Public schools

LA School District Wants to Destroy the World's Greatest Teacher Over Harmless Joke

Public schools punish good educators

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Shakespeare
Dreamstime

Why was Rafe Esquith—a celebrated Los Angeles teacher with numerous achievements—suspended from class and forced to cancel his annual Shakespeare production? I previously reported that his alleged infraction was reading a colorful passage from Mark Twain, but according to new details in this Washington Post story, it's actually a harmless, wholly inoffensive joke that got him in trouble.

Esquith teaches at Hobart Boulevard elementary in LA. Most of his students are low-income Korean and Hispanic kids. His numerous extracurricular activities—including field trips and Shakespeare productions—are largely funded through private donations from benefactors attracted to his excellent work. While reading a passage from Huckleberry Finn in which "the king came prancing out on all fours, naked," Esquith remarked that if he couldn't raise additional funds for his annual production, he supposed "the class would have to similarly perform naked."

WaPost's Jay Mathews puts his comment in context:

Esquith was joking. He does that a lot, as anyone who knows him has long been aware of. The school district has provided no significant funds for the annual play and Esquith's many field trips and other projects, but his work has attracted many wealthy and influential supporters, so he was not expressing a real worry. The Shakespearean plays are very low-budget, since they are done in his small classroom with the audience on risers and the many musical instruments mostly donated.

But a teacher who was in the room took him seriously, reported this to the principal and the principal reported it to the district. From there on, [Esquith's attorney Ben] Meiselas said, the district has been conducting an open-ended investigation with no apparent charges and no due process for Esquith.  No child has complained. No parent has complained. The teacher who made the first report emailed him in April to say "I just want you to know that I am here for you . . . and I wish you the best resolution possible!"

Esquith's lawyers have told the district to publicly apologize and let him return to work or be sued. Meiselas said district officials pulled some of Esquith's students out of class and questioned them intensely about what Esquith had said and anything he might have done to them, without first seeking the permission of their parents. Meiselas said the students were extremely upset, as were the parents.

And that's it. One of the most celebrated public school teachers in the country has been driven out of his classroom, his charitable work halted, because no one can appreciate a joke—a completely appropriate joke.

Mathews continues:

There are no suggestions that he has harmed any children. But as many of the great teachers I have written about over the years have told me, if you work hard and show administrators how much better our schools could be if they took their responsibilities seriously, you are going to become a target for abuse.

I have witnessed many outrages by school districts, but this may be the worst yet.

This is the public school system: a confluence of bad incentives that permits lazy, ineffective teachers to keep drawing checks year after year while thwarting successful and innovative teachers at every turn. Esquith will likely be allowed to continue teaching when classes resume next fall, but this disruption is a terrible shame for his students.

In a sane world, LA schools would stifle the urge to splurge on unnecessary extravagances, and instead concentrate on providing basic instruction while rewarding the good apples.

NEXT: Where the Libertarians Are (Hint: the East, as Always, Sucks)

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  1. But a teacher who was in the room took him seriously, reported this to the principal and the principal reported it to the district.

    Teaching is a zero sum game, and now all of Esquith’s accolades will go to her!

    1. Now, if only we could find a way to transfer accolades via sword battles and beheadings…

      1. It is a good thing they had sense enough to report this insidious remark to the proper school district authorities. It starts with a little bit of “light humor,” then it takes a satirical twist, then they start using the Internet too and before you know it the law is being violated by scurrilous individuals who twist words and stir up controversy with “jokes” and “hoaxes” that cross the line into a zone that we really don’t like. See the documentation of America’s leading criminal satire case at:

        http://raphaelgolbtrial.wordpress.com/

        1. next thing he’ll be asking if anyone owns a woodchipper

    2. Ha! Thanks for the laugh, this article got under my skin.

  2. “The teacher who made the first report emailed him in April to say “I just want you to know that I am here for you . . . and I wish you the best resolution possible!””

    Your Friend,
    Iago

    1. Kinda figured you’d go for:

      “Your friend,

      J. Iscariot”

      1. Not Shakespearean enough, SusanM. Not Shakespearean enough.

        1. But, he brings r… Oh never mind…

    2. Yes! Excellent.

    3. Notorious, thee wins the internet today!

  3. This man needs to very publicly shift himself to a position in a charter school or something. Tell his former colleague and boss to suck it, take whatever good students he can with him, and fuck the rest.

