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Haven't We Lost Enough?

Posted by Chuck Olynyk on August 17, 2015 at 8:40 AM

Today is Sunday August 16, 2015, and Day 213 of Year Six. It’s Day 71 of vacation. That’s the last day. Colleagues have been sharing jokes about curling up on a couch with comfort food, crying into our beer.

They’re not that far from the truth.

Normally, I’d be writing something like this at the end of the school year, but last year was such an awful year, I needed a bit of distance to regain some perspective. The perspective came from the garage.

Last summer, it was about dealing with my sister’s cancer treatments and chopping down dead trees and planting new ones in the backyard—just in time for the water measures due to the drought. This year, it more cancer stuff, but my other foci have gone into writing lesson plans for two courses I haven’t taught in over a decade and into the garage: I need to be able to work on projects, but finally reached that stage where I was able to move my dad’s tools. Most had remained where he left them the day he died—I just worked around them. Or used them and put them back.

At last, though, I was able to move them. A new work area got built, relieving the clutter; items were declared junk and were tossed. My dad’s tools merged with mine and were reorganized. Tools are being repaired/refurbished/repainted. Half-completed projects were found.

And while I putter on armoring projects (trying to get new stuff built for the new school year), leather-working projects and tool repair, I’m thinking about what I didn’t get to do the last two years, what with changing direction, benchmark assessments, periodic assessments, WASC assessing us.

Word of warning, if you’re only interested in The Big Issues about School Reform, stop reading. This is about One School and the magic bullets it has endured in the last seven years and how it is broken. If you can get over the One School part and see something in here to apply to a bigger picture, then, by all means, do so.

But this won’t be for everybody. Unlike school reform, one size does not fit all—or even most.

From the WASC report for Roosevelt High School: “One of the major initiatives was to create three career pathways in Law and Public Service, Medical and Health Science, and Science, Technology, Engineering, and Arts and Math (STEAM)…” Actually STEaM. “These programs are introduced to students in 9th grade and made available at 10th grade. These include CTE courses and can lead to industry certification when the student completes three courses…”

Pathways? Vocational Pathways? I’ll come back to that, because it’s a disturbing subject which requires a different post about what had been lost.

Over the past two years, I saw something important go missing. For almost my entire career in high schools in LAUSD, I’d been part of the Humanitas Program, under the umbrella of LAEP. It was a part of me for 19 years but what I wrote two years ago explains it best.

“Around May 29, 2013, Jesse Turner took my grief at losing the opportunity to work with arts teachers and reworked my words in his blog ‘Children Are More Than Test Scores.’ http://childrenaremorethantestscores.blogspot.com/2013/05/we-should-be-saluting-great-teachers.html

I quote the Walking Man’s title for his blog a lot.

‘Good Morning, World! Our last hurrah as the Humanitas Arts School at Roosevelt Senior High begins. Next year will begin the apartheid of public education: AP classes on one side, double-blocking of English and Math and elimination of any real enrichment of the curriculum, but plenty of multiple choice questions answered on computers about articles kids read once and forget. Between Roosevelt and Fremont Highs, I've taught for 19 years in the Humanitas Program, linking History, English and Art, and for a really awesome year at Edison Middle School with Andrea Mordoh and Dwayne Turner doing likewise. Guess I'll just have to have a final project which involves creativity instead of recall, innovation instead of repetition. Because, as my friend Jesse Turner has observed, children are more than test scores…’”

My former principal from the Humanitas Arts School or HARTS decried the loss of the program. “Our kids will fail in those programs. They’re artsy kids. These kids can be so annoying in a classroom. That’s why we need to exist, so these kids can fit in.” That’s quoted from memory. He said it often enough, or something like that, and I agree with him.

“No, no. CNMT and L&G have merged, and they are a Humanitas school—err, Pathway… And STEaM has art. EVERYBODY gets art.”

“It’s a little ‘a.’ And History, English and Art are all linked in Humanitas—”

“The three Pathways get Linked Learning grants.”

I just got the enemy wrong. It wasn’t double-blocking. It was Pathways. And the money.

And the loss of arts.

After some two decades of teaching with arts specifically linked to my curriculum, enriching it where I can, I have to look back at what I was not able to teach in my classes:

I normally can dress-up in period garb or armor some eighty to one hundred days out of the year, have music playing for each era we are studying, art visible to the students.

This year, there was no Alexander the Great.

