Stay Angry

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 29:  United Teachers Los Angeles and supporters protest state and local budget cuts on January 29,
LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 29: United Teachers Los Angeles and supporters protest state and local budget cuts on January 29, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. District officials say they are facing a gaping $500 million budget shortfall. The board of education earlier this month authorized nearly 2,300 layoffs, but the superintendent ruled midyear layoffs out. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

I'm sitting in a meeting of athletic directors from across the city. These are men and women who devote countless hours to disadvantaged children for relatively little money. Hundreds of extra hours for what amounts to little more than the minimum wage. Sheduling games, ordering buses, securing and/or maintaining facilities, hiring and firing coaches and processing mountains of paperwork to ensure safety and legality and doing all of this to help provide positive experiences for children trying to rise above poverty and brutality, homelessness, foster care, not to mention all the usual teenage angst. Most of us are also full-time teachers (I, for example, have more than 170 English students in five classes).

We are sitting in a room in an abandoned building -- the old school Police Headquarters, which the district still leases even though its police are now headquartered elsewhere -- and we are angry. We are angry because the people who oversee athletics for this district are telling us that we are not doing enough paperwork and that we are being given many new rules to follow and we are also being told that our schools have less money to utilize for our athletic programs.

We are being advised to organize massive fundraising efforts in economically depressed communities by a district that was set to spend over a billion dollars on a failed technology initiative that it has now abandoned, a district that pays out millions in lawsuits to compensate victims of its incompetence.

We are angry. A lot of people are angry. But the anger is a symptom. A symptom of something larger.

A symptom of an education system for which no one feels accountable, a symptom of a society that is mostly indifferent to the children we serve. It wants these children to be invisible.
And because there are people like Jose Fernandez, the superintendent of a small nearby school district who overpaid himself ($660,000 plus a few million in perks) and otherwise stole money from the students he was supposed to oversee.

He got caught but mostly it is with impunity that officials commit larceny against the children they are supposed to serve -- and those, our students, children can never really recover what has been stolen from them.

So we need to be angry, shouldn't we?

It probably isn't good for our individual health or well-being but collectively we need it. It is the air we breathe to keep our souls alive -- though, sadly, many among us will just get weary and resign. The average inner-city teacher lasts less than five years and most athletic directors can't do it for more than two or three. I've got 12 years as an AD and that is the 7th most longevity of any AD in this district!

It's hard to keep hearing all the dishonesty and arrogance and ignorance. Hard to just take it.
We try to teach our students and our student athletes the principals of ethics and fair play. We are preaching to a skeptical audience and it is difficult not to be skeptical ourselves. I think the anger might keep us trying to reason with teenagers who are often drowning in the cynicism around them.

But it's hard sometimes not to wonder if we are doing them a disservice, if we are just lying to them.

I mean could it be oppressive to them for us to promote ethics and fairness while they are being cheated by those in charge of things?

Are such things -- ethics and fairness, I mean -- luxuries only the financially comfortable can afford to believe in and promote?

Or are those things actually the essential necessities of moving up in the world?

You may think that sounds incredibly stupid or naïve -- or both -- given the lack of morality among so many of our most financially successful but immorality in the hands of privileged people may not be nearly as self-destructive at it is for the disadvantaged.

So here's what I'm going to do: I'm going to keep hoping, keep promoting what I think are the right values for my students and I'm going to stay angry so long as those in charge refuse to charge adopt them.

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