I posted the following on LA Times.com in response to Hector Tobar’s great article about Adult Ed:
Thank you for sharing such a personal and moving account. The onus is on all of us who want to see a human right to education flourish into the future to step up to defend all of Adult Ed in LA now! You put your finger right on the anti-immigrant bigotry that is, in part, fueling this attack. What other explanation could there be for slashing a program that serves 27% of students for 2% of the budget? The money is there! Wake up, people! The emperor is buck-naked! Billions upon billions for banks and CEOs, but basic human rights and social services get zilch?
Wow! What a surprise! A flurry of comments filled with racist vitriol from the same repugnant cracker-bigots you describe in your piece. (And yes, the Tea Party is as racist as the slave-owning, native-slaying founders they champion… and they do have a terrifying influence over official politics these days.) I’m sure they hound you at every turn, thinking “Why don’t you just go home, Hector!” as only the smallest of minds resort to such ahistorical nonsense. But see, that’s the problem with these people. Too much stayin’ at home. Home-schoolin’ shut-ins fearful of what might happen to them if they took their hateful ways out into the world. And now non-white birthrates surpass those of their “master race”… a real cause for concern for hate-mongers everywhere. But the world, and humanity, is far better than they are.
Yesterday the L.A. city council voted unanimously to support a resolution which calls for the overturning of proposed cuts to adult education, a program that serves 27% of L.A.’s students for 2% of the district’s budget. Many students and teachers put in a lot of work to make this happen, and I salute them. Nevertheless, it’s important to recognize that this will be nothing more than a symbolic gesture if we do not continue to build the kind of determined, creative and active mass movement that, in the final analysis, is the only force with the potential to win this struggle.
Here is a message I sent to a dear friend regarding yesterday’s successful vote:
While I believe decisions about the future of education as a for-profit factory of subservient wage slaves, versus a liberating human right, have already been made from on-high, I’m nevertheless optimistic about our prospects… and even if I weren’t it would nevertheless be my responsibility to FIGHT with those who are!
What does “on-high” mean? See Obama’s “Teacher Depreciation Week” speech analyzed at Nation of Change. Witness the maneuvers of Gub’na Brown to fund Juvenile Incarceration (despite a 90% drop in inmates over the past 6 years) while strangling public ed. And look into LAUSD superintendant Deasy’s track record as the 1%’s main man when it comes to transitioning ed to the “mo’ money” arena.
And how does the question of race fit in (if I may be so bold as to pose it in its “passé” era–thanks, Obama!)? Just as it always has… White supremacy wound-up like a double-helix with economic domination. And, particularly troubling to the “good ol’ boys” is the fact that non-white birthrates now outstrip those of their, shall we say, “master race”. Watch the shatteringly beautiful documentary film Precious Knowledge (free to download on PBS’s Independent Lens video site through June 7) to see what we’re up against. But also, take it in and know that we are FAR FROM ALONE. Our sisters and brothers in Canada won’t give up, despite their illegalization by the government, and NEITHER WILL WE.
Will it be easy or fast? No. Can we win? Yes… and we must! The consequences for humanity, as we teeter on the precipice of a new Dark Ages, are too tremendous. Let’s flip the script on ’em, and bring forth a new Renaissance in HUMAN RIGHTS. 😉
Our sisters and brothers in Canada are engaged in an intense battle for their Human Right to Education. This short and beautiful film of an ingenious action they held was shot recently. Let’s make this happen here in Los Angeles! Humanity is standing up… let’s all get up together and make some noise. 🙂
Students & Teachers united to successfully wrap a chain of letters around LAUSD’s Beaudry building, not once, not twice, but at least three complete times! Here’s a photo taken towards the beginning of today’s rally. More pics and videos to follow! Much respect to United Adult Students and Dan Kaufman for organizing this event with the “Adult Education is a Human Right” Coalition!
The following is my response to the LA Times OP-ED piece from 5/18/12:
A quick glimpse at the board of directors of Parent Revolution is quite revealing. They’re almost universally business people (that alone should make them education experts, right?), a lawyer that specializes in the defense of white-collar criminals (!!?) and some parent community activists (who perhaps do have the best intentions, but are nonetheless caught up with a real motley crew). Not a single actual classroom educator in the mix. Isn’t that telling? And who are their big funders? Eli Broad, Bill Gates, Rockefeller and others who are licking their chops at the notion of transitioning the free HUMAN RIGHT to public education for all to their dreams of education for profit. And they have the gall to decry CTA’s pool of money, which actually comes from the grassroots. I may have my differences with the union, but I will unflaggingly uphold its right to exist and to fight on behalf of students and teachers for a HUMAN RIGHT to FREE public education. Shame on the Times for publishing this thinly-veiled attempt at union busting. Next Tuesday, May 22 at 1pm we’re calling for everyone to help encircle the LAUSD headquarters with a “chain of letters” while the school board meets to decide the fates of Adult Ed, Early Childhood Ed and other essential programs, which they’re threatening to “zero out”. Visit saveadulted.org for more info, and get involved now, before it’s too late!
