Inner City Blues

A television producer quits the Hollywood scene to teach elementary school in inner city Los Angeles. These are her stories.


It was the first day of the the new school year in September. I was asked to open a third grade class as they had not yet hired a teacher to fill the position. This was the high-achieving track and I was looking forward to the assignment, albeit with the same butterflies dancing in my stomach that have accompanied me to school every September since I started Kindergarten thousands of miles, and too many years ago. Although not necessarily a rule, the so-called “gifted” classes often have few discipline or emotional problems and, as they are usually aware of their classification, they tend to be eager and responsive. Teaching them is great fun.

As I crossed the schoolyard to greet my charges, they were lined up in two snaking rows, excited and anxious to meet their new teacher, although noticeably not dressed in brand new, first day of school outfits. Most of the faces were at least familiar, as I had been subbing in this school since they started pre-school or Kindergarten, and most knew me as either a teacher in their classrooom or certainly from the yard. As they squealed and rushed to get my hugs, it was clear that we were delighted to see each other. The known always feels safer than the stranger.

Girls and boys alike wore tight rows of black braids, trophies of many hours glued to a chair, or hair cleanly parted into multiple pigtails with multi-colored barettes holding them in place; others, a single long, thick, shiny braid, and then smack in the middle of the line, straight blonde hair with bangs. Whoa! Where did she come from? A Caucasion child - looking up at me with that determined smile of a teenager at the eighth grade dance - eyes shifting, hoping for the best. I wondered if the extraordinary cost of real estate in Los Angeles was finally integrating this last area of almost affordable housing.

Third grade is always a favorite - they’re still young enough to want to please the teacher, but old enough to have some basic understanding: unaffected enough to be delightfully enthusiastic and best of all not yet infused with bitchyness hormones. Therefore I could choose two girls to be the new girl’s “friends” for the day and insure that she’s not left alone at recess or lunch.

Her name was Catherine - she appeared to be a good student, performing above grade level, working quietly and carefully, appraising each new situation before moving in. Such behavior was to be expected. As the next days passed, I was pleased with her adjustment.

On the fourth day of school I marked her absent, but since tardiness (“She come late”) is woven into the fabric of school attendance, I thought perhaps she’d show up later. She didn’t - but her mother did - explaining that Catherine was epileptic and had had a grand mal seizure.

Wow, this was familiar territory for me - my daughter also has a seizure disorder - and I comforted the woman who was obviously anxious and agitated, assuring her that fortunately her daughter was in my class and I am trained to deal with seizures, should it happen in school. I thought about how my own child’s seizures had been dealt with cruelly and with ignorance by students and teachers alike and was pleased that I would be empathetic and competent.

Catherine returned to school, hesitant but seemingly happy - responding with intelligence and a sweet smile. And then she was gone.

Phone calls were answered with “No longer in service,” and further inquiries to the residence listed on school reconds determined that the address was a home for battered women and this family was again on the run.


The giant chasm between the “haves” and “have nots” has evolved into a vast abyss that separates the “know somethings” from the “know nothings.”

The area of general knowledge – that common ground of lore and information that we believe binds us as a community – is missing, victim to the testing scourge that eradicates all subjects which do not appear on the national and state assessments.

Until Obama, fourth grade students identified our president as George Washington, and were shocked to hear that George Washington has been dead for more than 200 years. The pilgrims and Columbus have no familiar ring, nor Hitler or Osama bin Laden.

“What country do you live in?” Most reply “Mexico,” and when pushed, come up with “Honduras” and “Guatemala.” They can’t differentiate between their state and their city and a majority of ten year-olds do not know their birthday or address.

What holiday celebrates our nation’s birthday? The agreed answer: “Cinco de Mayo,” and even the songs easily sung – “America” and “America the Beautiful,” – never mind our national anthem – are unknown to these children.

Eight years into the war in Iraq, only one fifth grader had heard of Iraq or the war in Afghanistan. Some students cannot identify a map of the United States nor name its capital. Of course it doesn’t help that very few classrooms have the large maps that were a fixture in every room before budget constraints found them to be unnecessary.

The great city that surrounds them offers, often within walking distance, science centers, libraries, swimming pools, museums of natural history, ethnic culture, and art. A short bus ride away are concert halls and theaters. Almost all have programming that attempts to reach these children. But they have had none of these experiences other than on school field trips, which have now been greatly reduced. True, many children have been to Las Vegas, but few have seen the ocean, five miles down the road.


Crossing the school playground in the morning, I look for signs to tell me how my day will be. As a substitute teacher in the central city, my assignment can fall anywhere from 1 to 100 on the Nicholas Nicholby to Summerhill school scale.

First, I look for some sign of authority. If I see the principal out on the yard, this is good – and if she knows the students' names, even better!

I was told this is a magnet school, which somehow implies that something good enough is happening here to draw children from other schools in the district. And another good sign, the houses in the neighborhood are quite substantial and look well cared-for. This test of association between neighborhood and student body proved to be a false-positive.

I read these signs in the way some people consult astrologists or tarot cards – to help cushion the blows of reality. But reality always comes, and the other signs aren’t good.

The school yard is pocked with potholes, laid out in what appears to be a carefully planned grid, bisected by huge cracks from which sprout tall green weeds – to provide the only touch of color. The bell rings – noone notices. No little children in two straight lines here. I open the door and they tumble over each other wrestling, shoving, and angry. As I suspected, the teacher left no plans, no instructions, no schedule or even a class list.

When all else fails, bribery beats out threats – and we finally have a modicum of order. Now take out your reading books. “We don’t got no books. The next door teacher gives us them when they finish.”

One boy yells out “Hey teacher, when you start to cry?” You first, I thought – but I do want to cry. I want to cry for these kids who are being cheated out of their only chance for a basic education. They have no advocates; noone fights for their right to have a classroom environment that encourages them to learn. Noone fights for their right to have their own books. Who cares that the playground looks like a minefield in Afghanistan? They have been written off and noone wants to enforce the discipline necessary to reclaim them.

They live in an area known as ”the jungle”, a collection of sixty year-old poorly maintained, graffiti covered apartment buildings and they lost the lottery – they got the wrong school and parents who do not, or cannot, or don’t know how to, change it and make it better.

It’s lunch time and I catch up with a young male teacher. I ask “What kind of magnet is this?” “Mean, bad kids,” he says with sort of a laugh. “Those thrown out of other schools. You know,” he says, "when I get into my car in the morning, I’m driving to Hell”.


