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Of Schools and Socialists

Two for the Price of One

By Kim Knox

School Closure Meeting on Tuesday, April 5

I learnt most not from those who taught me, but from those who talked with me.

— St Augustine

It takes a village to raise a child.

— Unknown

The San Francisco School Board will discuss school closures on April 5 at 6 p.m. at 555 Franklin.

Since students will be out of school this week for spring break, the San Francisco Unified School District's administration appears to have made a bad choice by selecting the day after school is back in session for a meeting to begin finalizing the schools that will be closed in June. Parent groups, teacher groups, and others will be busy this week with their SF Unified School scholars out of school and having a bit of fun in the beautiful spring weather.

This decision follows a meeting scheduled by the San Francisco Unified School District for 11 p.m. — yes, 11 p.m. — on Tuesday, March 22 to talk about what criteria should be used to select the final list of schools to be closed. Public testimony on what the public thought about the criteria was opened at 11:15 p.m. There were 20 people in the audience. For obvious reasons, there were only two parents left to speak. After all, it was a school day. Parents had to get children to finish their homework and get into bed. Only one teacher spoke. Teachers had to get up early to start a brand-new day of successful academic achievement for those same scholars.

One of the Board members responded that the meeting was really about hearing the staff's report on the schools that are currently on the list to be closed. But the mission of the School District is to involve parents and teachers in the issues surrounding the education of our city's children.

These are the schools that are on the list of possible closures:

Golden Gate Elementary School
William DeAvila Elementary School
Dr. William Cobb Elementary School
Starr King Elementary School, 1215 Carolina
William McKinley Elementary School, 14th and Castro
New Traditions Elementary School, 2049 Grove
George Peabody Elementary School, 215 6th Avenue
Benjamin Franklin Middle School
Luther Burbank Middle School
Enola Maxwell Middle School

The ones on the "hot list" (as in the most likely to be closed) are:

Golden Gate Elementary School
William DeAvila Elementary School
Benjamin Franklin Middle School

Interestingly, all of these "hot" schools are located in the Haight-Ashbury/Fillmore district (District 5).

The School District has not released the information that it gave to the Board members on these schools — i.e., decrease in enrollment, number of students who have applied to attend the schools, the number of students enrolled in the school who live in the school's attendance area, and the after-school programs that these schools offer.

The School District has said that the incoming kindergarteners and incoming 6th graders will be given preference by other schools that they put down on the school selection list. But there do not appear to be any plans as of yet for the students in grades 1-5 and 7-8 who are already attending the targeted schools. Nor has the School District advertised any meetings to talk with the parents/teachers/staff/students of these impacted schools. BOE President Eric Mar has visited several of the schools and is planning to visit most, if not, all of them on his own. Good job, Eric!!

The School District is facing a $15 million deficit in 2005-2006. According to the School District, each elementary school that is closed will save the School District $250,000-$350,000. A middle school will save slightly more.

While I understand that schools may need to be closed, my complaint is that the School District has not engaged parents, teachers, and the community in the process. The superintendent announced that there may be closures in January 2005. Here we are in April 2005. The SFUSD’s Public Engagement Office has not yet publicized any meetings with the community, talks with the very people that the District will need support from — parents, teachers, staff, and students.

My recommendation is that (1) the School District schedule public outreach meetings at the impacted schools (especially the three that appear to be on the chopping block) at least two weeks ahead of time — to give busy parents time to arrange daycare (SFUSD could also provide daycare for those busy parents), (2) the School Board create a committee of teachers, staff, parents, and yes, students to look at the criteria for possible school closures in upcoming years, and (3) the School Board create a committee of parents, teachers, staff, and retired financial officers to look into what savings the School District could achieve in order to avoid school closures in the future.

They're Socialists, Marc, Not Communists

I’d rather vote for what I want and not get it, than for what I don’t want and get it.

— Eugene Debs

While there is a lower class, I am in it. While there is a criminal element, I am of it. While there is a soul in prison, I am not free.

— Eugene Debs

The stereotypical Midwesterner is plain-spoken and neither progressive nor political.

But Clarence Darrow, Paul Wellstone, Humbert Humphrey, and Eugene Debs were all citizens of the Midwest — and all brought populist or progressive ideas into American politics.

Debs, a five-time presidential candidate (1900,1904,1908,1912, and 1920) for the American Socialist Party, got his first experience in politics as the city clerk in Terre Haute, Indiana. He soon became famous for refusing to fine prostitutes because the police didn't arrest their johns or pimps as well. Debs then was elected as a Democrat to the Indiana General Assembly in 1894.

When he was a teenager, Debs had worked on the railroad. As an adult, he remained active in the union. When the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen began to occupy much of his time and energy, he left the General Assembly and led a nationwide boycott of railroads in support of the Pullman Strike of 1894.

The activists and organizers under Debs tied up the railroad system and burned hundreds of railway cars. President Cleveland called out the army, which used bayonets and rifle fire on a crowd of 5,000 strike sympathizers in Chicago. Seven hundred were arrested and 13 people were killed. Debs was jailed for violating an injunction prohibiting him from doing or saying anything to carry on the strike. But in the end, the strike was instrumental in getting workers' rights recognized by the railroads, one of labor’s most hated monopolies.

The experience of the Pullman Strike taught Debs that major changes in the law were necessary if workers’ rights were to be advanced. After his release from jail, his efforts became more political. He eventually joined the American Socialist Party and tirelessly campaigned for its initiatives.

Although the Socialist Party has now faded into the background of American politics, it was the first to bring up topics such as women suffrage, workers' right to join a union, workplace safety, and restrictions on child labor.

Like all political parties, the Socialists were divided into fighting factions. But they united to nominate Debs as their presidential candidate for five campaigns. Debs became known as a mesmerizing speaker, a tireless campaigner, and a "man of the people." Even practical, Midwestern businessmen attended his rallies. He also contributed editorials to various newspapers, including the "Appeal to Reason," which was published in a small town in Kansas.

During World War I, Eugene Debs used his considerable talents to rally against the war. In a 1918 speech in Canton, Ohio, he stated, "Wars throughout history have been waged for conquest and plunder.... And that is war, in a nutshell. The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles." Because of these words, he was arrested and sentenced to ten years in prison for "war-time espionage." His citizenship was also stripped from him.

Since he was convicted of a federal offense, he was jailed in the Atlanta Prison. From there, he ran his final (and most successful) presidential campaign, capturing nearly one million votes. The victor of that presidential race, Warren Harding, released Debs on Christmas Day 1920.

Howard Zinn reports that during his last term at the Atlanta Prison, Debs worked for his fellow inmates and refused to take any special privileges. According to Zinn, on the day of Debs' release, the warden allowed more than 2,000 inmates to gather in front of the main building. As Debs left the prison, a roar arose from the gathering as a final goodbye.

Although it is difficult for third parties to participate in our nation's two-party system, they are critical to breaking the "set" thinking of the two major parties. Even though we may not agree with all of their ideas, they have brought to the American politics "radical" ideas that we now embrace.