    Oh, wait. Administrators and teachers don’t get punished if their schools do worse. Nevermind, he should obviously stay where he is and keep taking it in the ass.

    1. Not everyone in LA is gay, nicole.

      1. That’s not saying much.

        Ba rum-bum! Pshh!

  4. “In a sane world, LA schools would stifle the urge to splurge on unnecessary extravagances, and instead concentrate on providing basic instruction while rewarding the good apples.”

    No one has ever gotten a budget increase by doing more with less.

    1. here is the ultimate of doing more with more a $578 million school
      http://www.huffingtonpost.com/…..90497.html

      1. “The K-12 complex to house 4,200 students…”

        My secondary school (7-12) had almost the same number of students and (at least when I graduated) was considered one of the top 20 public schools in the country. I don’t care what the teacher-student ratio is. You fill it with shit teachers managed by shit administrators all serving kids with shit parents and – surprise – you get shit.

  5. Another example of why only victims should be able to prosecute.

    So many problems could be solved by getting rid of non-victim prosecution. You’d still have to have some way to start investigations before victims can be identified to take over investigations, such as an abandoned car or a house with a broken front door. And these idiot principals could certainly use that as an excuse to find victims among the students. But there’d be a clear limit to that — once all the students refused to be victims, end of investigation, and if the students thought the investigation itself was too damned pushy and inquisitive, they could file their own claims against the principal as victims of his inquisition.

    1. “But there’d be a clear limit to that –”

      This is what the framers thought when they wrote the takings clause in the 5th. Yet today we have Kelo v New London and the Raisin Administration Committee. Better to just keep it simple. Only the victim of a non violent offence can levy charges, criminal or civil. If the government wishes to acquire private property, it must do so in the open market. So on.

  6. Posted this earlier but it seems really appropos here:

    Alright, Imma do a morning link. This one is good, Tony-level lack of self ?awareness.
    http://gizmodo.com/fuck-the-in…..1713120140
    Gizmodo writer wants the internet shame spiral to stop ? after it has wrought sufficient destruction on her desired targets. Unbelievable hypocrisy on display here.
    Yes, that guy should be hounded from polite society for an impolitic remark, BUT HOW DARE YOU SUGGEST WE OVERREACTED!! FUCK YOU AND YOUR SHAME SPIRAL!!!

    1. Here’s the best part:

      “As a result of all the publicity, Hunt was asked to step down from his honorary positions at the University College London and on the European Research Council. It was clearly the right thing to do. Not only did Hunt say completely reprehensible things, but he couldn’t even figure out that you don’t tell a room full of female scientists at a professional conference that they are lovesick crybabies. This is not a guy who should be in charge of anything.”

      He shouldn’t be in charge of anything? Tim Hunt has had a 40 year career in which he’s been an immensely important part of cancer research and discovered cyclins. Plus, this happened according to wikipedia:

      “In a letter to The Times a group of 29 staff scientists, students and postdoctoral fellows, both male and female, who had worked with Tim Hunt, wrote in support of his character. They described how his help had been “instrumental in the advancement of many other women and men in science beyond those in his own lab” and how he had “actively encouraged an interest in science in schoolchildren and young scientists, arranging for work experience and summer students of both genders to get their first taste of research in his lab.” They urged the ERC and UCL to “reconsider their rush to judgment”.

      Clearly this random Gizmodo writer has a better understanding of Hunt’s leadership capabilities than the fucking postdoc fellows who are supporting him.

      1. “My outrage is all that matters!” – Gizmondo contributor.

        1. Gizmodo… Gizmondo… who gives a crap?

          1. It’s more shut up and sit down while we preach shit. Everything these people come up with is some way of trying to shut down debate without calling it censorship.

      2. Heads on the wall is all that matters to these fucksticks.

        1. Perhaps we can teach them Tudor History with some heads on pikes.

      3. Or…

        No matter how Hunt finally got deposed, we can’t ignore the facts. His comments were unacceptable.

        You know, I seem to remember learning in FUCKING GRADE SCHOOL the difference between facts and opinions. Shame someone working for Gizmodo still hasn’t mastered that skill.

      4. A lame, old-fashioned joke is “say[ing] completely reprehensible things”? It’s like the critics really do try to prove the joke to be apt.

    2. Every time you read Gizmondo, a neuron dies. Don’t you care about the neurons?

      1. Is that death by the article or by the word?

    3. “We need to get out of the shame-spiral? well, we can spiral a little? only until it gets to the exact resolution I believe in.”

      that made me chuckle.

