Letters for May 19

Readers sound off on Edible Schoolyard, the rave scene, charter schools, and more.

“John Williams: Believe Him (Or Not),” Feature, 5/5

Where’s Ravi?

Upon reading Chris Thompson’s article I was flabbergasted. There was no mention of the best known of the alternative economists, Ravi Batra.

Pitting a Right Wing Libertarian against the apologists for Hyper-Corporatism seems like a deliberate attempt to avoid talking about the biggest cause of our economic troubles, the increasingly regressive tax structure.

Stan Moore, Berkeley

Bolding Insults Me

Your new usage of bold type in feature articles unnerves me in ways that eerily parallel your May 5-11 article “Believe Him (Or Not).” A prominent mistake is found in your misquoting of Peter Schiff’s quote “I’ll be him a lot more than a penny,” and toward the end of the article, the author Chris Thompson writes “The media took its hit long ago” in regards to declining public faith in the institutions that are supposed to inform and govern our lives. Is perhaps your newly distracted editorial function too devoted to boldfacing people’s names in feature articles, à la “three dot” round-up columns, than tracking down significant content mistakes? I feel that your readership’s intelligence is insulted, and that the quality of your reporting declines with this tabloid-style boldfacing. Does the pot lose face in called (sic) the kettle balck (sic)?

Landon Phillips, Oakland

“Jerry’s Kids and the Real Lessons Learned,” Full Disclosure, 4/28

The Model Is Replicable

Thanks to reporter Robert Gammon for illuminating a few important issues in public education: inadequate funding and student achievement. While for the most part the piece was balanced and factual, I would like to offer a few insights here that hopefully will enter the ongoing dialogue about education and how to evaluate it.

One of Mr. Gammon’s premises is that the work of schools like Oakland School for the Arts is not replicable because of the robust fund-raising we are able to do. Rather than accept that statement, why not view what OSA has achieved as a model for other private/public partnerships in the schools? OSA attracts funders that are interested in the arts, the Oakland Military Institute inspires donors who value that specific educational model, and other public charter schools have donor bases of contributors who believe in the particular mission of their school. Having been a school administrator in a large urban school district before entering the charter school world, I can only wish that I had acquired that entrepreneurial spirit years earlier. One issue may be that California needs more schools that offer a specialized educational model: the arts, community service, business and commerce, youth leadership — specific models that offer a purposeful, focused education for students and inspire donors with interest in the curricular area the school covers. If this were the case, if schools evolve into specialized educational providers with a recognizable “brand,” I think the public would be surprised by how replicable this fund-raising model can be.

And about the test scores: the adherence to this narrow, static measurement defies all logic. The teachers’ union president who comments that our test scores should go through the roof because of our fund-raising is also, if I am correct, adamantly against any kind of merit pay system for teachers based on test scores. We need to be very clear about the value and usage of this all-too-visible measurement. While we certainly use our achievement ranking as one gauge of our success, the intrinsic worth of a school is so much more than a single score. In the case of the Oakland School for the Arts, we also are part of an urban renewal initiative that has helped revitalize the exciting Uptown district. Around the country, other cities are taking up the call: I was recently contacted by the educational community in Cincinnati, where a brand new arts school facility is the cornerstone of their revitalization effort in the Over the Rhine neighborhood. And of course, our neighbors in San Francisco continue to carry the torch of placing their arts high school in the downtown arts corridor.

All of this points to the fact that schools like OSA offer a new educational paradigm: entrepreneurial, mission-focused, and a vital part of the community they serve. Rather than write this off as a specialty event that can’t be replicated, we should use this model as a call to action and continue to create schools that inspire the public to contribute in significant ways to the future we envision.

