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A 20-year veteran of the Los Angeles public school district, who is also NBCT, explains the Rafe Esquith situation here. The writer has the nom de plume of Geronimo. I know who he is; I have met him. But I am not telling.
ON RAFE ESQUITH’S SUIT AGAINST LAUSD
Education has been on trial for a long time in Los Angeles.
We have seen it in many forms, most notably in how business interests in education trump pedagogical interests on many fronts…corporate technology, standardized testing, Charter Schools and billionaire influence on public policy.
The Los Angeles Unified School District is misnamed. It is not a “unified” entity. It can be divided in two using hoary Edu-Marxism (apologies, but I beg your indulgence!). There is the 1% at the top of the District apparatus (or apparatchiks) who control and set policy and then there are the actual educators who are supposed to be the reason for the season–but have been demonized by the structure that ostensibly is supposed to support their efforts.
On Wednesday, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge Wednesday denied LAUSD request to dismiss a defamation lawsuit brought by the internationally renowned fifth-grade teacher Rafe Esquith, whom they fired last October.
A veteran of the district for over 30 years, Esquith filed the defamation lawsuit against the district in August after he was placed on paid leave and assigned to “teacher jail” pending an internal investigation after a fellow teacher complained that Esquith made a joke about nudity in front of his students in regards to the production of “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” the students were performing.
Huck Finn began the entire sorry process that led to Esquith’s dismissal and the current class action suit against LAUSD; it is a top level farce that Twain would have ridiculed in his day but would not have been the least surprised about.
It is most helpful to think about the people who actually run LAUSD as proprietors of a brand that should be called LAUSD, Inc.
LAUSD, Inc. is not interested in good teaching. It is not interested in good pedagogy. It is not interested in what inspires students to want to learn.
LAUSD, Inc. is interested only in LAUSD, Inc. itself.
LAUSD Inc’s greatest concern is for its brand. The apparatus set up in LAUSD headquarters functions only to propagate a self-serving system. In Ken Kesey’s famous “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”, Chief, the deaf-mute Indian narrator, calls this system “The Combine.” Not that many of the people who run LAUSD have actually read that novel, but their day-to-day priorities are very different from what Education SHOULD and COULD be; it is much more mundane–the business of Education is the Business of education.
Alas, I also can not say with any confidence that many of the District’s top brass have actually read America’s most famous novel, Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”–the literature that got him into trouble in the first place. They would insist that it wasn’t part of their job description and irrelevant to their duties.
Without going down the rabbit hole of all the anti-education, anti-teacher, anti-student policies that LAUSD, Inc. has championed over the years, let us examine this one emblematic case that sort of sums up all that is wrong with how education is viewed by the LAUSD Corporation.
Rafe Esquith’s case should give people who are interested AND vested in true, meaningful education great pause.
Depressing as this telling fact is, I will not go into how completely unsurprising that not any single District Big Shot ever could make it down to Hobart Elementary School to watch Esquith’s magic in action. The author of many acclaimed bestselling books on teaching and an instructor responsible for changing hundred of young lives, his Room 56 had international guests and world class educators parade through marveling at his unconventional teaching methods–but nobody of any authority–not an LAUSD Superintendent nor even one solitary School Board member could be bothered to visit.
They were not interested in anything Hobart Shakespearean related.
Beaudry HQ gave it a big yawn.
The reality for LAUSD, Inc is, they couldn’t really care less what happens in a classroom–just don’t cause it any grief.
The LAUSD, Inc. brain trust in Beaudry is not made up of a bunch of smartypants.
This is not a group known for its inspired, intellectual curiosity.
This group who runs LAUSD, Inc. adhere to the same dynamic, corporate thinking that you would find populating the board rooms of Mobil Oil or Ralston-Purina.
Education–how you and I might think of it–does not disturb their machinations.
So much about Esquith’s case is troubling and indicative of a school district that has zero concern for the intellectual well-being of the students. If it did, LAUSD, Inc. would be championing a pedagogy VERY DIFFERENT from the one that they foist on LAUSD’s children. The leaderships view of what good education is in Rafe Esquith’s individual case is a personal tragedy for him; the leadership’s view of what “good education” is for the 600,000 students in their charge is a tragedy of grand proportions.
The investigators asked Esquith who he dated in college and who at the school disliked him. They asked for all his financial records since 2000. The “incriminating” evidence they used as the backbone from their case, the district searched his personal emails to obtain. According to the LA TIMES article, Esquith’s attorney, Ben Meiselas claimed that the emails were taken out of context. Elsa Cruz, one of Esquith’s former student whose email had been singled has denied that he ever sent her anything inappropriate as alleged in LAUSD’s charges. “The communications described in the statement of charges between Mr. Esquith and myself are small pieces of much larger conversations that are taken wholly out of context.” She claims that the district.”cherry-picked points “to depict our conversations as having an inappropriate or sexual nature that is completely inaccurate.”
