I'm not a politician, I'm a Freirean activist whose entire life revolves around the struggle. Therefore, the active struggles for social justice in our communities are one in the same as my campaign. I don't see them as separate, and my campaign takes second place to the struggles on the ground. As I said to a close fellow activist the other day, "It doesn't make sense for me to avoid struggles to save public education during my LAUSD run, because there might not be a district left by the time the Anschutz Four and Broad's Chosen One are through." While electing a board majority that values public education is crucial, it doesn't alleviate the need for the struggle in our communities.
First published on Echo Park Patch on January 2, 2013.
"Thinking is not the intellectual reproduction of what already exists anyway." — Theodor Adorno
One of the more intriguing aspects of being a candidate for a high profile office like Member of Board of Education, Los Angeles Unified School District, is the number of questionnaires various organizations ask you to complete. Some of these are for endorsement considerations, others are just to publicize your stances on various issues. Today Arts for LA sent me a five question survey. When answering the questions, I realized it would be worth publishing the Q&A since, in my eyes, it addresses many of the fundamentally flawed issues with national standards and punitive testing regimes they engender.
Arts for LA: What meaningful experiences with the arts (visual arts, dance, drama, and/or music) did you have growing up?
Robert D. Skeels: Even though I grew up in relative poverty (food-stamps, welfare, etc), our New York schools required playing an instrument, participation in drama, and taking classes in visual arts. I was exposed to French horn, trombone, and guitar, and still play the latter to this day. One of the most memorable field trips I recall from childhood is when our class went Radio City Music Hall to see Madama Butterfly. We even had electives like music theory which relate to mathematics. Classes in fine art gave me enough skills that when I later became a graphic artist, my illustration abilities kept me in constant demand. All of those experiences were interconnected with literature, an appreciation for arts, and an understanding that there is much more to being human than test scores and salaries.
Arts for LA: What role do you think the arts can play in supporting key priorities of the district, such as closing the achievement gap, reducing the dropout rate, and preparing more students for college eligibility and the twenty-first century workforce?
Robert D. Skeels: The critical thinking skills and ability to cognate interconnectedness between disparate disciplines fostered by the arts are far more important than rote memorization for standardized tests. For the record, critical thinking skills are essential regardless of what century we are in. This is why the children of the wealthy are exposed so heavily to the arts, whereas working class children aren't. Finding things that interest and captivate students is the key to reducing the dropout rate, encouraging students to find passions that lead them to college, etc. If we were educating the whole child in addition to providing wrap around services, then the achievement gap would ameliorate.
Arts for LA: A standards-based arts curriculum is one of the five core subjects in No Child Left Behind and critical for developing job skills vital in the creative economy and the twenty-first century workforce. Yet, most often, only "what is tested is taught" in our schools. How do you envision bringing balance back for a comprehensive education and ensuring all students have access to a quality, standards-based arts education curriculum?
Robert D. Skeels: The obsession with standards and punitive testing brought on by NCLB and its descendants RTTT and CCSS, have perverted and warped curriculum. Bringing balance back means resisting standardized tests and curriculum, and insisting that our students are provided rounded, culturally relevant curricula. While we still need to push for more arts and a rounded curriculum within the current regime of standards, ultimately we need to fight for curriculum decisions being made on a local level that address the needs of students. A nationally standardized arts curriculum further marginalizes children of color and those from different cultures. We need arts that are part of ethnic studies courses in order to respect cultural heritages.
Arts for LA: If elected, how will you engage classroom teachers, arts teachers, parents, and community arts organizations to implement your district's strategic arts plan? If you are not familiar with the plan, how can the district make the plan more visible?
Robert D. Skeels: Again, the de-emphasis in the arts in our schools is a direct result of national policies that have created an abject high-stakes environment where test preparation takes precedent over teaching and learning. I would work with all the stake-holders (who are natural allies) mentioned in the question above to create widespread awareness and outreach as to the critical importance of a rounded curriculum that sees the arts, including literature, as the primary, not secondary goal of education. Such a campaign would necessitate revising the existing LAUSD arts plan, which still sees test-prep as being paramount.
