Thursday, November 29, 2012

Why I enthusiastically endorse Ron Gochez for Los Angeles City Council District 9

First published on Robert D. Skeels for School Board on November 28, 2012.

Ron Gochez and John ParkerFor many years the people of Los Angeles City Council District 9 (CD9) have not been represented. Instead, deep pocketed developers have had virtually unfettered influence and access, and we've seen tragedies like the razing of the South Central Farm, the victimization of the homeless under Safer Cities Initiative, and intentional blight to displace low income families of color to make way for gentrification and development greed. Indeed the past dozen years have seen the residents of CD9 subjected to all manners of indignities, exploitations, and oppressions, including environmental racism.

Community members and groups asked long time community activist Ron Gochez to run for the CD9 seat. While Ron has never had aspirations of running for political office, he has always been responsive to the needs of his community. He is backed by a diverse, multiracial, multi-ethnic coalition of working class peoples, many of whom are immigrants, who are tired of their voices being utterly ignored on City Council.

Ron Gochez and Robert D. SkeelsI've known Ron for many years. He is a man of conviction, principle, and integrity. He has spent countless hours in selfless service to his community, and most importantly, to those who are the most vulnerable in our society. He is never afraid to speak truth to power, and he alone is the only candidate for CD9 that will represent the families and working peoples of such an underserved and exploited community.

Ron is a social justice educator both professionally in his role as a teacher, and in his every interaction with his community. We need more people of conscience to take a stand like Ron has. His campaign is known as the "People’s Campaign," and that is truly what it is. That is why I have contributed to his campaign and wholeheartedly endorse Ron Gochez for Los Angeles City Council District 9.

Robert D. Skeels
Education writer, social justice activist, and District 2 candidate for the LAUSD School Board


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

In memory of Harvey Milk: teacher witch-hunts are nothing new

First published on Robert D. Skeels for School Board on November 27, 2012.

"Gay people have been slandered nationwide. We've been tarred and we've been brushed with the picture of pornography." — Harvey Milk

Harvey MilkThe current crop of teacher-bashing political opportunists including Michelle Rhee, Ben Austin, Peter C. Cook, Gloria Romero, and Andy Smarick, are nothing new. While it's always been in vogue to attack the female dominated profession, teachers have really been in the crosshairs of reactionaries ever since they won the modicum of protections that unions provide.

San Francisco's Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone were assassinated 34 years ago today. Milk, who had been a teacher early in his career, was a man who always spoke truth to power. When right-wing extremist John Briggs coined Proposition 6, he relied on the same bigoted thinking that we've seen in recent times with Proposition 32, and other anti-teacher, anti-student, anti-worker initiatives. While the defeat of the Briggs Initiative was clearly a watershed victory for the Gay Rights Movement, it was also victory for labor and public employees, especially school employees.

Milk was no stranger to supporting and partnering with organized labor. His successful partnership with the Teamsters was an excellent example of what today's activists need to be emulating. Milk was savvy to realize that oppressed groups need to work together in order to overcome their oppressions. The fight for gay rights, women's rights, workers' rights, immigrant rights, and all our struggles are one in the same. The other side counts on us being divided.

The corporate and neoliberal forces pushing education reform rely on divide and conquer strategies. They pit parents against educators, students against other students via standardized tests, "lucky" lottery winners against families with special needs children, and we can increase this list ad infinitum. Using deceptive language about "choice," they've begun to destroy one of the great things in our country—universal public education. We need to call out the reformers' false dichotomies for what they are. We need to strengthen the natural alliances between students, educators, parents, and community. We need to tell the privatizers that the only "choices" we want are those that assure equity for all students!

We get there by emulating Harvey Milk's coalition building. We get there by exposing billionaire funded astroturf 501c3s for having the narrow interests of their funders, not our communities. We get there by pushing all unions—especially those in our schools—into social justice unionism. We get there by electing school board members who will be activists and advocates on behalf of their communities.

The struggle continues.


Sunday, November 25, 2012

Refocusing LAUSD on reading and learning instead of testing

First published on Robert D. Skeels for School Board on November 24, 2012.

It's difficult to explain exactly what being poor is all about, or why access to books and ideas might be as important as a free breakfast. — Walter Dean Myers

The Power of Reading by Stephen KrashenHope Is an Open Book, an op-ed piece by author Walter Dean Myers, was tweeted this morning by educator Susan Ohanian. While written in 2005, Myers' message about access to books is profound and even more urgent today with canned corporate education solutions that narrow curriculum dominating policy. Sadly, Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) is run by a Superintendent who neither values books, nor libraries. This has to change, and change quickly. We need to shutdown LAUSD's testing-industrial-complex and reopen both our school and classroom libraries. Reopening libraries also means rehiring credentialed librarian-educators. We can pay for that by ditching discredited and expensive attempts to tie teacher evaluations to test scores (VAM/AGT) and use the millions of squandered dollars associated with them. Read with your children, read in front of your children, and let them choose their own reading materials. It's a proven formula for fostering authentic life-long learning.

Free Voluntary Reading (FVR) is a well researched methodology in which students are allowed to choose their own reading materials. Professor Stephen Krashen and his colleagues have found that "[r]ecreational reading or reading for pleasure is the major source of our reading competence, our vocabulary, and our ability to handle complex grammatical constructions." The Power of Reading, Second Edition: Insights from the Research is an excellent text to familiarize oneself with the concepts and research behind FVR.