A teacher un­der fire

Los Angeles Times - - OPINION -

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.

Anne Cu­sack Los An­ge­les Times

RAFE ESQUITH, in a 2005 history class, says LAUSD ad­min­is­tra­tors are over­re­act­ing.

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