Thursday, October 24, 2013

My Open Letter to John Deasy...

I wrote this blog last night and wanted to edit it before publishing it but in the light of Mr. Deasy's upcoming resignation, I felt I should go ahead and publish it as is...

Dear Mr. Deasy,

We met last summer at the EnvisionTechnology Conference in Palm Springs.  We shared our Boston roots, frustration with the Red Sox and my admiration for your stand for public education.  I still stand firm in my admiration of what you are attempting to do with the LAUSD but I hope you will respect a fellow Bostonian and LAUSD teacher's greatly differing opinion on your proposal of iPads for every student.

To state it in native Bostonian-ese, "What'ya freakin' retahded?!"

Ipads for every kid in the LAUSD?!?!   Really??!!!!  The same district that can't get kids to return library books, parents to come to school for an IEP meeting for their own child, or find it in their budget to give teachers a cost-of-living raise over the past five years is now flush enough with money to hand out iPads to each child like their #2 pencils?!!

Recently, the LA Times reported that you have agreed to delay the district-wide rollout of iPads until December 2015.  In the article, the Times states that you believe that access to these tablets are a civil rights imperative. Somehow, I think the brave young children who marched for their civil rights would not agree with you.

It all started here...
Growing up in West Roxbury, MA (Beethoven Elementary School on Washington Street) and then later on in Westwood, I am very proud of my Massachusetts education but it had nothing to do with materials or equipment - it  had to do with people; the teachers who taught me, the great principals who led them and whatever material goods we had - they were never the focal point.

I think as a district we need to start cutting back not giving more away.  It's not appreciated:  free lunches are thrown away uneaten, supplies wasted, reading books ruined and yet we keep giving more and more away.  Prizes for good attendance, trophies, badges and any little toy, treat or technological treasure to somehow add to the value of education when we should be standing firmly in the belief that EDUCATION IN OF ITSELF IS THE VALUE.

One student of mine went without glasses for nine months while his mother chastised me for constantly reminding her that he needed glasses to see the board because I didn't "understand how real people have to get by..."  which I found funny being a teacher and making less than a Starbucks manager.  But what I didn't find funny was that same child who went without glasses for nine months did show up on Talent Night with brand new Air Jordan sneakers and matching pants and shirt.  What values does this parent have?

Do we really need a billion dollars worth of iPads?  Really?  Is it really going to make or break our troubled educational system?

Although you were not in the district at the time, several years back, there was a similar large technological purchase.  The LAUSD spent over $50 million dollars for the Waterford Early Reading Program.    The joke was that they called it Waterford - after the Crystal because it was just as expensive and just as fragile. The district superintendent at the time, called this system, "The Cadillac of all reading programs..".  It ended up becoming one of the most expensive mistakes (and impromptu coat racks) the LAUSD had ever made at the time.

Waterford Reading program... Cadillac or DeSoto?

But maybe the answer isn't better or more technology, maybe the answer is more and better leaders - More specifically, better principals, better union leaders, better superintendents, better leaders.

In the case of principals, I know that every teacher goes through a strict and detailed program - with mentors, counsel and numerous trainings before they can officially call themselves a teacher.  What do we do to prepare our principals and what is our criteria to decide who we should place in charge of an ENTIRE school?

Maybe we should take this money and put it towards better training for principals instead of more electronics.  Educating Los Angeles is a big hill to climb and the lack of iPads is NOT the reason we've failed to do so so far.  Leadership, accountability and honest talk will get us a lot further than a new bundle of technology....

So, Mr. Deasy, please reconsider and put that money somewhere other than a pile of iPads.  Like Nick Nolte in the Thin Red Line learned, just because we want  to "Take that hill" doesn't mean we will and I think the same applies to iPads...

Alan Aymie is a critically acclaimed writer, performer and educational activist, living in LA with his wife and three children.  He is currently performing his critically-acclaimed, "A CHILD LEFT BEHIND' in Los Angeles and New York.  For more information, you can visit