I’m always astounded to be wending my way to work just as the sun rises – my biorhythmic clock in full revolt. Driving south and east across the city into the heart of its underbelly, lulled by music or the stories of NPR, the chain link fence of the teacher parking lot looms up quickly, surprising me, a mirage in the morning mist. I’m here. I check the cars to see if I’m early enough to find a space in the perpetually overcrowded lot. If I have to park on the street, I risk a smashed fender, a parking ticket, or both. Good, my favorite space is empty – this one can’t be blocked in by late arrivals – which really pisses me off when I’m stuck there at the end of the day. I notice the homeless persons who live in the park on the other side of the fence are still tucked into their makeshift sleeping bags, causing me to think less-than-compassionate, not politically correct, thoughts.

The gate is open and as I head across the playground, I hear my name “Ms. G, Ms. G. You got our class today?” I’m hit and tackled by this wiggly group of youngsters, claiming their morning hugs. They run off and others join this joyous ritual. We’re all glad to be here. This early morning tableau – the purple-suited principal welcoming the students, almost all by name, and the assistant principal on the microphone composing order out of playground chaos. Also present and accounted for are the coaches (literary, math, and psychomotor), the No Child Left Behind and Bilingual administrators, as well as the Attendance and Truancy Director and the Resource teacher – all on duty on the yard, all dispensing the caring embrace that guarantees a smooth segue into the instructional day.


The Obama administration has declared that California and other states would not be eligible for a share of the 4 billion dollars in education aid from the stimulus package because those states do not allow the use of student test scores in evaluating teacher performance. Of course teachers must be evaluated. Due to the expanded opportunities now open to women, the teaching profession, which offers little prestige, respect, or financial remuneration, many times attracts either those who have limited options, or those who are truly dedicated. Inner city children are usually exposed to teachers who have had few cultural or intellectual opportunities. A teaching credential only guarantees a degree from a teacher-training institution and the completion of often mind-numbing classes in pedagogy.

So why not judge teachers by how well the class performs on standardized test scores? Certainly there should be an expectation that on a level playing field all children who have been well taught should learn and progress every year, and it should be possible to measure that progress with some testing instrument. But there's the rub – the field is not level and students do not progress evenly, or for many, at all, despite the best efforts of their teachers.

If the sum assessment of the effort, initiative and passion that many teachers invest in their classroom is to be boiled down to three days of test scores, they would have no alternative but to request a transfer an affluent suburb or other high performing areas – areas where parents encourage the discussion of current events, homework is checked, and tutors hired to ensure advancement. Areas where children speak English or areas where, since early childhood, children have been taught self-control and respect for teachers and rules.

Before testing, parents are usually instructed to have the children get to sleep early and eat a good breakfast. Easy – but consider the child who lives with ten others in a small apartment and shares his or her bed with several siblings. The parents work two jobs in a struggle to survive and speak no English – tests, homework and school lessons are not yet priorities for them, nor do they comprehend the consequences of removing their children from school for several weeks to visit grandparents or the necessity for the students to attend school every day.

For many families there is no literacy, even in their native tongue. These pupils do not learn at a yearly expectation, and test poorly due to very limited vocabulary.

What about those children who live in shelters, foster homes, or places so noxious that studies have little affect – places where the sound of gunshots is more familiar than the school bell and raucous voices and turbulence are the norm? How are their test-taking skills?

On several occasions, while testing a class, students were randomly filling in the bubbles and saying "Done!" How are their scores a measure of the instruction? And worse, we are told to test Special Education students at their age-appropriate grade level. An eight year old mentally retarded Special Education student was to take the third grade test. Since she could not read at all she was shown how to just fill in the circles and she happily cooed, "I bubble, I bubble."

And then of course, there is the "bit of help" rendered when the class looks totally bewildered by the first set of directions despite months of test prep work. It seems only merciful for the teacher to read the directions aloud – or to browse the test beforehand and go over a few of the pertinent math problems on the board or to quietly answer the quivering hands raised in the air. So test scores have risen – or perhaps more teachers have pondered the quality of mercy.

With the introduction of "No Child Left Behind," the total curriculum devotion to math and reading has squeezed out most science, social studies, music and art in order to service the state and federal testing programs. This formula negates any cultural development or refinement of thought. The need to focus on conversation, depth of meaning, nuance and the delight of reading has been sacrificed to teaching test skills. Yet most of our children still do not score at the "proficient" level in reading but at "basic", "below basic" or "far below basic" levels. So despite the time devoted, there is no gain and the children have been cheated out of even a basic education. Students have little to no knowledge of the arts, their community or the world they live in.

Although it is possible that proscribed tests do measure narrow, concrete skills, multiple choice tests do not begin to reveal the breadth and scope of an excellent teacher's talents. Only the careful observation by an edified supervisor can measure the creativity and energy necessary to inspire, excite, exhilarate and turn students on to the love of learning that will last a lifetime.


This school’s proximity to a major entertainment complex landed it a spiffy, fresh coat of paint, leading one to believe that the school was not only a shining example on the outside, but that perhaps the powers that be had bestowed education benefits as befits a model school.

No such luck. As I crossed the school yard to find my assigned fifth grade class I was accosted by a skinny man with a fat bullhorn demanding, not asking, to know where I was going. When I replied, he yelled through his bullhorn that it was Physical Education time. "Hurry up, hurry up." "Is there a coach?" I asked, referring to my more positive experiences in the LA School District. "No, no coaches. Coaches are for Psychomotor -
you teach." OK, although I never could figure out the difference between PE and Psychomotor, now I know – I teach PE.

PE time is from 7:45 to 8:15 - It is now 7:50. Children choose a game "Kickball! Handball! No, no, we want
kickball!" Bowing to the loudest, kickball it is – pick teams, fight over team captains, toss coin -– team’s up. It’s 8:15! "Time's up! Line up!"

We snake our way to the classroom in a poor attempt at a line and begin what we call morning business. Sit in your assigned seat please, put away your backpacks and take out your homework. This done with a reasonable degree of order, I take attendance. Daily attendance is extremely important as the state moneys to the school are determined by average daily attendance. However this activity can be a veritable mine field as I attempt to pronounce names with extremely creative spelling or others whose origin I can’t even imagine.

"When I call your name please raise your hand so that I will know who you are. And if I do not pronounce your name correctly, only the person whose name it is may correct me." As I proceeded to call the roll and bid each child good morning, the door opened and in stalked the man I now knew to be the assistant principal, bullhorn still clutched tightly under his arm.

