A teacher under fire
The Los Angeles Unified School District decided to come down hard on the wrong teacher. That’s the sense of the few dozen letters written in support of nationally acclaimed teacher Rafe Esquith since The Times first reported last week on his suspension from the classroom for ( according to Esquith’s lawyer) reading a passage by Mark Twain that might make someone blush.
Received mostly from teachers and students before The Times reported that the district’s investigation was expanding, the letters expressed anger that such an effective, indefatigable presence would be put through a lengthy disciplinary process in response to seemingly trivial complaints.
To Esquith’s supporters, the district’s actions were emblematic of a district that lurches between dangerous neglect and bureaucratic overreach .
— Paul Thornton, letters editor
Alan Pulner of Los Angeles lauds Esquith’s dedication:
As a colleague of Esquith at Hobart Boulevard Elementary School, where all of the students come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, I can attest to the fact that he dedicates more of his life to his students than most of us con- sider humanly possible.
For example, one Saturday afternoon, I happened to bump into Esquith at a music store. He had personally brought about a dozen students there for lessons. He had raised the money so these students could have the opportunities normally given only to privileged children. After working about 12 hours a day, he was still giving his time to his students.
Esquith’s removal from the classroom has academically and emotionally hurt his fifth- grade students. I sincerely hope to see him back in Room 56 by August.
Judi Birnberg of Sherman Oaks attests to the harmlessness of “Huckleberry Finn”:
Poor Mark Twain can get no rest. Once again he is spinning in his grave because an outstanding teacher dared to read a passage from “Huckleberry Finn.”
I read “Huckleberry Finn” when I was in third grade. Granted, I saw more in the book when I read it again later, but nothing in it caused harm. Even as a third- grader, I realized that the world Twain was describing was not mine. I found the book funny, excit- ing, sad and memorable. What more could a child hope for in a literary work?
May LAUSD come to its senses and fully reinstate Esquith with whatever compensation he is due.
Huntington Beach resident Ben Miles isn’t surprised:
I wish I could write of my surprise at the strangely oppressive treatment of Esquith. But having taught in the LAUSD for several years during the 1980s, and being subject to the negativity inherent in its bureaucracy, I see the district’s modus operandi of de- personalization and stonewalling continues unabated.
What is it that keeps the district so insensitive and out of touch? We must come to terms with this question if we are to challenge and change this long- standing dynamic of dysfunction within LAUSD.
RAFE ESQUITH, in a 2005 history class, says LAUSD administrators are overreacting.