that inner-city kids cannot be expected to complete homework (nor come in for tutoring which was provided in my class on a daily basis), sit down in assigned seats (without wandering around the room disrupting others trying to learn), and display proper conduct.

I dressed in a suit and tie, establishing standards based on professionalism. My appearance had the effect of accentuating differences in attitude and mindset. I represented an authoritarian figure, an "outsider" infiltrating the community with an alien belief system, using coercion to have students comply with class rules. Add to this my orthodox "Jewish" beard and head covering, and I became a lightning rod for resentment.

At some point, community "activists" started dredging up archaic Jewish/Black antagonisms and issues of divisiveness. "Why you always wanna keep the black man down, Shifren?" was an oft-repeated refrain usually heard after a low score on a test or report card. "I'm not trying to keep anyone down. If you'd do your homework, your grade would be higher."

Classroom Burned 
When my classroom was burned, the damage was in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, with adjacent buildings also heavily damaged. Our "C" building was roped off as a hazardous area, with the pungent smell of burned asbestos lingering as a constant reminder of the episode.

The reaction on the part of the administration was business as usual . . . with no attempt to use the event to catalyze student respect for property. Everyone knew that this "burn-baby-burn" mindset was condoned by the principal, Dr. Mahmud, as evidenced by her silence.

This indifference put me on the defensive with students and parents. Permeating everyone's mind was the feeling that a teacher whose students so hate him that they feel "compelled" to burn his classroom down, cannot be taken seriously and is a liability to both staff and students.

When Dr. Mahmud reminded me that I was a probationary teacher and needed a positive evaluation from her for tenure in the District, I knew I was a goner. But why was there no fuss about the hundreds of thousands of dollars' damage caused to taxpayers? Where was the regret that the situation at Dorsey was so out of control that "burning out" a teacher was somehow justified?

Activists in Authority 
Community "Activists" were given a position of authority at Dorsey, charged with heading the "Parent Center." Their role was ostensibly to serve as liaisons between the parents and the school. Actually it entailed monitoring teachers with whom students were having difficulties.

The Center instigated a flood of letters to the Superintendent of Schools, prevailing upon him to remove me from my teaching position. I was having a "detrimental effect upon students and community."

Teaching Hebrew? 
What was so remarkable about one particular letter from the "Parent Center" was the accusation that children were complaining about "not learning anything" (read: poor grades) due to my teaching Hebrew! Even if this were true, would not such a charge be checked out first by the administration? If confirmed, a warning would be given, putting the teacher on notice.

At my dismissal hearing, this letter was thrown in my face for the first time, presented as one of the reasons for my removal from the district.

Only two individuals came to my assistance during this nightmare: Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson, community activist and director of BOND International, and Congressman Dana Rohrabacher of Huntington Beach. Congressman Rohrabacher stepped up to the plate on my behalf. He faxed, emailed, and left countless messages through his Washington office for Superintendent of Schools Roy Romer, attempting to arrange a meeting to deal with the lawlessness at Dorsey. For weeks, Romer was either in the Caribbean on vacation or simply unavailable. Rev. Peterson was present at one of my grievance hearings and was moved to make the comment that I would never get a fair hearing from my administrator.

Riots Over Exit Exams 
Dorsey was beset with riots over the issue of Exit Exams, the standardized state levels of minimum performance required in order to graduate from high school. For several hours, hundreds of students were marauding through the campus, causing a school-wide lockdown. The LAPD [Los Angeles Police Department] was out in force, helicopters flew overhead. No one was allowed out of their classrooms for hours, not even to go to the bathroom. There was real fear for teachers' lives, such was the hysteria. Why? The students know they're dumbed down and failing. They know, as do their parents, that if they were forced to prove their competence in academic skills, they would fall short of the measure.

In my two years at Dorsey, not once was staff development focused on these vital concerns. One activist bemoaned students being taken to task for poor language skills, calling English the "language of the oppressor."

The Illegal Alien Factor 
No overstatement can describe the anarchy in our schools from masses of foreign students, principally from Mexico. A myriad of programs designed to bring them up to grade level are tying our hands. Bilingual education is as much a failure as it is a fraud. In nearly all cases, the families are here for economic reasons that have nothing to do with assimilation into American society.

Chicano activists abound, and encourage the flood across the border. Groups like Aztlan and MEChA preach to these illegals that it is We, the white establishment that owes them a free education, housing, and a host of other gratuities. Actually, they are told, the "reconquista" (reconquering of Southwest United States) is in full swing, so efforts to learn the host language and culture are unnecessary. Furthermore, since our country has an institutional racism (their claim) toward Latinos, they can only use confrontational politics to wrest control from the controlling population.

There is no shortage of Leftist groups and sympathizers to help them reach their goal. The Balkanization of our schools is already a fact.

Since "cultural diversity" is the new mantra of the Left, the logical consequence is that our American institutions based on God, patriotism, and individual rights and freedoms guaranteed by our constitution, have come into question. The illegal alien agenda is one of the weapons used to break the system. The more Third World, non-English speaking people flooding our schools, the better (they believe).

The proof that this agenda is working can be seen in LAUSD's policy of not questioning the legal status of any foreigners. There are gangs in our schools terrorizing entire communities whose members are here illegally.

Growing up in America, most of us remember reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. This small act did more than anything to unify diverse cultures and ethnic groups. We instinctively knew we were bound together through a higher purpose, with a spiritual and patriotic calling.

My classroom at Dorsey had no flag, despite my requests for one. No pledge of allegiance was recited; nothing spiritual or patriotic was presented to give the faintest hint of something more profound than "it's all about me."

I received a letter in my mailbox one day from a student who had been absent for nearly a month. "Dear Mr. Shifren, I apologize for not letting you know that I would miss taking your final exam. I was on my way to school when I got shot. I should do OK. Thanks for letting me take the test when I get back."

Shot on the way to school? The guy pulling the trigger just "thought" my student was a rival gang member. This is the miserable harvest we've reaped as a result of our corrupt school system.

There is a deep sadness within me, a feeling of disconnectedness from the many students I was fortunate enough to befriend. As I told the District Superintendent during the last stage of my grievance process, I forgive the death threats, the physical assaults, the demeaning racial slurs. If students didn't have the support of "activists" and malevolent do-gooders intent on redressing perceived wrongs, the despicable behavior and attitudes would never prevail.

I hope everyone reading my story will take a lesson in responsible parenting and guardianship of our local schools. We need not be experts to grasp that our national strength has come from a belief in God, in the eternal bond with a Creator that has given us the ability to choose Good and Righteousness, or the opposite.

The preceding is excerpted from Rabbi Shifren's book, Kill Your Teacher: Corruption and Racism in Los Angeles City Schools, Heaven Ink Publishing, P.O. Box 214, Santa Monica, CA. www.killyourteacher.com

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