"Why are you taking attendance? It is 8:30! YOU ARE FIFTEEN MINUTES BEHIND SCHEDULE!" It happens to be required, but as I looked at him somewhat astonished, he bellowed, "Why are you taking attendance when no one’s absent?" "And how would I know that?" I asked. "You are a bad classroom manager" he shouted, and out he marched.

Now that he had undermined any credibility I might have had with the children, I attempted to get on with the day. Perhaps his classrooms were all on schedule but it became painfully obvious that whatever they had been doing in this classroom on that schedule, they had not been learning. Yes, they were all English Language Learners – but this was fifth grade, most had attended this school since Kindergarten, and their language and math skills were, at best, two to three years behind grade level and of course, as required, reading fifth grade books, which for all they could comprehend, might as well have been written in Greek. But – on schedule.

Less than twenty minutes for recess and where do I find the faculty restroom; always a problem when teaching at a school for the first time, and I headed off to find it. But there he was, Captain Bullhorn in my path, in my face. "You are a very bad manager. Why were you taking attendance?" I took a deep breath in order to keep from telling him what I really wanted to tell him, but I bit my lip and told him that I think it’s important to learn the children’s names, and I smiled. This appeared to infuriate him: "How many names do you know? Do you know five? Do you know ten? How many, how many? Name them. Tell me the names!" he screamed as his face turned a deep purplish red. I looked at him and sweetly replied, "I really have to find the restroom, and I will not be returning tomorrow."


“How’s your school? Any good?” I’m asked this question often by teachers and parents searching for the “good” schools among the hundreds in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

And they all know that even schools that share the same neighborhood and population have huge differences in achievement as well as in amenities and faculty.

This is so because every school is the personal fiefdom of its principal. And principals, sadly, are very often the ultimate depiction of the “Peter Principle”; possibly once-decent classroom teachers who, for better pay, move to administrative jobs in which they are totally incompetent. Others are terrible teachers (usually male) who were originally moved out and up to fill assistant principal jobs that are responsible for discipline.

Some attempt to govern by hiding in their office and communicating by memo, showing face only at weekly staff meetings. Others stride the campus like cartoon generals barking orders and criticizing classroom bulletin boards for their lack of the proper California Standards references.

Armed with an Administrative Credential and, for some, even a Doctor of Education (often from one of the intellectually limited teacher training institutions), many are woefully unprepared for the job of CEO of what is, in actuality, a large multilevel company with as many as one hundred employees and more than a thousand students with wildly disparate needs and abilities.

A capable principal can make a dramatic difference -- one inner city school in Los Angeles had a a great principal. Fannie Humphrey was involved in all aspects of the school. I knew I’d have a productive teaching day when I saw her on the playground in the morning, welcoming the students as they came in the gate -- most by name -- and by her demeanor, setting standards of behavior. Like a great coach, she instilled the students with pride in the specialness of their school -- “Your school is named for Martin Luther King! -- and in their ability to make their school, their parents, and themselves proud and successful to the best of their abilities.

Despite the reality that many of the children live in homeless shelters, battered women’s shelters, with grandmothers, or are foster children, during her long tenure there were very few discipline problems. A large, African-American woman, her regal presence was enough to maintain her high standards. And the students had all the frills: computers, Physical Education instructors, a topnotch library with a trained librarian, and field trips that took fifth graders who had never been off their block to the Grand Canyon, and the whole school (1100 students) to the County Fair.

“Do you rob banks?” I asked her. “My dear,” she replied, “These are poor children. There is money to be had if you know how to find it.” And find it she did. A public relations whiz, she inspired editorials in the Los Angeles Times, shamed local businesses into personal and monetary involvement with the school, and invited media and colleagues to view a successful inner city elementary school. Many criticized her for what they felt was self aggrandizement -- but the children reaped the benefits.

And good principals attract, hire, and keep good teachers. Many young, bright UCLA and USC graduates -- African-American, Hispanic, and White, men and women -- signed on and became her enthusiastic acolytes. As part of The Ten Schools Project, moneys were available to raise the proficiency of the lowest performing schools in the city. Teachers returned to school in August and were paid for a month of faculty development. They were required to dress professionally -- unlike most other school where the teachers dress in old jeans, shorts, sandals, and wrinkled t-shirts. They were rewarded with the opportunity to teach in an exciting environment, as well as “perks” of catered breakfasts, delightful holiday parties, and gifts of appreciation.

There are those that claim that “throwing money“ at problem schools is not the answer. Of course these are the very people who raise vast amounts of money for the private schools their children attend. The moneys appeared to be well spent and the all important scores were the proof. These children were doing as well as many in suburban areas.


In the twenty-first century, almost half the children entering the urban public schools do not graduate - an appalling failure for the schools and for the students - who are now condemned to the insufficient choices ; poverty, crime, institutions or dependence.

The causes are myriad, and the solutions elusive. What has befallen the public schools, long considered the gateway to democracy, the stepping stone out of poverty, and the ticket to a productive life and the American Dream? When I attended elementary school in the fifties, Home and School were cooperative but separate.
The home nurtured and was responsible for the care, maintenance and welfare of the child, the school for the education of the child.

These lines have not only blurred and overlapped, but have now merged. The school now, not only attempts to educate, but in addition, has by default, taken on feeding, health, care and maintenance - before, during and after school hours. A gargantuan task, an impossible task!

It used to be, the only nonacademic services the elementary school offered were the opportunity to buy milk at recess, and the availability of a nurse for first aid and disease control. We ate breakfast at home, and brought a brown bag, or walked home for lunch. After school activities were provided by Scouts, community and settlement houses, and non-working mothers. The streets and playgrounds were safe, and children were often on their own until the the first street light came on, when children could be seen all over the neighborhood scurrying home.

All that has changed with schools assuming the overwhelming parental role for which they are neither prepared nor constituted. Their job is to teach - when that was all they did, they did it well.

Today, schools open early and stay open late to provide children with day care, and almost all inner city children qualify for free breakfast and lunch. Teachers and staff must not only nourish the body, and cultivate the mind, but socialize and civilize the child. They must provide comfort, build character, and teach right from wrong. With little training, they are the front line for diagnosing sickness, mental problems and inadequacies. School counselors and psychologists attempt to deliver therapeutic help for the emotionally imperiled or disturbed, as well as furnishing ever expanding classes for the moderate and severe learning and behavioral challenges.

Overburdened by the swelling numbers of children with fetal alcohol syndrome, damage from congenital drug residue, as well as abuse and neglect, it is no wonder that learning suffers. The schools cannot do it all - adequately.


Should a high school diploma have any quantifiable value? Does this diploma guarantee or assume a level of competence? Once a respected and proud symbol of achievement, a high school diploma is now equivalent to the currency of a South American Banana Republic.

