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April 27, 2007 | Page 10

Fired for taking a stand for Till
We need more than single-payer
The pressure on recruiters

Fired for taking a stand for Till

TWO TEACHERS at a Los Angeles charter school got a lesson in just how little respect for-profit schools have for the teachers who make them run.

Last month, Celerity Nascent Charter School seventh-grade teacher Marisol Alba and math teacher Sean Strauss were fired over an incident stemming from the planning of a February Black History Month celebration to honor the memory of Emmett Till, the 14-year-old who was lynched in 1955 after allegedly whistling at a white woman--and whose death helped spark the modern civil rights movement.

Alba helped her students prepare the program, which included the reading of a poem about Till and plans to lay flowers in a circle. When school officials found out, however, they objected to the presentation, saying it was "inappropriate" for younger children

According to Alba, the principal of the school also objected to what she termed Emmett Till's "sexual harassment" (Till had a speech impediment which sometimes caused him to make a whistling sound)--ridiculously comparing it to a construction worker whistling at a woman walking down the street.

"She said that she would be offended by that, and that what Emmett Till did could be considered sexual harassment," Alba told the Los Angeles Times last month. "She used the phrase a couple of times, and when I objected, she said 'okay, inappropriately whistled at a woman.'"

Several students defended Alba's account, and one parent who called in to complain said that principal Grace Canada shockingly described Emmett Till's supposed actions as "rude."

Math teacher Sean Strauss was later fired for having signed onto one of more than 10 letters of protest circulated by students. The administration charged him with "disparaging the school to students and parents and authorizing by physical signature a nonsupportive message to the administrative staff."

But as Strauss told the Los Angeles Times, "The kids felt strongly about this, and because these are my students, I felt one of my jobs was to pay attention to them."

Eighty percent of Celerity's 500 students are African American, and 19 percent are Latino. Yet according to Celerity cofounder and Executive Director Vielka McFarlane, the Till celebration was inappropriate because "Our whole goal is how do we get these kids to not look at all of the bad things that could happen to them, and instead focus on the process of how do we become the next surgeon or the next politician."

But not, presumably, one of the thousands of teachers working at the more than 600 charters schools in California--90 percent of whom, like Alba and Strauss, have no union protection and can be fired at any moment for standing up for what they believe.

As parent Vera Hampton told the Times, "Those teachers should not have lost their jobs for standing up for what they felt was right; that sends the wrong message. The kids didn't even get a chance to say goodbye."
Diane Warren, San Francisco

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We need more than single-payer

NO DOUBT a single-payer medical system would be an improvement over the current abysmal state of medical care in the U.S. ("Sick and getting sicker," April 13). However, as a Canadian doctor working in a single-payer system, I can testify that it does not guarantee access to medical care.

I have a wait-list that is as large as my practice, and grows larger every day. Most of the general practitioners in my area have closed their practices to new patients, and a growing number of people have no family doctors at all.

True, the Canadian style of rationing medical care is more fair than the American style of rationing. But why should we accept any form of rationing? Medicine should be freely available to all who need it. If capitalism cannot deliver that, then we need to create a society that can.
Susan Rosenthal, MD, Toronto, Ontario

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The pressure on recruiters

AS AN ex-Navy-recruiter, I have to set the story straight. Everywhere I go, I see articles or news programs stating that military recruiters lie.

For example, I just read an article by Chris White from CounterPunch that states, "Recruiters have monthly quotas and, once filled, they can slack off for the rest of the month. However, the more people they sign up, the better their chances for promotion. Therefore, the incentive for dishonesty is high indeed."

This article makes me sick. There is no incentive on the part of recruiters themselves to be dishonest, none whatsoever. I was a Navy recruiter for three years and that was the worst three years of my life. The reason why military recruiters are dishonest is because of the pressure the upper chain of command puts on you. You have no idea of what I had to go through while I was at Navy Recruiting Command in Houston.

For example, if a kid came in and told me that he or she smoked marijuana, my supervisor would tell me that I had three days to get the kid clean. If not, they would kick me out of the Navy for not obeying a order. I could go on and on how my chain of command made me do things that I did not want to.

One of my dreams in life was to retire from the military. I was proud and honest, and I was blissful to serve my county. I recently separated from the military with honors. If I never had become a recruiter, I still would be in the military today. So where is the incentive to be dishonest? Trust me, it's not the recruiters!
Adam Mathews, from the Internet

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