Tag Archives: American street gangs

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

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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Graffiti Nation – Part 2/2

When it comes to combating tagging and graffiti, Michael Howard is an individual who had an idea to counter the blight with art. He said, “I figured if you address the root cause — that kids need to be creative, have their self-esteem nurtured and a safe place to express themselves and channel their energies into something positive that benefits the community — then you could reduce graffiti.”

At the time Howard had this idea, he was a teacher at the Juvenile Hall school in Orange County. While there, he launched Operation Clean Slate (OCS).

I may have read of this before but was reminded of OCS in the April 2011, Costco Connection.

The inspiration for creating Operation Clean Slate came to Howard while driving to Los Angeles. He’d seen graffiti many times, but this time he saw a way to deal with it.

I salute Howard for his dedication and effort. However, I disagree with the often misused term of self-esteem.  The self-esteem movement, which started in the US in the 1960s was misguided from the start.  Children do not need help nurturing a false sense of self-esteem.

Youth need positive choices to help guide them in other directions and this is what Howard offered. I doubt if he reached many gang bangers (children and teens that belong to gangs) that spend their nights marking territory with gang signs, but I’m sure he did appeal to the creative energy of taggers.

Street gangs are primitive and often dangerous tribes that exist in the barrios and ghettos of America. Most of these street gangs deal in drugs and violence.  Some have been known to initiate young recruits by having them shoot and possibly kill someone (often strangers to the gang bangers) during a drive by.

Most youth that join gangs have no choice due to the pressure in the barrio or ghetto. Only determined loving parents involved in a child’s life stand a chance to keep their children out of these gangs.

I taught in a gang-infested area of La Puente and West Covina from most of 1975 to 2005.

Parents that live in the barrios and ghettos where these street gangs exist may consider contacting individuals such as Howard to see if he can help keep their children off the streets and away from gangs.  Positive activities such as Operation Clean Slate are one way to do this—not wasting time building a false sense of self-esteem in a child that often leads to narcissism as an adult.

Return to Graffiti Nation – Part 1 or learn of Presidents Bush and Obama’s
Ignorant Gaff


Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of the concubine saga, My Splendid Concubine
& Our Hart. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too.

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