Parents and students have the chutzpah to protest the exit exam which tests eighth and ninth grade proficiency in reading and math as a requirement for high school graduation. They claim that poor and minority students did not have the opportunity to learn - so they should graduate without learning?? What am I missing here?

No opportunity? How many days were they actually in school - and when in school, how much time was spent in class - and when in class were they paying attention, asking questions, asking for help?

Rowdy, disruptive, students roam the halls, not going to class, or completing assignments, ignoring teachers and creating anarchy and a lawless community. Does this constitute high school attendance qualifying for a high school diploma? Is attendance without participation and any evidence of effort and adequacy enough?
Is the student ever accountable for his failure to learn?

Two high school eleventh graders were volunteering in a kindergarten class I was teaching, to gain service credits. They said they wanted to be teachers. Delighted to have them, I asked what they were reading in English Lit class. Oh, you know that Catching book. Catcher in the Rye? Great - how do you like Holden Caulfield? Well, we didn’ really read it - it was too confusing. Confusing? yeah like when they went to the island. Island? Do you mean Lord of the Flies? Yeah that too - we didn’ read that either. Oh, what books did you read this year? We didn’ read nothing.


Teachers and staff in inner city schools often use the “Racist” word when dealing with
the anger and frustrations caused by the unfair and unequal distribution of monies and services in the LAUSD.

The problem, however, is more likely the school community not understanding the power of the parent. This community, unlike those more wise in the ways of getting what they want, underestimates the force they can bring and the might of a strong united voice.

A Special Day class (formerly known as Special Ed) in a South Los Angeles school now has eighteen students, one teacher and one aide. The class is composed of four grade levels which include six kindergarteners removed from their original classes for various inabilities, immaturities and disruptiveness. In addition there are first grade, second grade, and third grade children, including a child who is unable to recognize a single letter or one who is so disturbed that she jumps on the tables, tears the papers off the walls, and races out the door. She cannot or will not be stable long enough to learn to read.

All these children have been evaluated and come with an IEP program calculated to meet their individual needs. Yes, eighteen different programs, one teacher, one aide.
In many west side schools, children who exhibit even the mildest special needs, have a “one on one”, aide . Special day classes often have as few as six,or eight children and two aides in addition to the “one on ones”.

The answer is the sophistication of canny and/or educated parents to procure what they believe is necessary for the best interestsof their children.

Parents and schools on the losing end of the situation therefore must be taught how to lobby for their children’s rights. Not an easy task for the overworked, often single parent whose life experience, or illegal status causes fear and distrust of the system.


It is now agonizingly clear. There is a direct line between public education in Los Angeles and the debacle at King-Drew Hospital. The administrations and overseers of both institutions have conducted themselves in the same manner and obtained the same results - disaster.

Beginning in early elementary school, there are no real consequences for antisocial behavior, disobedience and disrespect for authority. Children routinely refuse to obey rules, or accept responsibility for school work, homework, or even attendance. They straggle into class whenever they please, and since there are no repercussions, carry these sloppy, unacceptable, work habits into the workplace.

School attempts to have a child repeat a grade are often vetoed by the parent, so that they are passed year after year with little or no evidence of achievement.

So it has been with King Hospital. Year after year with deaths piling up, due to negligence, laziness and ignorance - and no consequences, nothing changes. The hospital is threatened year after year with closing, because of flagrant disregard for license requirements, but the hospital is still open and most employees continue to collect a check.

A large proportion of nurses have failed sections of their examinations and continue to be employed, while other staffers have an unusual preponderance for falling off chairs and suing for worker’s compensation.

All the now infamous failures would be hilarious in a stupid movie - picture the janitor mopping around the writhing woman - but this is a real life and death situation, and even agony and death were not worth the bother.

These attitudes, now carried to the unbearable limit, spring from a school culture that also is so overloaded, so lacking in the ability to change, and so fearful of parental disapproval, that it spawns the fermentation of a culture that has no moral center, and does the least it can, not the best.


When was the last time you were asked to read aloud as fast as you can? Unless you’re the FedEx man, this skill has no relevance to your life - however “fluency” as it is called is one of the basic tenets of Open Court Reading, the mandated program that comprises the majority of the teaching day in the elementary schools of the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Open Court is a reading program that requires the teacher to follow a script, and allows for no creativity or individualization. In fact, every fourth grader, whether academically gifted or with severely limited learning skills, is supposed to be on the same page, on the same day - akin to the reading of the Torah.

Open Court Reading is phonics-based, and is very successful in teaching beginning readers to sound out and decode the language. Most children do learn to read with fluency - but they read English the way I read Italian. They can say the words, but by third and fourth grade, it has become increasingly obvious, and of great concern, that many children do not understand what they read.

The comprehension instruction in Open Court focuses on predicting what will happen next in the story, rather than drawing the student’s attention to the content of the material. Because a majority of our children lack opportunities to gather vocabulary and English language experiences, we need to focus on exposing them to
conversation, depth of meaning, nuance and the delight of reading.

The time accorded for this program varies from ninety minutes a day in the kindergarten to as much as three hours in upper grades, squeezing out of the curriculum most science, art, music and social studies.

The total curriculum devotion to this reading program and math, negates any cultural development, or refinement of thought, manners or taste. And we are already paying the price - students have no knowledge of the arts, their community, or the world they live in.

The great irony is that the sacrifice of all programs, other than reading and math, is to service the state and federal testing programs, yet most of our children do not score at the “proficient” level in reading comprehension, but at “basic”, “below basic,” or “far below basic” on these tests. So despite the time devoted, there is no gain and the children have been cheated out of even a basic education.


He bites, he kicks, he spits right in your face. He flails, and four letter words spew from his mouth. He has the face of an angel and the throwing arm of a major leaguer. Rodney is five years old and assigned to a mainstream kindergarten. He has been diagnosed with ADHD and has his own one-on-one teaching assistant. However, due to his unruliness, Rodney spends little time in the classroom. If not physically restrained, he will run out the door leading everyone on a merry goose chase. He spends most of the day throwing and catching a ball on the yard with his “one-on-one”.

The school is required to educate him in a regular classroom despite his totally disruptive behavior, which distracts the other children and interrupts their learning. The teacher is not trained to handle him and it is not fair for the teacher or the other students.

So where does he belong? He is quite bright, so he would not benefit from being placed in a Special Education classroom, where most are of limited intelligence and ability. The law says he must be educated, but how? What do we do with Rodney?

