By Joseph Staub | Op-Ed in the Daily News
06/04/2010 - AS a longtime teacher at the Los Angeles Unified School District, I don't often get a chance to be proud of my district.
I was, though, last month when I watched my niece graduate from Cal State Northridge with a bachelor's degree in psychology. It was a beautiful spring day in the San Fernando Valley. The students from the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences assembled in front of their families and friends, bedecked with banners and flowers for the occasion. The CSUN Jazz Band played traditional but snazzy versions of "Pomp and Circumstance" and the National Anthem.
As I looked around at the graduates in the post-ceremony crush, I marveled at how many of them there were. More than 2,000 names were listed in the program for that college, and CSUN has eight such colleges.
I couldn't help but think that it was likely many of them were products of my school district. The way LAUSD gets regularly torpedoed in the media you'd think the yearly graduates of the entire district could fit into a couple of Smart cars. That day, though, at the crown jewel of higher education in the Valley, it sure felt like a crowd of publicly educated people showing pride in their public university.
Admittedly, there's a raft of private and charter schools turning out college-ready kids all over the Valley. Also, I know full well some students graduate in spite of their schooling, not because of it.
Still, a student's schools deserve at least some of the praise. Believe, me I am no LAUSD partisan. I know the district is the rough beast - half dinosaur, half thoroughbred - it sometimes seems. When I talk to people considering teaching as a career I always say the same thing: Being a teacher is one of the most rewarding and fun jobs a person can have, but being the employee of a school district is usually about as much fun as being head wrangler at a scorpion ranch.
While I occasionally take part in the general piling-on about LAUSD's failures, I am sometimes dismayed by the paucity of stories about its successes. There are many. I'm one, for instance. I graduated from LAUSD schools. I can tell you that the people outside my family who most inspired me were my sixth-grade teacher at Stanford Avenue Elementary and my driver's ed teacher at South Gate High School.
I'd be willing to bet that many of the graduates at CSUN could tell similar stories. I'd also wager that a lot of those graduates would come to the defense of LAUSD if anybody ever asked them. Of course, that's not likely. Quotidian stories of success aren't as newsworthy as spectacular triumphs and tragic failures. And while there are plenty of students and their families out there with a legitimate beef against LAUSD, sadly, it always seems as if the district's biggest detractors are those with political, cultural or economic agendas. Many of the naysayers seem to have something to gain from the demise of public education, something that has little to do with the all-encompassing, unifying, transformative force public education struggles to be (believe it or not) for as many people as possible.
I wish all those at CSUN that day who had benefited from that force had worn something distinguishing them as graduating from an LAUSD high school. I am sure there would be more than enough to make people proud, and way more than enough to make the district's critics pause in their assault, in only for a little while.
Joseph Staub is a teacher and writer in Los Angeles. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.