Here’s my comment on an article from the Contra Costa Times, dated 5/16/12:
LAUSD has more than enough money to fund Adult Ed… many times over. Simply re-routing a portion of their expenditures on “Other operating expenses” (a whopping $793 million) would cover it. Not to mention the fact that they’re sitting on the largest school construction bond fund in the history of humankind, at $19+ billion (I guess improving what you’ve already got isn’t as profitable as acquiring more land and building a new school every month). So it’s not a question of “Can they?” but a matter of “Do they want to?” Clearly they have shown that they don’t. And while it is in part due to the fact that our students are not children–therefore not deserving of a HUMAN RIGHT to education, in their minds–it also must be said that xenophobia and anti-immigrant bigotry are prominently in the mix, whether spoken or not. After all, immigrants comprise the largest portion of this 27% of LAUSD’s total student population. Under Obama, deportations have skyrocketed to new highs, and Guantanamo-style concentration camps have already been erected in Arizona. Nationwide, fascistic new anti-immigrant laws are on the rise, not unlike the one that was defeated several years back when millions marched to assert that immigrants are HUMAN BEINGS too. If we unite to fight to beat back these attacks, and raise our sights and struggle for this Human Right, we CAN WIN! Stay tuned to saveadulted.org, and get involved today.
People who’ve known me for any significant stretch of time know that I am, culturally speaking, a “hip hop head”. As such, I often find that rap lyrics jump to mind when I’m pondering phenomena. Such has been the case for the past several weeks, as I’ve been thinking constantly about the fight to save adult education in Los Angeles. And the lyrics, paraphrased as the title of this piece, are from Reggie Noble, aka Redman, in his hip hop classic “Tonight’s da Night”.
So, how do these catchy words laced with urban swagger tie in to the struggle for Adult Ed? Well, to me there’s a point of orientation that ought to infuse the efforts of we who are fighting for these programs which dovetails quite nicely with this quote. Some background to the present situation will help illuminate what I see as the vital importance of such an orientation.
HOW HAVE THINGS COME TO THIS?
Turning back the clock several years, Adult Ed’s fiscal allotment comprised roughly double its present sum of $120 million, now a meager 2% of LAUSD’s total budget. And beyond being more bountiful, the funding in those days shone brighter with the assurance of Tier I categorical protection. That is to say that the monies set aside for Adult Ed programs were essentially off-limits; they could not be applied to expenses other than those for which they were destined: Adult Ed.
When the economic crisis hit, big changes befell our programs. With hindsight, it seems one of the most devastating shifts was the reclassification of Adult Ed funds from Tier I to Tier III status. This change meant that funds designated for Adult Ed programs would be granted the minimum level of protection—which is to say, none. Essentially, funds would be “penciled in” for Adult Ed, but would really be up for grabs should other programs be found needing. This put our programs on a slow death march which LAUSD is presently seeking to culminate.
In the intervening years, funding was pared back and caps were imposed on the maximum weekly working hours allowed for limited status (non-tenured) teachers. At the time, I was working at an adult school in southeast Los Angeles and my working hours, along with those of many of my colleagues, were abruptly cut. And beyond the hit we took economically, these reduced teaching hours meant that students also saw their class hours cut back.
In the atmosphere of gloom and doom fomented around the economic crisis by the mass media, many of us—myself included—felt powerless when these austerity measures were being imposed. Many of us also saw the real impact on our student population.
Students working in construction, restaurants and many other low-wage, high-stress jobs either found themselves out of work altogether, or found they needed to add extra hours to their already exhausting loads in these tough times. Many students who previously hadn’t worked, such as stay-at-home mothers, were now missing classes because they too had to find jobs. Ironically, the grip of the crisis pulled students away from the very programs they needed to find better employment opportunities in the first place.
In the vertigo of this downward spiral, many of us logically started seeking alternatives. Along with our students, we teachers began to investigate our “Plan B” to implement should the Adult Ed ship go down. Meeting after meeting was held where no news was the only good news, and more often than not we adjourned feeling less certain and more concerned for our future. Given that only a fraction of Adult Ed teachers are tenured, most of us already teetered on the verge of unemployment, even in good times. Our prospects were looking anything but optimistic.
WHERE DO WE STAND TODAY?
Now, a new wave of hope is rising. Recent months and weeks have seen our righteous cause thrust more prominently into the media and mass-consciousness spotlight. (See saveadulted.org for numerous inspiring examples.) Many among us have consistently fought, and their efforts—along with those of us newly coming forward—are bearing exciting new fruit.
The real impact and necessity of our programs are felt directly by hundreds of thousands of people actively enrolled in adult classes, and felt indirectly by the millions more they touch in their workplaces, communities and social groupings. The more people learn about the true scope of Adult Ed programs (I’m amazed myself to learn more everyday), the more patently outrageous and intolerable efforts to shut them down become. And I feel that we’ve only just begun to tap into this sentiment and unleash its creative potential. And let there be no mistake: the students and their supporters are the single greatest force we have to save these programs now and enable them to thrive into the future. And as they’ll tell you without hesitation, “¡Sí, se puede!”: “Yes, we can!”