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is a federal civil rights act that requires that students with mental or physical disabilities be provided a free appropriate public education.

A disability is defined as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more life activities. Major life activities include walking, seeing, speaking, breathing, learning, caring for one’s self, working, and performing manual tasks.

Some examples of disabilities that might substantially limit a major life activity are chronic asthma, physical disabilities, severe allergies, diabetes, cancer and that great catch-all, ADD/HD.

I had two months teaching in a Special Ed classroom on a long term assignment that every other sub turned down. Two months with sixteen students; fourteen boys and two girls, who ranged from kindergarten to third grade. Two months trying to teach four grade levels of children, each with separate and distinct learning, physical, mental, and behavioral disabilities. I had two aides and zero knowledge of how these children learn. Each child comes with an Individual Education Plan that sets goals to be accomplished. Yeah, right!

Four kindergartners had no speech; no discernible speech anyway. They made grunting or whistling noises, or screaming, angry, and crying sounds. They could follow a few directions - “sit down” worked if it was followed with physically moving him down into the chair. I called them the Not Ready for Prime Time kids. They were not ready for school!

Three of the students were very low birth weight preemies and really needed a lot more mommy and maturation time, preferably in an environment better suited to younger children. But they were five years old chronologically and the law says we have to take them into school.

“How do you do it?” my boyfriend asked as I straggled home one afternoon. Small victories, I said, like today Keesha only cried for one hour instead of two. We’re making progress!

The first and second graders struggled to trace and print their names. Two students appeared to be mentally retarded. There are special classes for the MRs, but their parents would not allow them to be transferred to that group. A few children recognized many of their letters and sounds and did know some vocabulary words. Others could count to ten or twenty and could write the numbers. Every recognized sound or word, any direction followed, or moment of recall, felt like a huge accomplishment - for me as well as for my youngsters.

And then there were two boys who read as well as, and knew as much as, most other third graders in the school. Why were they here? I was told they had an IEP, an Individual Education Plan, the magic words which mean that somehow the boys were deemed Special Ed by a teacher, parent, and specialist team. Often it is the parents who pressure for the identification because it comes with certain financial incentives from the government.


As an executive in the entertainment industry in the days when women were few and not particularly endeared by the powerful, I learned to be strong and tough.

The president of a studio I worked for picked me up and threw me against the wall for failing to include a favorite of his on a memo — and I didn’t cry. A network department head threatened to throw me out the window for making a decision when he was out of town — and I didn’t cry. Another studio head joined me at a meeting to share good news — without his pants — and I didn’t cry. But I was reduced to tears by a class of five-year-old kindergartners.

I was their sixth teacher in the first ten days of school, including one who had requested the assignment. All had refused to return. How ridiculous, I thought with great confidence. They’re babies! I have handled some really tough middle-schoolers as well as emotionally disturbed, large fifth-graders with some degree of aplomb. This will be a piece of cake!

Ah, yes, pride does goeth before the fall. First, there was Alexis, an adorable pigtailed little girl with shining black eyes. She stood when she was asked to sit, sat or sprawled horizontally on the floor when asked to stand, announced that “my momma told me I don’t have to sit next to no White boy,” and took off out the door and across the yard whenever she felt so inclined.

Now I know enough to just ignore her, but she was smart. She was not going to be negated and she was determined to settle for nothing but complete victory. And when she threw down the gauntlet, I felt compelled to act. This was indeed a power struggle as 20 pairs of eyes stared, wondering who was really in charge here. I used the extreme punishment — banishment. She was sent to a table by herself at the back of the class. This provoked hysterical, hiccuping crying with no letup. Her parents were called, came to observe, and she proved she could be a little angel for the exact duration of their visit.

Coming in a close second in obstreperousness was her smaller cousin Larry. He flailed and punched at anything that moved, which happened to include a majority of his classmates. Thus began my moment of ignominy.

It was lunch time on Tuesday, day 2. My promised aide (every kindergarten teacher has one) never came back after day 1, and the principal promised that he would find a replacement so that I would be able to eat lunch. It’s the law.

It’s also the law that I get a break, but that never happened and I never got to the restroom. We were lining up for lunch. All our children qualify for the free lunch program, but they must have a ticket.

So there were two lines. One for the children who remembered to bring their ticket and the other (much longer) for the children who forgot it, ate it, lost it, or claimed it was stolen. The first line must be escorted directly to lunch and the second line must be taken to the “no ticket” desk.

I was trying to figure out how I could do both, when I turned and saw Larry take a bite out of George’s forehead. I grabbed both their hands, as ear-piercing screams erupted from both the biter and the bitee. Human bites require immediate medical attention as they can be extremely dangerous. They are required to go directly to the nurse.

So, two kids to the nurse, one line to lunch, and one line to tickets. Too much — I was on overload. I ran out to the yard and the only help in sight was a fifth grader. I drafted her to take one line, pushed the other one in the general direction of their objective, and dragged the screechers to the nurse.

I failed in triage. I sent my children with a definitely uncertified person, the fifth grader, and the others were left to do for themselves. When the dust lifted, I was blubbering, frustrated, and really pissed off.


Remember the book ”Every thing I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten?”
Well, they don’t learn that anymore. Today intensive reading and math instruction begins on day one. And in many all day kindergartens there is chaos and the children are running amok. Experienced teachers are out on stress leave.

Children used to learn that school was a happy place, a place to find new friends - a room filled with wonderful toys, blocks and puzzles. Kindergarten taught that children play and share without hitting each other - and no biting, spitting or kicking either. They learned to take turns and play fair.

Teachers had the wonderful opportunity to observe behavior as the children delighted in dress-up and playing in the playhouse, modeling the conversations and actions of the adults in their lives. The conversations between little ones during play sessions allowed the school deep insight into the inner lives of these children.

No more. Today, these five year olds are required to sit silently for ninety minutes, learning to read and write. This is physically impossible for most children at this age and many have not yet developed the small motor skills to handle a pencil properly. Instead of learning the value of caring for the bunnies and guinea pigs that once were part of the kindergarten experience, they must learn feelings of failure if they can’t sit still or write their letters perfectly.

Most of our inner city children do not have the advantage of attending preschools, where starting at less than three years old, they begin, in tiny increments, to learn to listen, and follow directions. Five-year olds are whirling dervish bundles of energy, who must now, somehow, stuff that hurricane force into one twenty minute recess in a six hour day. The rolling, hopping, jumping, squealing toddler is confined to his spot on the carpet or his small chair for the remainder of the day. That repressed energy is often unleashed in the classroom where the child, who has had no previous experience in controlling his physical power, is now disruptive and labeled a behavior problem.