This is the modus operendi of LAUSD. A little history lesson is in order before going back to Esquith:
In the dark days of Supt. John Deasy, the entire elected School Board was mum on his pedagogy and methodology. The Board gave him tacit cover to do whatever he wanted. It is not an exaggeration to say that Deasy went after teachers with a Dick Cheney zeal using David Holmquist, the District’s General Counsel, as his John Yoo to give him the legal cover.
This is a school system that offers cover to those at the very top. David Holmquist, whose base salary is $260,552, has fought vigorously to protect the District from any bad publicity and loyally served John Deasy’s call to purge hundreds–maybe thousands–of teachers from the ranks and vigorously prosecuted LAUSD’s Teacher Jail program. A different set of priorities and standards were devised by Holmquist for the those who screwed up and abused their positions if they were in District power offices.
Some in Los Angeles Unified were definitely more equal than others.
“I will never apologize for putting students’ interests ahead of teachers,” was Deasy’s righteous mantra during his tenure where this man arrogantly placed business and corporate interests ahead of both students and teachers time and time again. His moral courage was how much he could bully teachers such as Patrena Shanklingand never to any person of power above him who was politically connected with money and influence.
If you are not sickened by what happened in Shankling’s classroom and believe that John Deasy should ever be allowed to be near educators OR children again, then you and I have very different standards of classroom behavior and decorum.
Like all of his patrons, Deasy was a man who never apologized and took great pride in his use of executive and autonomous power and privilege. This was encouraged by many of the management team whom he worked with at District Headquarters and rewarded.
Deasy enjoyed and served a life of patronage from powerful men who paid for his entire, hopscotch career through the moneyed power corridors of education. Even when he left LAUSD in abject disgrace where the toady LA TIMES editorial board could only manage to bluster about the tragedy of his downfall, he could count on the largess of the corporate benefactors who puffed up his churlish bravado. Currently, Deasy remains obscenely well-paid in the Fortress of Solitude of Eli Broad’s empire, an opulent private world where he answers to no one except the rich and powerful, re-emerging only as a paper phantom, issuing friend of the court briefs to Vergara and offering his insights to Edu Reform Managers-to-be.
One day there will be a full accounting for what happened to all those teachers and their “rights” and “due process” that LAUSD assured the public they received.
Sadly, if Rafe Esquith’s and the other hundreds of teachers in similar situations were just the work of John Deasy and David Holmquist, that would be bad enough.
The current LAUSD President Steve Zimmer, with chest thumping vigor, thundered in a campaign speech that he has proudly voted to fire EVERY SINGLE teacher who came before him for justice. Zimmer put on his most concerned, self-righteous face channeling some Texas Governor on steroids, stating that in his eyes, those hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of teachers were guilty and should not be teaching in his system.
There was zero doubt in his blankly, incurious mind.
Were the students of LA protected from a thousand dreadful teachers?
LAUSD, Inc was protected.
LAUSD claims Esquith’s emails weren’t hacked, so one supposes they got them off his school computer when they sealed his classroom and his personal account was open on it. Under the pretense of an investigation, LAUSD went through thousands upon thousands of personal emails to find evidence against him. It is a chilling abuse of employee privilege that claims that right. Obviously if they were a law enforcement agency, they couldn’t do that, but LAUSD doesn’t believe it is bound by the same rules of engagement.
It begs the question if any employee is safe from their employer going through every personal detail of their lives to render judgment on that individual.
Could anybody withstand someone going through twenty years worth of emails to figure their moral worth? Would something invariably crop up?
The emails of John Deasy and David Holmquist are scrupulously under lock and key.
Reading the entire 32 page document of LAUSD’s “case” against Esquith–and please do!–it clearly shows that they threw in EVERYTHING they had into their “findings”.
They didn’t leave anything out. What is also indicative of LAUSD’s mindset is the fact they STILL used the initial Huck Finn joke as part of their indictment against Esquith despite the ludicrous nature of that comment.
This is not the work of intelligent scholars in an academic institution.
This is the work of lawyers who want to get rid of an employee that has proven troublesome to the corporation.
David Holmquist is planning to appeal this latest ruling hoping to stem Esquith’s suit. Hopefully he will fail and the dark files will be open on what LAUSD, Inc has perpetrated over the years. The East German Stassi nature of those cases highlight the brute force and cruelty that LAUSD, Inc. perpetrated on so many teachers who thought they were working for an organization called Los Angeles “Unified” because it worked for the betterment of all–not just those on the corporate end.
I have no special insight to Esquith’s particular case, although the fairness and justice LAUSD, Inc. administers to its employees is eerily similar to the justice cops administer to poor neighborhoods compared to the inhabitants of rich ones.
You may be predisposed to place your faith in the justice and righteousness of LAUSD Inc.’s wisdom and sense of proper pedagogy.
So much of the intellectual evidence is contrary to granting that good will, however. In the cases of many teachers in the system, Deasy, Holmquist and the School Board have a finger on the scale that instinctively forces teachers to prove themselves worthy of their bankrupt leadership.
I’m as anxious as you are to see this Shakespearean play’s ending. Misuse of power, according to Shakespeare, never ends well.