Arts for LA: Over 50% of School Districts in Los Angeles County have adopted Arts Education policies and plans to restore all arts disciplines into the core curriculum of K-12 classrooms. If elected, what would you do to develop and adopt a policy and implementation plan to increase access to the arts in the district?
Robert D. Skeels: Efforts to restore arts via policies and plans are laudable. However, so long as our public schools are threatened with catastrophic consequences like closure, reconstitution, or being handed over to a privately managed charter corporations, there is little hope that they will actually be able to execute such policies and plans. National education policy has created conditions where deviation from what is required on standardized tests is impossible, despite platitudes from the Secretary of Education on the importance of the arts. Board Members on the second largest school district have a moral obligation to challenge the reasons why the arts, electives, vocational training, and anything outside the narrow confines of NCLB/RTTT/CCSS aren't considered important. In practice, really expanding our arts curricula in LAUSD would be a visible sign of resistance to the testing-industrial-complex controlling U.S. education policy.
Many thanks to Dr. Diane Ravitch for helping us get the word out.
If you are in Los Angeles, please plan on attending. Remember LAUSD Board Members' votes effect everyone in the city.
Hope Is an Open Book, an op-ed piece by author Walter Dean Myers, was tweeted this morning by educator Susan Ohanian. While written in 2005, Myers' message about access to books is profound and even more urgent today with canned corporate education solutions that narrow curriculum dominating policy. Sadly, Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) is run by a Superintendent who neither values books, nor libraries. This has to change, and change quickly. We need to shutdown LAUSD's testing-industrial-complex and reopen both our school and classroom libraries. Reopening libraries also means rehiring credentialed librarian-educators. We can pay for that by ditching discredited and expensive attempts to tie teacher evaluations to test scores (VAM/AGT) and use the millions of squandered dollars associated with them. Read with your children, read in front of your children, and let them choose their own reading materials. It's a proven formula for fostering authentic life-long learning.
Free Voluntary Reading (FVR) is a well researched methodology in which students are allowed to choose their own reading materials. Professor Stephen Krashen and his colleagues have found that "[r]ecreational reading or reading for pleasure is the major source of our reading competence, our vocabulary, and our ability to handle complex grammatical constructions." The Power of Reading, Second Edition: Insights from the Research is an excellent text to familiarize oneself with the concepts and research behind FVR.
Stephen Ceasar of The Los Angeles Times
There were two registered District 2 schoolboard candidates before Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) was redistricted last Spring. Those candidates were Abelardo Diaz and myself — Robert D. Skeels. Both of us live in the 90026 zip code and have/had a considerable voting base in the community.
This is particularly true for me, having lived in Echo Parque since 1995. I lived on Valley View Drive for years, Laguna Avenue for over a decade and a half, and two years ago my wife and I purchased a home on Westlake Avenue in South Echo Parque/Historic Filipinotown . I taught bilingual Catechism (CCD) at Saint Teresa of Avila Church for a dozen years and RCIA for two years. Over that time I gained the friendship and trust of many families who still stop me and thank me today when they see me out and about in the community
For years my public education and immigrant rights activism existed alongside my volunteer work at my church, but eventually I decided to devote more time to activism as I saw the same neoliberal policies being implemented in our own school district as I had seen imposed on Latin American countries during the past decades. I began organizing alongside parent, teacher, and other community activists in earnest, I've been involved in many major struggles in defense of public education and immigrant rights ever since.
Along with fellow social justice activists I opposed the colocation of Logan by the Gabriella Corporate Charter. Educator Cheryl Ortega and I exposed Gabriella's filching of more rooms than they were allotted. We provided support for the parents fighting the unjust colocation of Micheltorena Elementary. We spent nearly a year backing the Echo Park Partners Community Plan for CRES 14. Our efforts to try and keep CRES 14 in the public fold almost prevented the community school from being turned over to a private corporation. I staunchly defended parents and community members when the deep pocketed charter forces took away the public votes from the LAUSD Public School Choice. We arranged for screenings of the Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman at both Union Avenue and Micheltorena Elementary Schools. These are just a few of the local struggles I have been involved with .
