A friend directed me to an interview that was conducted by a student involved with UCLA's Instituted for Democracy, Education and Access. The tenor of the interview makes it clear that this organization — funded by California taxpayers — supports Hispanic separatism within the United States. I have a problem with that. I still cling to the idea of a United States of America, not the Disunited Groups of Ethnic Identities Living Within America (the good ol' DGEILA, which really lacks any kind of ring at all).
But I digress, because I really wanted to give you a taste of the interview this undergrad conducted. The subject of her interview is Marcos Aguilar is the founder and principal of La Academia Semillas del Pueblo, a charter school in El Sereno. So, just to get things straight, she's talking to the head of a school paid for by the Los Angeles Unified School District.
This is what Mr. Aguilar looks like:
As you can see, he looks nothing like the principal you and I were probably used to, a person who, in my case, looked more like this:
A lot more dignity, and way less politics used to rule the roost at my old schools. But, hey, we know that image isn't everything. Principals shouldn't be judged on the color of their head rag, but on the content of their principles, right? Ao let's hear what Mr. Aguilar has to say for himself.
The first thing I noticed is that he's mad and incoherent:
TCLA: Where did you grow up and go to school?
MA: I was born in Mexicali, Baja California Norte in Mexico and I attended schools on the border in Calexico, a farm worker community. There was the Mexican town and the White town was like 10 miles away and another one 20 miles away. We grew up with the knowledge that in Arizona, in Yuma, Arizona, everything was Black and White. The dogs and Mexicans drank from one spot and the White people drank from the other one. I think growing up amongst Mexicans, you get values and manners at home. One of my grandmothers raised me and taught me those values.
Obviously, he feels as if he was very put upon growing up, and that may well be true — hence the anger. As for the incoherence? Well, why after talking about being born in Mexico and raised in Calexico (which, as the name implies, is a California border town), is he railing about Yuma, Arizona? Possibly something got lost in that undergrad's transcription.
Speaking of that undergrad, I want you to enjoy the entire belief system implicit in her next question:
TCLA: Did the educators at your school demonstrate that they valued your language and culture?
MA: No, they demonstrated that they did not. They demonstrated at times apathy and at times hostility towards the languages spoken that are non-English. I never witnessed an act of respect to the students’ culture.
This is where I get to be a complete troglodyte. I don't think it's the public school's responsibility to teach to kids' home cultures. I think that's the responsibility of the child's family and home community. The public schools, to my mind, are responsible for teaching basic skills (reading, writing, and arithmetic), and for a providing unified American culture that transcends every body's little bits and pieces. When I grew up, the Japanese kids went to Japanese school on the weekends, the Jewish kids went to Hebrew school, the Chinese kids lived a parallel life in Chinatown — and we all did okay. The schools were careful not to denigrate any of the myriad cultures that made up my public school district, but neither did they think it was their obligation to "value" our cultures. And this is a pretty amazing thing for me to say when you consider that I was working my way through the insanity of a San Francisco public school education in the 1960s and 70s.
The rest of the interview is simply a rant against teachers and education and all the slings and arrows he's suffered. The heart of it lies in the last question and answer:
TCLA: Finally, what do you see as the legacy of the Brown decision?
MA: If Brown was just about letting Black people into a White school, well we don’t care about that anymore. We don’t necessarily want to go to White schools. What we want to do is teach ourselves, teach our children the way we have of teaching. We don’t want to drink from a White water fountain, we have our own wells and our natural reservoirs and our way of collecting rain in our aqueducts. We don’t need a White water fountain. So the whole issue of segregation and the whole issue of the Civil Rights Movement is all within the box of White culture and White supremacy. We should not still be fighting for what they have. We are not interested in what they have because we have so much more and because the world is so much larger. And ultimately the White way, the American way, the neo liberal, capitalist way of life will eventually lead to our own destruction. And so it isn’t about an argument of joining neo liberalism, it’s about us being able, as human beings, to surpass the barrier.
Part of me is just horrified by these statements, and part of me is thinking, why don't we let the marketplace take over here? I've noted that I think public schools should be neutral. However, what I'd really like is vouchers, so that people can pick schools for their kids. I believe that most people want what's best for their children, except for a few hard core ideologues. So, let's have Mr. Aguilar's little school compete in real marketplace, where parents can decide whether having their kids learn "Nahuatl, [so] they will be able to understand their relationship with nature (because language is based on our human relationship with nature)" is, in the long run a good thing or a bad thing. However, to the extent voucher money comes from the public, I would require all schools to teach certain lowest common denominator things explaining, in a good way, why America is different from all other countries. Seems like a small price to pay in exchange for control over the rest of your curriculum.
UPDATE: I'm in the dollar short and date late category. It turns out that this school in the news because yesterday, a reporter was assaulted there. You can read about it here and find video footage at the same site. Didn't there used to be a mid-19th Century saying about "nuturing a viper in your bosom"? I always understood that to mean you raised a person who then turned on you. Apparently the LAUSD has been raising its own vipers for the dubious benefit of all us.