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Shut Up and Strike

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Dear United Teacher of Los Angeles Colleagues:

I will not be joining you this afternoon after work at some Mid-Cities elementary school march/rally to protest whatever it is we are protesting this week. Lay-offs, the privatization of LAUSD schools, the poor quality of bagels in our cafeterias. Frankly, I can't keep up with the issues.

There was a time when being a public school teacher in LA was a well-respected profession. That was during The Great Depression. Since then, not so much.

I'm not sure if you read about the 1971 desegregation order, but since that time, pretty much every LA parent with a little extra cash or a connection to a religious-oriented school has bailed out of the LAUSD or moved to Lancaster.

As a result, and I'm pretty sure you've noticed this, when you leave your middle class neighborhood every work day morning, you end up at a third-world public school.

And here's something I've figured out in my 17 years of teaching in the LAUSD and my 31 years of living in a 900 - - zip code, most people here want there to be a permanent underclass of uneducated, unskilled, low paid workers who blow leaves off their front lawns, valet park their Priuses, burp their babies, bus their tables and change their dollars when they need quarters for the meter. And they don't give a crap if the children of these workers have 40+ kids in a classroom or attend school at all.

And after three decades of this collective indifference (and fleeing our public schools), the quality of education in the LAUSD as grown so poor that our schools produce more than anything else, dropouts, angry young men and women with grade school educations who are qualified to go to the military (maybe), to jail, or to CVS to stock shelves.

So, my fellow UTLA members, you can march on sidewalks till your Birkenstocks run out of tread; you can wave at passerbys and handout leaflets about the urgency of the situation d'jour, but the people who control our fate and the fate of our students, pretty much don't give a crap.

You think marching and yelling helps? Did you see the City employees this past week protesting in front of city hall? Next day Mayor Villaraigosa canned 1,000 of them. In the mayor's Huffington Post blog on February 7, 2010, he wrote of those who were about to lose their livelihoods and their medical benefits that he will make it possible for them "to leave the City in the most humane way possible."

What's that mean? The City will hand them a liter of Stolichnaya and bottle of NoDoz on their way out?

You think we teachers are going to fair any better if we march for two hours outside a school every month or two?

You think if we yell loudly enough Superintendent Cortines is going to impose a parcel tax on LA homeowners and save the day?

No one's coming to our rescue. Or to our students' rescue.

I would join my fellow UTLA members not for a march, but for a strike.

I would not strike for higher wages or even better health care. My health care is pretty darn great and if I have to double or triple my co-pay every time I limp into Kaiser-Permanente in pain begging to see a doctor, it's still a good deal.

I would not strike to stop privatization of LAUSD, even though I am certain that the vast majority of these takeovers will fail. And I am certain that these new educational entrepreneurs will make a killing by lining their pockets with taxpayer dollars that should go straight into the classroom. And then, I suspect, these do-gooders, these educational experts, will take their money and run.

I will join my fellow UTLA members and protest and march and hold up silly placards and yell at passing cars for only two causes: smaller class size and a longer school day. Because that is the only recipe I have ever read about or experienced that works.

If we want our students to learn, we wouldn't allow them to be packed 40+ in a classroom. And even if a teacher can teach effectively under those circumstances, it's impossible for him or her to pay each student the attention he or she deserves.

And if the school day was pushed back to say, 5:00 or 5:30, and that time was used not for instruction but for monitored study hall or tutoring, then our students would go home having done most, if not all, of their homework and they wouldn't be hanging out on the streets all afternoon hassling people and looking for trouble.

When UTLA is serious about improving the education of students by taking meaningful actions, then I'm ready to walk the picket line for as long as it takes, days, weeks, whatever. But until then, I've got better things to do after a day of teaching 186 students in my LAUSD classroom.

Like going home and going straight to sleep.

Sincerely,

Dennis Danziger
UTLA Member since 1993