How does punishing teachers and closing public schools solve this, Mr. President?

06 Dec

In late 1970s and early 80s, I was hired to teach at an intermediate school considered at the time as the most dangerous school in California’s San Gabriel Valley in Los Angeles County. My first year there, before class, teachers teamed up outside the classrooms to search students for razor blades, broken glass, and other weapons.

Our principal was a Korean War veteran and several of the teachers were Korean and Vietnam War veterans. I was one of those teachers. That principal only agreed to lead the school if he could transfer soft teachers out and tougher teachers in. That’s why he hired me. Being soft doesn’t mean a teacher is incompetent. It just means they were not prepared to deal with tough kids like those you will see in the video that accompanies this post.

One year, six teen gangbangers came on campus to invade my classroom so they could kill a rival gangbanger who by the age of twelve had murdered several members of their gang. Fortunately for me, another teacher saw them approaching my classroom and took a bat away from one of them and then chased them off campus.

Most low performing schools in America may be easily compared to the challenges faced by the high school in the previous video, and for twenty-seven of the thirty years I was a teacher the schools where I taught fit a similar profile.

But President Obama’s “Race to the Top”—like its predecessor, Bush’s “No Child Left Behind”—demands that all public schools and their teachers are successful with 100% of all students and to have all students ready for college by age seventeen/eighteen.  Fail, according to that federal law, and you have failed the kids and will be punished by, for instance, turning education over to companies like Wal-Mart.

According to Helping Gang, there are 24,500 gangs in the U.S. with more than one million members and 90,000 are serving time in prisons.  I taught gang kids who spent time in jail as teens. Released from a juvenile prison, those dangerous kids had to return to school where most of them had no interest in education. And each year, I was asked by a member of a teen gang what I would do if the gang jumped me.

In September 2013, The Washington Post reported that “21.8 percent of American children under the age of 18 lived in poverty in 2012, according to new Census Bureau statistics released on Tuesday. …

There are more than 50 million children attending public schools. Therefore one in five lives in poverty and one in fifty belongs to a violent street gang but these kids are not spread evenly across America. Instead, they are concentrated mostly in the big cities like New York and Los Angeles.

“According to this report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development about the 2009 international PISA tests: Socio-economic disadvantage has many facets and cannot be ameliorated by education policy alone, much less in the short term. The educational attainment of parents can only gradually improve, and average family wealth depends on the long-term economic development of a country and on a culture that promotes individual savings. However, even if socio-economic background itself is hard to change, PISA shows that some countries succeed in reducing its impact on learning outcomes.”

I suggest reading the The Washington piece to learn what’s going on in those other countries that are dealing with this challenge—something the U.S. isn’t doing.

Teen street gangs and poverty are the problem—not failing schools and incompetent teachers. Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” and Obama’s “Race to the Top” offer nothing to solve these problems, but what these two laws did was to punish the public schools and teachers instead.

Hitler and his Nazi’s blamed the Jews for Germany problems after World War I and we all know what happened to the Jews. In China, during Mao’s Cultural Revolution, the schools were turned over to the students; teachers were persecuted by teenage bullies known as China’s Red Guard and some teachers committed suicide. The schools stopped working and a decade later only 20% of Chinese were literate.

How is this different from what America is doing today to its public schools and teachers? It’s time for our government to stop persecuting teachers and start supporting them. Do you really believe Wal-Mart—a company that contributes to poverty in the United States—is going to fix this?


Lloyd Lofthouse is a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam Veteran,
who taught in the public schools for thirty years (1975 – 2005).

His third book is Crazy is Normal, a classroom exposé, a memoir. “Lofthouse presents us with grungy classrooms, kids who don’t want to be in school, and the consequences of growing up in a hardscrabble world. While some parents support his efforts, many sabotage them—and isolated administrators make the work of Lofthouse and his peers even more difficult.” – Bruce Reeves


Lofthouse’s first novel was the award winning historical fiction My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. His second novel was the award winning thriller Running with the Enemy. His short story A Night at the “Well of Purity” was named a finalist of the 2007 Chicago Literary Awards. His wife is Anchee Min, the international, best-selling, award winning author of Red Azalea, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year (1992).

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2 responses to “How does punishing teachers and closing public schools solve this, Mr. President?

  1. sunny

    December 17, 2013 at 02:32

    I’ve been online for three hours and didn’t find anything as compelling as this one. I’d like to see what Obama would say if he read and replied to your post. His Race to the Top is horrible and it is destroying the public schools and driving teachers out of education. I hate it.

    • Lloyd Lofthouse

      December 17, 2013 at 06:53

      He’s a politician. Would you expect an honest answer? I think that any politician who has reaches as high of an office such as the leader of a country has sold his soul for the support needed. It is a vicious arena.


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