During the past decade I've been a high-profile vocal opponent of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and LAUSD President Mónica García's policies of school privatization, narrowing of curriculum, and imposition of policies that have been an abject disaster in our school district. I've written scathing articles about them and their policies. I've been interviewed on radio and television criticizing their administrations. I've led major community struggles against some of their pet projects and handouts to cronies. I phone banked and precinct walked against their hand picked corporate candidate for District 5, who despite millions from Villaraigosa's right wing allies like Anschutz, Perenchio, Hastings, and Broad still lost. I was one of the organizers of and participate in the highly successful OccupyLAUSD campaign that further highlighted the leadership of LAUSD being in the pockets of the one percent.worked tirelessly with the Save Adult Ed campaign to prevent shuttering of those programs. When we saw it would take a little more to convince the District to save the programs, several social justice advocates and I became proponents of an official recall campaign that frightened García into partially restoring those programs. While the recall campaign came up just a few thousand signatures short of the 26,000 plus required, it prevented cuts to programs vital to families throughout our city. It also showed that García's grip on power was vulnerable.
Going into the race for the District 2 Trustee seat, I knew I could confidently count on hundreds of votes from Echo Parque residents who I've either worked alongside or for in the struggle to defend and improve public education. I figured I could count on several hundred more votes from families I served at St. Teresa's. I knew I could depend on all the Logan parents, Micheltorena parents on the District 2 side, parents that wanted CRES 14 to be a public school, and even families that lost there homes to the construction of the latter to vote for me. That was, until I saw the finalized District 2 maps recently provided by LAUSD. All of Echo Park — including Angelino Heights — North of the 101 Freeway is now in District 5. I find it hard to believe this wasn't anything but deliberate. Given that LAUSD schoolboard races are often won by just a few hundred votes, drawing my strongest base of support out of District 2 was a brilliant masterstroke.
I now live South of the 101, so I'm still a qualified candidate and still running for LAUSD. While Villaraigosa's skillful gerrymandering of District 2 clearly cost me hundreds maybe even thousands, of votes, I'm still confident that I will win the seat and speak truth to power on the schoolboard. If you live in what was formerly District 2 and planned to vote for me, but cannot due to redistricting, please support me by volunteering for my campaign and contributing funds. Especially the latter, it's expensive to run for office. García's backers include right-wing billionaires, peculiar cults, and wealthy charter operators. Clearly, I won't have, nor would I accept, any funding from sources like that. Tell everyone you know about me running, they might live in District 2 or can help. Come out to the candidate forums and meet me and the other candidates running against the neoliberal consensus represented by Mónica García. We need to take our schoolboard back from the one percent!
 From Wikipedia: "Historic Filipinotown is a district of the city of Los Angeles, California, that makes up the southwest portion of Echo Park."
 Meantime I was involved with many more organizations like the Southern California Immigration Coalition, Hungry for an Education, Coalition for Educational Justice, the March 4 to Save Public Education movement, and so much more. I was also on the leading edge of opposing Yolie Flores' Public School Choice, charter take-overs, astroturf groups including Parent Revolution, etc.
For far too long only the well-paid members of the Nonprofit Industrial Complex (NPIC) posing as parents have been able to attend public LAUSD board meetings. Why? Because the meetings are intentionally held when working people...well, are at work or attending school. This petition calls on LAUSD to move public meetings to the evening so that the true voice of the community will be heard. Parents, students, educators, and community have been shut out of LAUSD. Meanwhile the charter industry and the NPICs have dominated the dialog and continue to provide the "Anschutz Four" board members political cover.
As a District 2 Trustee candidate for LAUSD, I endorse all efforts to make board meetings accessible to real stakeholders, and not just the NPICs and wealthy charter sector executives. Download these bilingual petitions and get them into our communities!
Schoolboard candidate Robert D. Skeels speaks at the Pico Union Town Hall to Save LAUSD Adult Education - Friday, May 25, 2012.
Save Adult Education