  7. “There are no suggestions that he has harmed any children. But as many of the great teachers I have written about over the years have told me, if you work hard and show administrators how much better our schools could be if they took their responsibilities seriously, you are going to become a target for abuse.”

    The unionized school system doesn’t exist to reward good teachers, it exists to prevent bad teachers from losing their jobs. That’s the problem with collective bargaining – the bargaining agreements end up being for the benefit of the larger group of workers. Average and bad workers are more common than great workers (especially in an admittedly difficult job like teaching), so the public schools exist for the benefit of the mediocre and the terrible teachers rather than the good or great ones.

  8. Sounds to me like some jealous shit head teacher used this incident to get rid of the upiddy star.

  9. joke em if they can’t take a fuck

  10. I’m curious about one thing: where is the teacher’s union? I’ve been lectured ad nauseum by Tony and his ilk about how unions are there to protect the teachers and how wonderful and noble the unions are. Near as I can tell they aren’t doing jack shit for this teacher. Do they only look out for the fuckups?

    1. Re: Enjoy Every Sandwich,

      I’ve been lectured ad nauseum by Tony and his ilk about how unions are there to protect the teachers

      Well, the answer is that Tony and his ilk are pathological liars. All Marxians are.

    2. Re: Enjoy Every Sandwich,

      I’ve been lectured ad nauseum by Tony and his ilk about how unions are there to protect the teachers

      Well, the answer is that Tony and his ilk are pathological liars. All Marxians are.

      1. Whoa, there! I only clicked “submit” ONCE! What gives?

        1. Whoa, there! I only clicked “submit” ONCE! What gives?

        2. Teh squirrels are on your nuts Old Mexican.

    3. Do they only look out for the fuckups?

      Yes. Good teachers make the fuckups look bad, so they get no protection.

    4. I’m curious about one thing: where is the teacher’s union?

      Its making sure the protruding nail gets hammered down.

      Business as usual, for a union.

    5. Do they only look out for the fuckups?

      Well…sure. If you’re competent at your job, you’re probably not going to be the type who’ll cozy up to the union rep or their cronies. And refusing to hold your skill or effort down to the common level of mediocrity isn’t going to endear you to the union.

  11. This is the public school system: a confluence of bad incentives that permits lazy, ineffective teachers to keep drawing checks year after year while thwarting successful and innovative teachers at every turn.

    Of couse, but this shouldn’t come as a surprise. Public School systems all over the world have been nothing more than a jobs program for unconditional political supporters. It has been like that for decades, in most instances since the inception of a particular system in a particular country. Some worse than others, but that is not saying much.

    1. Had a buddy of mine who interviewed to become a public school teacher. Per state law, the union rep was allowed to be in the room during the interview and help guide the question (you know, for “quality control” in hiring). He said most of the questions revolved around what he thought about school choice and public funding for school. Very little had to do with anything related to his actual job.

      All public sector unions should be abolished…especially in education and law enforcement.

  12. But as many of the great teachers I have written about over the years have told me, if you work hard and show administrators how much better our schools could be if they took their responsibilities seriously, you are going to become a target for abuse.

    “Nobody likes a goody two-shoes, buddy.”

  13. Aren’t they openly discussing dicks and vaginas in Health class down the hall?

    1. Something tells me it wasn’t the questionably prurient nature of his comment but the fact that he was – pardon the pun – laying bare the fact that the school district was shorting his popular and effective programs on money. Even worse, his popular and effective programs were being conducted do to private donations.

  14. In a sane world, LA schools would stifle the urge to splurge on unnecessary extravagances, and instead concentrate on providing basic instruction while rewarding the good apples.

    They’re government indoctrination camps, financed with stolen loot, replete with regulatory capture of politicians by the teacher’s union. This is a predictable outcome of those incentives stemming from the theft.

  15. I wonder what happens when we reach a critical mass of petty tyrant bureaucrats operating over every walk of life. Oh wait…this. And the valedictorian kid in Jersey. And practically all of Lenore’s articles. And half of the other stories we see here.

    It doesn’t look good.

    1. Oh no, we haven’t hit Peak Retard yet. Far more slap-dash imbecility is yet to come, before good people will finally take to the torches and pitchforks.

  16. This why my child goes to a private school of my choice.
    I taught in the government school system. It serves the purpose of brainwashing kids. The focus isn’t a good education that can get you a decent job anymore.