While kindergartners traditionally learned their abc’s, the colors, and counting, it was part of a balanced curriculum, which also introduced children to the joy of creativity through finger painting, building, and easel painting. Now the blocks are gone, the playhouse is gone, and there is no time to play with the toys. They are supposed to sit at their desks hunched over math problems during the time they could be singing songs and dancing. Tooting, drumming, tambourines and triangles once introduced young students to the delights of music -making, and to put things back where they belong.

Now they are expected to understand all the rules from the start. There are no baby steps. We all know that a child must crawl before she walks, but the preliminaries have been discarded in the race to earlier and earlier academics. But how do you learn - if you do not know that you must listen when the teacher is talking, and raise your hand when you want to talk?

And no napping! Napping is not allowed, even though many are so tired by afternoon, they have temper tantrums or fall asleep on the desk. “ Absolutely not! Every minute of the day must be instructional time,” was the angry response of an assistant principal, “there is no time for rest.”
No time to rest. No time for caring, no time for sharing, no time to learn to say “I’m sorry”.

Kindergarten was a half-day program, enough time for the children to become acquainted with letters, numbers, colors and how to behave in school. Now, with little evidence that reading sooner is better, we have at great expense lengthened kindergarten to a full day. Most evidence negates the advantage of an early start in reading and suggests it evens out by fourth grade with no long term benefit.

In addition, the abandonment of kindergarten’s traditional socializing skills may be responsible for the increasing numbers of children in kindergarten, first and second grades who are so disruptive and so undisciplined that these classrooms do not function.


I should have known better. I can turn down an assignment and do, if I know the class to be so out of control that my day would be not only a waste of time and energy, but also so exasperating that my head and belly ache.

The day before, I was teaching a fifth grade class next door and heard yelling, screeching and noises that sounded like furniture being thrown against the wall. And this was with their regular teacher -- although he was not there from the beginning of the year, and they supposedly had a rocky start with several substitutes.

But this excuse does not justify or begin to explain the chaos that existed in this fifth grade class, and the inability or unwillingness of the administration to deal with it adequately.

Almost all of the children know me from previous classes, so I am always optimistic that my constant presence as a teacher in that school protects me from most of the “Let’s get the sub” games. Not this time - attendance taking is always a potential minefield, due to my inability to pronounce names and spelling I’ve never heard or seen before.

Just when I think I’m familiar with many of the names, there are new ones, and this day, my failure to correctly enunciate a few names caused screams of laughter, head banging on the table and bodies falling off chairs. Not a good start. I separated the instigators from their cohorts -- of course, none of them were sitting in their assigned seats anyway -- and managed to get a few started on work their teacher had left for them. The rest covered their heads and faces in sweatshirt hoods and sprawled across the desks, or started firing wads of paper and pieces of crayons and erasers at each other.

For the kids that are in this classroom to get an education, it is criminal for them to be cheated out of the necessary learning and lose a year while whoever the teacher is struggles to maintain some form of civility. The existing work indicated that most of the students were performing (or not) at two or three years below grade level.

My next attempt to quiet them met with the arm over the elbow “F... You” sign, in my face, at which time I reached for the boy’s shirt, not his body, just his shirt, in an attempt to move him away. Big mistake.

When I accepted the position, the office was fully aware this was going to be tough, and I was promised “hands on” help. The cavalry was called and the new assistant principal did remove two of the provocateurs. Usually this action would have a chilling effect on a class. Not here, but the crescendo was reduced to a clamor.

The classroom phone rang and the vice principal demanded to know if I had touched the boy’s shirt, and when assured I had, went on to berate me for my action.

The boys returned to class with large grins and high fives.

Dirty Secret

There’s a lot of teeth gnashing, hair pulling and finger pointing as to the causes of the failing schools, low scores, dwindling high school graduation rate, and the appalling statistic that more than half the adults in Los Angeles are functionally illiterate. In plain words that means they cannot read a bus schedule or fill out a work application.

We hear about poor teacher preparation, foolish teaching methods, irrelevant textbooks, and the inability to motivate students to learn.

All these must be considered -- however no one talks about the dirty little secret - the proverbial elephant in the living room that we gingerly tiptoe around and are reluctant, even fearful, to discuss with our closest colleagues. Discipline - or rather no discipline - reigns in countless classrooms, total anarchy and mob rule are the order of the day - and what can we do about it?

To admit that your classroom is out of control is to say that you are an incompetent teacher, that you can’t manage your classroom, that you aren’t strong enough. To ask for help is an admission of weakness. The ringleaders can be sent to the office, if they agree to go. Often the child refuses - then they return with a note that says “counseled”. Or if there has been bloodshed, perhaps the parents are called and they are suspended. Great. Stay home, watch TV, and play Game Boy.

Some parents are genuinely concerned, but they are also at a loss as to what to do. Angry parents confront angry children -- girls as well as boys. The usual methods spur more defiance.

The huge advantage that private schools have over the public schools is that they don’t take problem children, and if a child acts up, the child is expelled - right back to the neighborhood school which has no choice.

The public schools must take everyone. Meanwhile, there are students who walk out of class, wander the halls, are out on the playground, or spending countless hours playing hide and seek in the lavatories. How do you engage such kids?

In some areas this behavior is evident in kindergarten where socializing usually begins.
But these little ones will not adapt. They push, they hit, they bite, and disrupt the teaching of basic skills. The police were called to a first -grade classroom when a small student attempted to choke another with such strength that the other child was badly injured. Others straighten out paper clips and stab each other.

And this is elementary school. These years build the foundation of their learning. If the teachers cannot teach, if some children will not learn in a normal school setting, then all suffer.
The window of opportunity closes for so many. Every one fails. And then social promotion moves them on to middle and high schools where stress causes instructors attempting to teach academic subjects in bedlam into disability leaves or other professions.

And the students - what happens to the students? Some persevere despite the toxic surroundings. But half of inner city kids leave school before graduation to hang out on the streets or find their way into gangs and the underground economy of drugs and stolen goods.

The answers are complex. It would be easier to start all over but we can’t just throw away this generation and maybe two or three more. Do we go back to paddling or other forms of punishment? Maybe the wrong approach, but it sure is tempting when a child jeers ”you can’t do nothin’ to me.” But these children have certainly been exposed to beatings, as well as other results of frustrated parents leading lives of desperation.

If we could identify the ringleaders and transfer them, not into Special Education, which is common in some schools, but to classrooms with teachers trained in anger management, and with access to counselors, care, and creative solutions. We may not reclaim all of these children but at least their original classrooms would be able to function and learning could resume for the rest.