Donn K. Harris, Executive Director, Oakland School for the Arts

Alternatives to the Capitalist Mindset

Interesting how different people can look at the same set of factors and come to starkly different conclusions of “reality,” just as people once looked out over the horizon and deduced that the world was flat, while others looked at that same horizon and deduced the world was a globe.Let’s start with the premise that test scores are the indicator of excellence. That is wide open to debate, and I’d encourage everyone to look closely at all sides of that debate. Gammon throws that point a bone, but his bias is fairly evident. Rather than offer a counterpoint to each of Gammon’s assertions — which I could but this letter would get really long — I would like to offer this:There are many mainstream memes about education that are simply destructive. Public education is grossly underfunded, yet we are bombarded with the message that “throwing money at it won’t fix the problem.” How do we know? Apparently throwing money at everything else would seem to be an unquestioned response (witness our “stimulus” dollars at work), so why don’t we try it with education before dismissing money as a factor? Educrats insist on a narrow path for kids based on an assembly-line mentality: we want “results” so pack them on the conveyer belt, process them, and ship them out. The trouble is, kids are not products, they are vulnerable human beings, thus the metaphor of schools following a “business model” is fundamentally flawed, and we need, as a society, to think more in terms of civic models, or family models, or other humanistic models for schools. For kids who are not going to be churned into the next mindless capitalist, there needs to be alternatives. Unfortunately, the constraints set upon the public schools allow very little flexibility at this time. Until we wake up, I am grateful for an alternative for my child. Thank you for OSA, Jerry Brown.

Hope Tollefsrud, Oakland

“Reading, Writing, Replanting,” Feature, 4/28

Winners All Around

An excellent concept, and an excellent story!

At a time when the dark storm clouds of economic disaster and chaos seem to be forming in all directions on the horizon, this story pokes its way through the impending storm clouds like a beam of sunlight.

This type of class/program is a win-win-win for everyone.

Talk about “hands-on” field biology! But obviously, that’s only the beginning. It’s more than just learning about ecosystems, “green” practices, food, and nutrition, and all of the other obvious aspects of this concept.

It’s also about teamwork, shared effort that everyone benefits from, and other “not so obvious” life lessons that are subtle, but essential.

It was also a fun read.  

I could easily see in my mind’s eye the moment when one of the students reacted with the “eww, that’s disgusting!” comment as she was handling an oyster mushroom during a fungus reproduction lecture, but then everyone got back to work with the garden tools once again.

And of course, getting to actually eat the results from the garden as part the class . . .

In a way, this kind of reminds me of the “victory gardens” of a previous era. I’ve been a Berkeley resident for 40+ years, and we are seeing events and changes occurring which will affect life as it is currently known to be for decades to come.

As we all know, we are in a fight for our economic and societal future, not just here, but for the planet.

I defy anyone to come up with anything negative about this class and others like it.

What a great idea.

5 stars plus, and then some!

Charles, Berkeley

Can’t Stop the Movement

In response to your article in the April 28 issue airing the controversy about the value of Alice Waters-inspired Edible Schoolyard at King Middle School, Caitlan Flanagan writing in The Atlantic misses the essential point. Children whose families raise food in their backyards are privileged children, regardless of whether their parents also send them to exclusive summer camps and travel abroad. Even Luke Tsai, author of the article, brings his cultural baggage, opining that “the truth of the matter is that California is in crisis right now with its failure to equip so many of its students with the basic skills that they’ll need to go on to college and become successful.” Our failure as a society is this, to offer ourselves and our children one measure of privilege, one measure of success. 

My experience working with at-risk kids on the Susquehanna watershed replicates what Eichorn reports in the Edible Garden. Unsurprisingly, restoration work on one’s own watershed and/or tapping into our ancient agricultural heritage in a harmonious way — seed, water, harvest, prepare, and share — restores the child. And restores the human.  This unrelenting focus on standardized testing to the exclusion of pursuits that make us more human is shortsighted. But then shortsightedness is perhaps the most descriptive quality of human development at this time, the one that is driving our species and other species and the planet MAD: mutually assured destruction.

Green jobs, now in its infant stage, will be the harbinger of a future that is sustainable.  What a pity that recovery dollars have focused on shovel-ready highway jobs rather than (for example) restoring the estimated 25,000 miles of West Virginia streams that have been despoiled by mountaintop removal of coal. The brief respite we and our pollinators experienced last year with State Departments of Transportations’ frugality will surely see a summer of blasted median strips, as the chemical companies restock DOT supplies for poisoning our wild verges and streams.

I still believe that Green Jobs is on Obama’s checklist and that he will get back to a National Service Program for our young people. In the meantime, Edible Schoolyard isn’t a program, it’s a movement. It can’t be stopped by the shortsighted.

