How Should LAUSD Be Structured?

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While there is no shortage of discussions dealing with fixing public education in the United States and more specifically LAUSD here in Los Angeles, it seems that a certain fundamental question remains aloof from this conversation:

It is the purported purpose and uncontradicted position among all parties in the debate on fixing the long-failed public education system that education is more than ever necessary. The foundational purpose of public education is to teach at the very least a sufficient amount of basic language, math, social studies, and science skills so that students can ultimately assume their future role as responsible adults and productive members of society. As productive working members of society with the necessary knowledge acquired from education they must also serve as arbiters of power as anticipated by our constitution. What seems a gross disconnect from these goals is the very structure of public education in its present form as a top/down oligarchy (dictatorship of the few) that doesn't seem to believe enough in the democratic principles that it defines as educational goals to employ them in the formation of our youth.

The mandate given to anyone having political power in a democracy is that this mandate is normally contingent on some degree of successful performance and does not allow the passing on of hereditary dictatorial powers. Even in some dictatorial governmental structures like those employed by some native American tribal cultures, these dictatorial powers given to a chief could be withdrawn at any time by a council of elders if they felt that the chief's performance left something to be desired. For some unexplained reason, at LAUSD the oligarchy stays in power no matter what. What is called leadership is really a titular superintendent who is effectively isolated and limited in his function by what the entrenched bureaucracy allows him to propose or do by controlling what the superintendent is made privy to. Ironically, there is no singular sinister malafacteur at work here. Rather, LAUSD's "intelligence" functions like a communal beehive, the brain-pod of a bird, or the Borg for all you Star Trek science fiction afficionados- a series of hardwired responses to perceived danger that have no intellectual component other than immediate self-defense.  

The things that we give the highest reward for in our society outside of this cloistered LAUSD totalitarian reality will only get you in big trouble if you dare to express them in LAUSD as presently constituted. There is a certain irony to the fact that an institution with the lofty rhetorical goals it continues to espouse of education at the highest level has been allowed to degrade into the most anti-intellectual environment that I have ever experienced  Several years ago, my wife and I were having dinner with a couple who were both professors in the history department at UCLA, when it occurred to me that these highly intelligent and insightful people spoke no language that was comprehensible to the mediocre oligarchs that have now intellectually run LAUSD into the ground for generations. If these professors or anybody else with a modicum of intellect dared to enter LAUSD, they would be drummed out within 5 years as are 50% of the teaching staff.

If leadership reflects rank-and-file, why are these failed leaders with no vision allowed to continue decimating the majority of our youth instead of fulfilling a more reasonable mandate of giving them the best public education possible? The answer is in the still vibrant Social Darwinism ideas with roots of the 19th century public education system that we still have in force, which uses the superficial and disingenuous rhetoric of excellence while all the time maintaining a throwback system whose real mandate is to replicate the status quo and those who have always had the power. What is lost on the architects of this failed system is the reason that we espoused a democratic system of government and education in the first place. It was not for some lofty ideal, but rather for the clearly rational conclusion that any system that draws on the strengthens of a greater pool of intelligence has a better chance of remaining a viable culture in the face of societal decline that has brought down all previous societies.

I don't know if I have the possibility of another stint at the university in me, but if I did, I would like to write a doctoral thesis on the idea that has been going through my mind over the last couple of years that all societies plant the seeds of their own demise when they fail to recognize that the well-being of the haves in any society is contingent on the well-being of those with less. When the disparity of wealth in terms of possessions and knowledge become too great, the citizens clearly have lost the historical awareness that should have been transmitted through education as to what the costs to both the haves and the have nots will be. Unlike Karl Marx, I look to the haves in Los Angeles and elsewhere to redress dysfunctional education that they have misguidedly abandon, because its continued failure will take them down as much as those who remain the direct victims of this system.

Last night I attended the annual awards ceremony at the Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies (LACES), one of the few shining lights of what remains possible in terms of academic excellence in LAUSD. It is an island of culture that over the years has attracted concerned parents of all ethnicities who seek an alternative. While nothing is perfect, LACES showed a vision of what is possible for all LAUSD schools if the haves with the power to bring about the change necessary finally wake up. The Patrick Moten Memorial Music Scholarship was awarded in the memory of this accomplished deceased Black musician to a White student. Other students without concern for their own ethnicity were honored on an equal plane for academic excellence that saw a multi-ethnic recognition of the living spirit of the samurai for excellence in Japanese studies. Whenever I lose heart and wonder if we will ever turn around LAUSD, I am strengthened by experiences that show at least some young people in 2010 not carrying the unnecessary racial baggage that I was raised with or the debilitating notion that many of my educator colleagues continue to believe that we will never change it.

11

06 2010

1 Comment

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