The long-range plan would reduce the pressure by assuring that children live in safe homes or places, and that working families are guaranteed access to wages that provide more than crowded minimum housing and bare necessities. We can provide quality child care and invest money to rebuild families( of any definition) and communities. The cost would probably be less than to rebuild Fallouja.

What Do We Know?

Oh shut up
Damn alarm clock
Five-thirty in the morning

Jesus, it's still pitch black out
No sane person gets up at this ungodly hour
I am not Mother Theresa.

What idiotic fantasy girds me for the seizure of my intellect as I
compose my cadence for "Open Court", the egregiously uncreative and
school board mandated system for mindless puppets to parrot the drivel
that identifies a bedroom as "a space occupied by a plethora of toys
and a canopy bed" and negates the reality of these children's lives.

The mattress that stirs my students' improbable dreams is shared with
three or more of his brothers -- in ceaseless conflict for a small spot
of their own -- a tiny speck of a world.

And what do we know of this world; what do I know of this world they
call home? Sometimes a tiny sliver of light breaks through when a
parent comes to school and reveals a piece of the unknown. A world
filled with the ceaseless cacophony of myriad cries and voices or the
screaming silence of ignorance and indifference.

And where did I get the narcissistic arrogance to judge the quality of
lives lived differently. Driving to school listening to the news on
NPR, I hear a reporter telling of the increased violence and murders in
the Thirty-Eighth Street gang. I look up relieved. I'm on

If we didn't indulge in a little denial now and then, who could leave
the house? I'm always a page away from that scene in Bonfire of the
Vanities. You know, where he gets lost in the South Bronx and ends up
maybe hitting someone with his fancy Mercedes and he thinks maybe he
killed somebody and he's not sure and he's scared to death.

Reluctant pawns in a miasma of misplaced altruism, howling at the ties
that bind -- bind to a pattern of belief and behavior, social
forms and traits, a parallel universe where the experiments are deemed a
success even if the guinea pig dies.
Back to page one.


The article in the LA Times detailed the murder of one more young man in South Los Angeles. So why did this catch anyone's attention? Like many others, he was an innocent -- who committed the grievous and fatal error of occupying a slice of sidewalk deemed by the demented killers to be their sole and separate property. Obviously a capital crime in the ‘hood but hey, who gives a flying fuck what happens down there. Saves us the price of room and board at the Hotel San Quentin or having the bother of sticking ‘em with the big needle later.

This fourteen year old child was pedaling his bicycle in broad daylight, pedaling his bicycle toward home, pedaling his bicycle when three gangbangers jumped out of a car and shot him off that bike. Where was his savior as he pulled his shattered body to his knees, clasped his hands and begged for his life? Did his mother’s face flash before him as he cried to the heavenly jury and the faces of evil pumped nineteen bullets into him?

This city is divided by the 10 Freeway into two real worlds -- divided not only geographically, but economically and socially. The lives of the haves and the have-nots seldom cross. South Los Angeles is mired in civil war, pitting brother against brother.

This is a bloody battlefield with daily American victims as numerous as that other fighting ground tearing us apart. But there are no candidates debating our involvement, there are no screaming marches calling for negotiation and great armies to halt the mayhem, there are no folded flags and tears of a grateful nation for these mothers’ fallen sons.

True, our governing bodies have recently approved easier access to AK47s, their weapons of choice. If these guys want to go around killing each other, let them do with better equipment than we’re sending to Iraq. We want overkill, so they won’t be crowding our county emergency rooms costing us taxpayers a huge fortune. In fact our city’s bloody wounds so mirror that of officially declared wars that our military trains their medics in the bleeding hallways of its hospitals.

This is the wrong war. In the wrong place. Can we just imagine the reaction if young people were dying on the streets of Brentwood or Santa Monica?

Twenty years ago Westwood Village was the entertainment center of Los Angeles. With its myriad theaters and restaurants, legions of our populace thronged into the Village every weekend to savor its offerings.

One bullet, killing a Westsider caught in the crossfire of two gangbangers, turned Westwood into a ghost town overnight.

Where is the outrage now?


He was dead in the street by the gutter
Framed by houses once considered grand
And architectual -now worn and tired
On the wrong side of the freeway.
A brownish black, well muscled half-breed
With that same flat nose and strong jaw
As the dogs we see on the evening news
When they’ve been sentenced to die by lethal injection.

No mortal wound announced his killing
Yet life certainly fled or crawled away.
A choke collar around his bull neck
Controlled the jaw-snapping killer
He’d become for someone’s ego.
A living weapon -- an enforcer who
Sometimes turned and mauled his own.
Now this gladiator waits for the garbage truck
To come and toss him on the heap.

Neesha’s the new girl in fourth grade.
Tall, almost black, and larger than the rest
She looks more boy than girl
Enveloped in a grown man’s running suit
With short tight braids anchored to her head.

She turns away and will not look at you
Hooded eyes stare blankly into nothing.
She does not speak, and when her name is called
Pulls her jacket up around her head
Guarding secrets too terrible to tell.
An arm around her shoulder does not comfort
But makes her body tremble.
The legacy of crack cocaine passed down in the womb.
Defiant and depressed she waits for rescue
Knowing that none wiill come.


I was trying to explain the Holocaust to children
Who were reading Anne Frank’s diary
But had never heard of Hitler.
How Hitler and his henchmen
devised a solution
To wipe out all the Jews
And of the horrors that took place
As they pursued the plan to rid the world
Of those who were not like them
Or by the Nazi definition were unfit to live.
And they asked” But how could people do this?”
And I could not answer that question. This is
the heart of darkness - how we become our basest selves
with the consent of our passions, or in the name of our god,
or the approval of our institutions, or for land, or
For glory or for fun or even for love.
We teach them right from wrong with the incentive
That goodness and faith are rewarded -
They know from their own lives
That this is not true, but they choose to believe
As we do. Because we don’t know what else to do.


The PA screeched
School is in LOCKDOWN
Two snipers on the roof
Children playing in the yard
Hurry up. Let’s Move it!
Lock the doors, lock the gates
One sniper’s dead, the other is loose
Walk quickly, stay calm
Sit quietly and wait
The kids are pissed off
It’s time to go home
And they’re stuck at school
Locked down - again.


The kid is such a pain in the ass. He never raises his hand. He talks all the time -- which makes every other kid think he or she can do the same.

His attention span lasts maybe five minutes and he finds it impossible to sit in his seat. Sometimes he sprawls across the top of his table, and other times I find him squatting on his chair like a Korean woman at her bath.