Destiny Kinal, Kensington

“Dylooting the Rave Scene,” Culture Spy, 4/28

Overpierced Wannabes

Dreadlocked Machiavellis like Sperling are who squeezed the life out of the rave scene in the first place, and who continue to be what’s wrong with San Francisco nightlife in general.I don’t have a problem with a good DJ making good money for a good night’s work, but that’s not what this is. This is yet another application of an all too familiar formula: Commodify an organic phenomenon and sell it back to the people you took it from. $70-$125 per ticket? To attend a “party”? No thanks. This is not a party, it’s just another money-sucking event produced by a couple more of the overpierced and opportunistic young wannabes I meet all the time around here. When you’re in it for the money, what you create just aren’t “parties”Of course Sperling is trying to pull in an ever-younger demographic — so are McDonald’s, The Gap, and whoever makes Camel cigarettes these days. $125 per ticket? How about Sperling and company open their books to the community they suck on?And how about you explain how your story isn’t just another part of the problem?Thanks for listening.

Bruce Buchanan, Berkeley

What’s Local About It?

I am going to say something I don’t admit much. I am a former Happy Kid. Not the kind that attaches the moniker in front of their name for glory, but the kind of happy kid that gave birth to a crew that inspired many a copycat, some who were able to surpass us.

So I was delighted and amused to see in bold face on the cover this week two names: Happy Kid Marty and Dyloot. What followed was a fluffed-up and highly misrepresented history that had some truth to it but was also incredibly erroneous. I wasn’t happy but I can’t say that I am surprised that another Rachel Swan article was well-written, but not well-researched. 

For those of us in the rave scene, our memories can be hazy, but I do know that Dyloot first threw a party in 1998, shortly after the Happy Kid’s one-year anniversary at Maritime Hall, a venue that previously had done club nights and concerts, but never a rave. And if memory serves me correctly, the first party he DJ’d was our second event and was in a warehouse in West Oakland, the rest of that particular story is true: he was the only DJ to perform before the party was busted and relocated to SF.

And while it is mostly true that Dyloot is one of the only promoters that is currently doing events of this size in the Bay, events of this size used to happen a lot more and were mostly in East Oakland at places like 85th and Baldwin or Home Base. Techno Tribal Massive is a North Bay collective that does Dyloot-size events currently.I guess the thing I am most surprised by is why this is culture news for the East Bay Express when I can’t remember the last time Dyloot and Skills threw a party in the East Bay. I love Jason and wish him nothing but luck and success. I just don’t see how a huge party at the Cow Palace that most real ravers wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole is local and newsworthy. Seems more like a glorified advertisement for someone I hope still considers me a friend.

I wish this mag would focus more on the actual local culture. That would make me happy. San Fran events get plenty of publicity and people and don’t need to take up space in a newspaper dedicated to the Beast. We may not have massives anymore now that Henry J Kaiser and the other large venues are not operating anymore, but we have heart and plenty to do like the Vulcan Wide party or the East Bay Rats TV Smash, both on May Day or the upcoming Grant Slam that a nonprofit named Circle Academy is doing where they are holding a series of events where artists pay a small fee to participate and then choose which of them receives the grant from the proceeds. There is a new Arts Center in Oakland that is making buzz and is the home of Circle Academy. I should know, I run it, and we have filmmaking events, workshops, concerts, dinner theater, and even “raves” on the calendar. Rachel, it’s time to take it to the next level and be reliable, not just readable.

Usa Devi, Oakland

Corrections

The May 12 Eco Watch, “Building It Green in Berkeley,” contained an error in the photo caption. The developers of Parker Place are shooting for LEED-Platinum certification, but the housing complex has not yet received such certification.

The May 12 music story, “Bright Lights,” misspelled the last name of Francis and the Lights drummer Jake Schreier.

The May 12 story, “Bare Soles,” incorrectly stated that chiropractor Jessica Greaux works out of Oakland. She works out of Berkeley.

The May 12 Ear Bud, “A Loss to the East Bay Music Community,” contained an error in the photo attribution of Peter Webster. It should have been credited to “Brain Injury Dialogues.”

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