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Cinema Verite?

It was gratifying to see Hoover Street School in "Reel Lives" [May/June]. I commend Laura Angelica Simon. It is an important achievement on her part to make an award-winning film.

I have been a teacher and coordinator at Hoover for 19 years. I strongly agree with Simon that Proposition 187 was a horrible thing to do to our students. I voted against it. However, I have serious reservations about many of the comments in the film and your article and the impressions they create.

The film's title, "Fear and Learning at Hoover Elementary," seems designed more to attract viewers than to represent the truth. In fact, the name of the school is Hoover Street School, not Hoover Elementary. Hoover has always had a well-earned reputation as a safe haven. We were untouched during Los Angeles' recent "civil unrest" as the surrounding neighborhood burned. We have about 2,700 students and more than 100 classroom teachers. Our students and their parents have always felt very positive about the school and its teachers. Hoover is a safe and caring place for students to learn.

During the Proposition 187 campaign, the principal and staff consistently reassured students and parents that we would not deny any student access to the school, report them, or in any way act on behalf of the Immigration and Naturalization Service. We sent letters home. We held parent meetings. We talked to students. Where was Simon during this? Why wasn't she reassuring her students instead of, as she says, "lying" to them? She says she made the "documentary" to reassure her students, but she really doesn't address the referendum's effects on student learning; rather, she is distracted by the need to attack a few staff members who disagreed with her political position.

The article says Simon "was surprised to find out that a number of the teachers had voted for the law." How many? Did she think 100 percent would vote her way? I did, but she never asked me, and I am shown in the movie. Like any large group, our staff represented differing points of view. There was some lively debate at times. But when Simon said that " friendships fell apart," she must have been talking about personal differences with her own friends. I am currently in a non-classroom position, and the vast majority of staff I spoke with expressed their opposition to 187. The article stated, "To Simon, it seemed as if Proposition 187 had poisoned Hoover's congenial atmosphere, driving a wedge through the school's teaching staff." That's very dramatic, but absolutely untrue. Her movie and unfounded comments and observations in television interviews and in your magazine have been the greatest intrusion.

Your writer's view that Simon gives equal time to both supporters and opponents of Proposition 187 is not accurate. The Hispanic teacher in the film was a close friend of Simon's and voted against the proposition. She knew what the film was really about: Laura's political statement. The blond teacher who supported 187 was told the film was about teaching at Hoover, and her answers were taken out of context. Simon interviewed very few staff members and chose not to use any interviews with Anglo teachers who opposed the measure. I think her film paints a distorted, divisive, and untrue picture of our school--caring, Spanish-speaking Hispanic teachers and uncaring, mean Anglo teachers.

Finally, Simon's statement that Proposition 187 was "taking its toll on the Hoover Street community" and "ripped apart whatever fragile contract we had with each other" is a complete fabrication. It's dramatic, again, but untrue. After the election, we continued to receive the support of the parents and community. I know: I help run the parent meetings. And the teachers continued to provide a safe and caring learning environment.

Teacher Magazine did our profession a service by highlighting the accomplishment of a classroom teacher working in a difficult situation. I only wish the reporter would have checked out Simon's statements about our school before printing them. He should have talked to our teachers, especially those interviewed in the film, not just the "award winner."

Monin Lopez Dreebin
Title I Program Coordinator
Hoover Street School
Los Angeles

Mercy Denied

Andres Anguiano, the boy who brought an unloaded BB gun to school ["No Mercy," May/June] should be suspended and face the consequences. Guns and weapons are absolutely a zero-tolerance issue. Reading the bias in your story, it seems you are advocating leniency because the boy had been an exemplary student. In other words, an A student can bring up to a 9 mm handgun, a B student can bring up to a .22-caliber firearm, and a C student can bring a bowie knife, and so on.

It's about time that the captain of the football team, the captain of the debating team, and the science-fair winner receive the same penalty as the kid who's failing and on the five-year remediation plan. When the upper-class kids are given the same penalty as the kids from the streets, maybe all the students will know that we mean business.

Our district is tightening security. The students don't like it, but we have reduced security threats to nearly zero. It can be done. The school I teach in is one of the most diverse schools in the area, yet we are a model of how to make it work. It's not perfect, but nothing is. The administration backs its teachers, and the teachers also work at maintaining the campus security.

Your story makes an issue of Oakland's "disproportionate" numbers of minority students arrested. Yet those statistics merely reflect the actual occurrences. If we expect students to adhere to a code of behavior, then we make it stick regardless of skin color or national origin. No exceptions.

Good behavior does not preclude a student from killing or wounding someone else. For all his good grades, Andres showed incredibly poor judgment. It's not an issue of "mercy"; it's an issue of safety for all students and staff.