And when he does sit, he can’t be still long enough to do a lick of work. Like a gnat -- the ”no-see um“ kind we’re always swatting as they buzz around your ear -- only you see him -- smiling, constantly smiling -- as he darts back and forth hither and thither like a whirling dervish with no off button.

Even when I yell at him, he seems so happy! What a kid !! -- what do you do with a kid like this? What do I do with Brian?

He’s been counseled by the counselor, he is a fixture in the vice-principal’s office, and if he were not a poor Hispanic he’d have a diagnosis of ADHD or some other set of initials that would trigger some professional help. As it is, he’s just a little boy who won’t obey the rules.

So the next step is to call his mother. Perhaps together we can figure out a way to help him. As she walked through the door, the smile left Brian’s face, and I immediately regretted asking her to come. This woman was fierce.

Like a trapped animal, looking for an escape route, her eyes took in the classroom, the science displays, the tropical fish, bulletin boards of the children’s work, and all the words she could not read.

There was blood in her eye and I realized she believed this summons was a personal attack on her from an alien world. And my poor Spanish and Brian’s translation did nothing to calm or convince her otherwise, nor could she understand that Brian could not help himself.

The mother barked a command at Brian and instantly he dropped into a semi-squatting position with his arms outstretched and his faced etched with terror. This diminutive woman seemed to grow in stature as she took charge and asserted her power. “When he is bad, you make him squat like this for an hour,” she ordered. This said, she grabbed him by the shirt and pulled him out the door after her.

Is this what I do with Brian? I think not.

The next morning he raced into class, big smile back in place.

Teachers -- You Get What You Pay For

Everyone knows you get what you pay for. A society judges the value or worth of an occupation by the reward or salary it offers in exchange. So the message is very clear.

People who make money are valued very highly. High earnings are equated with prestige and respect. Those responsible for the education and often the well-being of our children are paid poorly and are given little respect and less power. It’s sort of a cosmic joke - those who hold the future of our country in their hands are not considered deserving of recognition, while those that hold a basketball in those hands and better yet can get it into a round hoop - are cheered, celebrated and receive more than their weight in diamonds.

The women’s movement was wonderful for women and tragic for education. When the best and brightest women were frozen out of the medical, legal, and executive professions, education was one one of the few choices open.

Now, of course, that has changed and women and minorities have access to to the prestige and lifestyles of those higher paying professions. Other than those young men and women who truly feel a calling, the greater number of teachers are often those who are not capable of taking advantage of better jobs.

The credential system with its emphasis on pedagogy, is not providing educated teachers. Most of our teachers are graduates of teacher training institutions. They are trained, not educated. Often they have no cultural interests or life expanding experiences.

Their speech and grammar usually reflect the neighborhood they serve, rather than setting an example for the students. Many teachers have a limited knowledge of global events and current affairs. They make little use of the opportunities for enrichment that our city provides.

But who else but those without options or with great dedication would allow themselves to be treated like tall children by their administrative bosses. Who else would suffer scripted reading programs which must be followed faithfully, allowing for no creativity and emphasizing how little faith the system has in the intelligence of its front line.

All children, they are told, in fourth grade, no matter their abilities, should be in the same book, on the same page. Who else would choose to teach to the continuously demanded, time consuming standardized tests that prove nothing. Who else would attempt to accomplish the impossible job of educating children who often have no interest in learning, no self discipline, and little support from berating parents and principals.

We all know what would bring back the role model / ego ideal teacher still prevalent in Europe. Many liberal arts majors from fine universities would be interested in teaching if they were not required to take all those stupid “How to teach arithmetic “ classes necessary for a credential. But without professional salaries, there is no respect, no power, and no nobility.

Grandma Got Shot?

Hey Teacher, Teacher, can I sit wit dju on the bus, please, please and nobody else can sit wit us huh? right ms. G? Nobody else, jus dju and me. right? right?

Hey you guys, I’m sittin here, me an her - she said so, keep goin, no, no, we don’t got to have three, huh Ms. G cause she’s the teacher an just me here wit her in this seat. She says! Yes she do! ”Does” hissed Ms. G automatically as she attempts to calm the commotion and halt the hubub instigated by the intoxication of freedom from classroom constraints and confinement.

A field trip to the Fair - field trip to fantasy for kids who’ve never been to the beach - a chance to jimmy open their narrow window of the world. The big yellow bus belches forward and Matthew slides across the seat, tucks his head under the teacher’s arm and holds tight.

He is small for his age and really not ready for second grade. Ya know what, Ms G, I live wit my grandma - me an my cousins - we live wit my grandma. How nice Matthew she responded trying to sound enthusiastic, how nice for all of you. Do you have a grandma, he asked? She giggled a little to herself; considering her age, it was highly unlikely.

No Matthew, my grandma is dead. Oh he said - she got shot, huh?

What fates decreed him to be unworthy? Which demons damned him to the netherworld, shrouded from truth and enlightenment.

The path to join the torch bearers is riddled with boulders so huge for his small shoulders. And his angel, his celestial spirit must be too busy comforting the Dodgers. Those cousins dropped under the radar . Their Right to Life is guaranted, but not what happens to it. Listen, a rich old guy said, for people like us, it doesn’t matter what happens, for people like us, it's good - everything is good.

November 3, 2004

Like with the death of a loved one
a piece of me died last night.
That small ray of optimism that
lay buried in the sludge of cynicism
A piece of me died last night.
At ten o'clock in Phoenix Arizona,
amidst the tattered remains of a victory celebration
a piece of me died last night.

The last vestige of innocence, that part
of me that contrary to all experience, believed -
Believed that good triumphs over evil
Believed that truth prevails against deceit
Believed in the better instincts of our citizenry.
I grieve, I mourn
People voting against their best interests
To the step of Onward Christian soldiers.

The great spirit of democracy was alive in that union hall
in Phoenix. We had come to be poll watchers
and guarantee the rights of minorities to cast their vote
We felt so strong, we felt so righteous.
Now my radio is silent, my television black.
I cannot bear to hear the words of our defeat
I cannot endure the sight of their victory.

Maybe somewhere, people don't give a shit,
maybe somewhere people see all candidates
in the same dim light, I fear for victories past
That will be cast out - for stains that puddle on
the first ten amendments.

I mourn for new mansions built above Yosemite falls
I mourn for oil derricks on the red rocks of Utah
I mourn nuclear waste in the desert.
Cover the mirrors, bring out the crates, and light the candles
A piece of me died last night.