The Roman Empire fell a lot faster than normal. So several of those dress-ups went by the wayside. So did Christianity’s rise.

Henry II and his family, and Henry’s changes in English law, didn’t make the cut. We pretty much went straight from the early Middle Ages and the Rise of Islam to the Magna Carta. We also had to skip the Crusades and how they triggered the Renaissance. A few dress-ups got lost there, as well. In fact I haven’t worn my 42-pound mail hauberk, with the mail chausses (mail legs for those who don’t know) in two years.

My Renaissance unit was a disaster. Both last year and this year. At least I got to teach about art and literature—I just wasn’t linked up with any art teachers, and the three English teachers had to deal with their own Period Assessments, Benchmark Assessments. I also had to throw half the unit into the trash because we were directed to issue and evaluate a Benchmark Assessment. That meant that the Northern Renaissance went away so kiss goodbye any Chaucer or Shakespeare, as did the Hundred Years War and the War of the Roses. That meant that for two years I didn’t have my students dress me in Renaissance armor, as they did when the Los Angeles Times came to do a story http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-roosevelt-teacher-20111226,0,6707776.story

Nor did I wear the Elizabethan garb.

Many kids get over their fear of Shakespeare in my class, we missed out on watching “Henry V” together, connecting literature, film and history. Sometimes that’s the only dose of Shakespeare they get.

But we did get to do a Benchmark Assessment, which my kids rebelled against doing http://rememberfremont.webs.com/apps/blog/show/42865632-the-fire-inside

It went badly.

The Enlightenment unit went worse, if possible, this year. We were informed by administration that ALL 10th Grade students had to do projects. The reason was because three Pathways had received grants for Linked Learning and completed products were required by somebody to justify the grants. Don’t ask me what the money was spent on. My students weren’t involved in any Linked Learning grant. I’d just been doing Linked Learning for two decades without any grants. We just took it for… granted… that this was how we taught.

Yeah, I did that…

No connecting with arts or literature. We waved at Louis XIV, the American Revolution and the French Revolution… because we had to get a project done for a required Exhibition Night. No arts. So much for Enlightenment, eh?

Maybe that shambles of a first semester had greater impact upon me because of what I spent the summer doing: making repairs and modifications and upgrades on armor I’d neglected for a few years. After all, if I wasn’t wearing it, why repair it?

Because someday I might remind myself what other classes got to see for decades and still talked about on social media with me and what my current students had been missing out on.

The second semester wasn’t so much a loss of dress-ups (you have to understand dress-ups are simply the tip of the iceberg of the lesson—they catch the attention of the students), it was about lessons lost: again, the arts suffered a hit. Romanticism, realism, impressionism… Who were those artists, writers, composers? What did it matter? Literature wasn’t being taught with novels, but excerpts from textbooks. Besides, reading fiction is something which would happen in the workplace only if you were an English major and we have to get these children ready for the workplace…

That’s not strictly true, the part about not reading literature. Two English teachers I intersected with taught “Animal Farm,” and one actually came to me to get an explanation on the history part. But those two English teachers shared students with me in ONE period, plus fragments of another. That left the vast majority of my students missing that linking of arts, literature and history. It was as if the Earth’s orbit intersected the trail of a comet and we got to witness the Perseid meteor shower, a spectacular celestial light show lasting but a few nights.

How many other kids are missing out on those programs where the arts matter? How many others miss reading a novel in English and understanding the why of it in a history class? How many others miss out on the Bard of Avon?

So where do I go from here?

I’ll have to fight for the arts and for literature to be represented. I haven’t even met the teachers in my new Pathway, STEaM (Science Technology Engineering arts Math). Maybe they’ll be amenable to making the arts into ARTS. Or maybe I’ll just have to do it on my own.

I can do that. I’ve done that before, decided what the kids need. Haven’t we lost enough?

 

 

 

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1 Comment

Reply Gary Jones
1:59 PM on August 17, 2015 
When I got to Fremont in the mid-1980s it has a large shop trade and technical curriculum, including auto repair, woodshop, metal shop, etc. This curriculum had produced a generation of repairmen and craftsmen. It was all dismantled so every Fremont student could be enrolled in UC-preparatory curriculum. Every student no matter what his/her interests and skills had to take a year of college-preparatory chemistry and a year of college-preparatory physics. Science lab rooms built for 25 students now had more 40 bored, restless students lacking necessary prerequisite math and verbal skills. This farce was declared a success by the LA Times.