MOVING FORWARD… WHAT WE’RE AFTER
Recently, the United Adult Students (UAS) organization (lastudents.org) unanimously endorsed a statement declaring that “Adult Education is a Human Right”. This kind of straightforward yet lofty declaration has struck a chord broadly among teachers, students, and the public, and it has been well received in the media. This message is powerful because it’s profoundly true, and its further popularization can only serve to strengthen our movement.
Another crucial element of the UAS statement is the demand that Adult Ed be “FULLY FUNDED—including all community locations, whether leased or not.” We must stand up for every school and every class, from the bustling central campuses to the community-based classes in rescue missions, churches and day-laborer centers. The shutting down or curtailing of the least—numerically speaking—among us is an intolerable attack against us all.
As our movement grows and continues to gain strength we need to constantly refine our message and broaden our aims. Much of the media coverage surrounding attacks on these programs has stressed that they’re a real bargain. And it’s resoundingly true. For 2% of the budget, approximately 300,000 students—about 27% of LAUSD’s total student population—receive world-class instruction in ESL, computers, parenting, citizenship, academics for high school diplomas, GED prep, career technical skills and physical education and other classes for older adults.
However, the other side of this steal-of-a-deal—the hidden cost—is that Adult Ed teachers have never been given the kind of compensation and protection they so richly deserve. Just to cite a few examples, Adult Ed teachers are contracted only as hourly workers (in contrast to salaried K-12 instructors). We are only granted employment on a semester-to-semester basis, which means that the majority of us who aren’t tenured can never quite rest assured that we’ll be employed for the coming term.
Furthermore, opportunities for salary advancement and tenure status are few and far between, and those that exist are nevertheless made exceedingly difficult to access. If you’re truly passionate about your craft, as so many of us are, chances are you’ll continue your own education to achieve advanced degrees in the subjects you teach. In my experience, the best teachers are first and foremost great students. However, such accomplishments essentially go unrecognized by the district once you’ve hit the low ceiling imposed on advancement.
Finally, there is a solid basis and a great need for our programs to be vastly expanded. Where efforts have been made to reach out into the community with Adult Ed programs, all kinds of wonderful classes have been launched at churches, K-12 school sites, workplaces, libraries, rescue missions, and more. The only limit is that imposed by our imagination and creativity, because the need is there.
TONIGHT’S DA NIGHT
Let’s return to the Redman quote that we started with, and why it’s stayed on my mind of late. Of course, the gold and platinum to which he referred were the accolades and record sales he unapologetically aimed for. In a related sense, we should be unapologetic about our demand that 100% of Adult Ed as it’s currently constituted be maintained—our “gold”. But, just like Reggie Noble, we cannot rest content with just that. We also have to raise our aims, our struggle and our demands to reach for the “platinum”. That is to say that Adult Ed programs and teachers must be granted FAR GREATER respect, protections and funding than they have been up to this point. In line with all that I’ve laid out, I think this is only fair. It’s what is needed, and it’s what is possible if we fight to make it so.
In closing, I want to urge everybody reading this to get involved NOW. If you care about this issue and you want to see a world in which the human rights of all are respected, please, do not hesitate. On May 8th, the LAUSD school board will be presented with a draft budget which they will mull over for a week, and which will be made public on May 15th. This is the point at which the future of Adult Ed, as LAUSD plans it, will be announced to the world. Everything we do between now and then will make a world of difference in the outcome. Let’s not wait ‘til tomorrow… Tonight’s da night!
Thank you for helping the extraordinary voices of Adult Ed be heard. Anyone with a basic sense of humanity should recognize the lofty mission of these life-or-death programs. A teacher of GED prep classes in Huntington Park told me one of his students had to resort to selling his blood plasma to pay for his testing… and that the prices are now set to increase significantly. These are our friends and neighbors, people who have hard-earned life lessons to teach us which will exponentially enrich our lives. Next time you eat out, get your car washed or gaze upon a beautifully manicured landscape, think about the people who make all that happen for starvation wages, and ask yourself what THEIR dreams might be? And how might they hope to attain them? Adult Ed is every bit of the HUMAN RIGHT that your 3rd grader’s education is. So, we have to dispense with some false dichotomies and apparent “conflicts”. It’s not an either-or proposition. Truth is, we all need to be FIGHTING HELLACIOUSLY to save ALL of public education in this country. And the funds ARE there. Go ask the bankers who gambled the economy away in the first place. See, there’s no need for us to be fighting over crumbs when there’s more than enough to go around. And there will be if we take this up in earnest NOW. If not, it’ll be more than just the lessons of Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King and Sal Castro that are lost. Get involved NOW at saveadulted.org!