Joanna McGinn
James Logan High School
Union City, California

Choice Words

I was intrigued by your article on David Kirkpatrick and school choice [" Turncoat," May/June]. I believe vouchers will allow parents to become more involved in their children's education and make schools more successful. I do not understand why voucher advocates are labeled "against" public education. Are those within the public school system afraid of losing their job security?

Rebecca Decker
St. Catherine of Siena School
Hammond, Indiana

Montessori Means...

I enjoyed David Ruenzel's article, "The Montessori Method" [April]. I congratulate him on an excellent, objective view of a system of education that is often criticized by individuals who make only a superficial examination of its philosophy. I was impressed with the story's discussion of basic Montessori principles. Even though he observed many styles of implementation, Ruenzel ascertained the common threads of the Montessori method.

I was somewhat disappointed, however, by Ruenzel's view of the role of the Montessori teacher. Maria Montessori did not ask teachers to be aloof. Nor did she tell them to disengage from the process of learning. The teacher is the dynamic link between the child and the environment.

Any philosophy or method of education is only as good as its implementation. I sincerely hope this article will help Montessori administrators focus on that crucial "invisible" component of the prepared environment--the atmosphere of love and warmth. Maria Montessori alludes to this love in her book The Absorbent Mind: "The child is the only point on which there converges from everyone a feeling of love....The child is a wellspring of love. Whenever we touch the child, we touch love."

Chandra Fernando
Academic Dean
Montessori Society of Central Maryland
Lutherville, Maryland

Hardly Working?

The article "Getting By" [April] about teenagers' attitudes toward school said that "higher academic standards would give them the push they need to fulfill their potential." I agree that students getting D's and F's should be required to take classes after school. With the extra help, they could raise their grades, and with more attention, they might not feel like they have to do stupid things in class. But I disagree with the idea that higher standards would push students to do better. If a student is struggling, raising expectations would most likely make him give up.

If you want kids to improve, try to motivate them.

Kris Lindgren
9th grade
Heritage High School
Littleton, Colorado

In the article about the survey of teenagers' attitudes about school, one of the strongest points made was that teachers are the most important variable in whether students learn. Students are being pushed enough as it is. The problem is that teachers need to be more enthusiastic about teaching. Pushing students won't prompt learning; rather, teachers should find ways to spark a desire for learning.

Alex Rapp
9th grade
Heritage High School
Littleton, Colorado

Nearly 25 students of teacher Charles Lettes at Heritage High School wrote to us about this article. Teacher Magazine thanks Lettes and his students for their responses.

Common Ground

Thank you for the article "Boston Common" [April]. It was refreshing to read of Harvard-Kent School's success. In poor school districts, children are starving for some of the basic needs such as food, clothing, and shelter. Teaching in such districts is emotionally draining; one's heart is continually aching for answers, and many questions go unanswered.

Today, one must look beyond the obvious and probe deeper into students for the key to unlock the door to learning. One must believe that all children want to learn something. With that in mind, it is imperative for us to do whatever possible to spark the learning process and keep it going. If that means stepping out of traditional settings, then start changing your shoes now.

As a first-year teacher, I relish the fact that I bring 20 years of mothering to the classroom. And one asset that I take great pride in is my consistency. Children are desperate for a set routine, and that has been the easiest thing for me to do for them. Letting the kids know who I really am has also helped. It is difficult to reach that level of comfort with them, but once you get there, it's wonderful. I realized that I had made it one day when one of my students tugged on my shirt and said, " Mommy, Mommy. My teacher is at the door with my lunch money." The mother at the door brushed off the awkward moment and said, "It's OK, she calls me Ms. Moore at home."

Rhonda Moore
Pleasantville, New Jersey

Uniform Dissent

I was extremely disappointed in your critical review of the Lands' End debut in the school uniform market. Instead of praising all school boards for switching to school uniforms, you write as if only the urban districts are "entitled" to uniforms. Let me tell you: We suburban moms would like to see more school districts opt for uniforms. You try to dress two boys who want to look like "everyone" who's cool.

And if your criticism weren't narrow enough, you completely forgot to police your own advertisements. One ad showed two freshly-scrubbed young girls posed in uniforms under the heading: "Positive Impact of Uniforms." Now if that isn't hype, what is?

Sybilla Prest
Green Oaks, Illinois

Teacher Magazine welcomes the opinions and comments of its readers. Letters should be 300 words or fewer and may be edited for clarity and length. Comment articles fall under two general headings: Viewpoint and First Person. Essays should run approximately 1,000 to 1,250 words (four to five double-spaced pages) in length. All letters and submissions should include an address and phone number. Mail them to Teacher Magazine, 4301 Connecticut Ave., N.W., Suite 250, Washington, DC 20008. Letters also may be sent to [email protected], essays to [email protected].

Vol. 09, Issue 01, Pages 4, 6-8

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