  17. No child has complained. No parent has complained. The teacher who made the first report emailed him in April to say “I just want you to know that I am here for you . . . and I wish you the best resolution possible!”

    I’m making my services for the most brutal and horrific public humiliation of this person possible, available for free.

  18. Have they taken The Dukes of Hazzard off CMT yet?

    Incidentally, back in the day? Nobody looked at the roof of that sweet ’69 Charger and thought, “Well there go a couple of racists”.

    1. ahem…wrong thread.

      All apologies.

  19. I shouldn’t read this stuff in the morning. Where is Foolkiller? When will he make his appearance?

  20. This will be the down fall to the greatest country on the planet. too many leaches think they are entitled to other peoples earnings. ????? http://www.Workweb40.com

  21. How fucking stupid are these people, or the people who believe them?

    Sohn said LA Unified has reached the end of its Taj Mahal building spree. “These are definitely the exceptions,” he said. “We don’t anticipate schools costing hundreds of millions of dollars in the future.”

  22. Wait a minute. If teachers are so impossible to fire, why would this teacher be the exception?

  23. Wasn’t it LA that refused to investigate a genuine rapist teacher a couple years ago? I could be wrong, I lose track of which instance of evil goes with which institution.

    1. The LA school district had the elementary school teacher who was feeding the students his semen.

  24. That narc teacher needs a visit from Ray Velcoro. Ugh.

  25. So now this teacher needs an agent or business associate to help him set up his own private brand and venture. Move over Mavis Beacon!

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  27. Ultimately, liberals (such as those who control the major urban school districts) have no interest in good education for most students, for the same reason the Jim Crow South didn’t want blacks to be educated well (and especially to know about such dangerous concepts as civil rights, such as the right to bear arms). Peasants only need minimal education, and that’s how the aristos want it.

  28. I read this entire article and have yet to find any explanation for why this man has not been tarred, feathered, and dragged through the public square. I’m outraged!

  29. “But a teacher who was in the room took him seriously, reported this to the principal and the principal reported it to the district.”

    I’m not the first to pull this from the article, but this teacher who ‘took him seriously’ is not qualified to teach and should hauled feet first out of the school as quickly as possible.

    How should this have been handled:

    Teacher cries, “He said he wanted children to perform naked!”

    Principle:, “You seem incapable of understanding even the most simple human interaction, you’re fired. Sorry, but you’ll miss the play.”

    The End.

  30. As a quick to laugh and quick to joke man, I fear darkness ahead. What I fear most is not the mob’s lynchings but how there appears to be no way to turn back from this course. I can think of nothing else to stop the ever accelerating doom then a true selfless martyring of a great human being. I (semi)honestly believe that salvation will only come if the mob hangs someone so vitreous that in the aftermath even the peasants will question their dearly held but misguided values.

    Martyring is the most powerful act one can commit and just think about the societal effects that follow in the wake of a true martyr like Christ or MLK. I weep though because this man isn’t famous enough to change anything, he can only curse the mob or beg mercy from the ‘Twitteratti’. I foresee a dark day when Malala or another good soul will say an off-the-cuff remark about X, then after she has been destroyed the masses will finally realize the innocent blood on their hands and be ashamed.

  31. If Esquith’s students were mostly white, their white privilege would shield them from colorful jokes. “Insensitive remarks are a small price to pay for academic excellence,” the principal would say as she dismisses the complaint.

    But his low income Korean and Mexican kids aren’t that lucky. The Korean kids are mindless Confucius lemmings. “Honorable teacher says we must get naked to raise funds for his production, we must obey.”

    The non white kids are stupid morons. This kind of bold initiative will protect their delicate sensibilities until they graduate from college.

  32. If the guy turned out to be a predator, then the same people criticizing the school today for overreacting would’ve been criticizing the school for turning a blind eye. If we want schools to stop overreacting, then we need to accept that sometimes bad things happen at school. The administrators must know this is a meaningless issue, but under-reacting to this sort of thing is one of the few ways for the individuals to get in serious trouble.

    1. Sorry, “some” of the same people would criticize in either scenario. Obviously libertarians are pretty attuned to the problems with zero tolerance.

    2. Sorry, “some” of the same people would criticize in either scenario. Obviously libertarians are pretty attuned to the problems with zero tolerance.

    3. If the guy turned out to be a predator, then the same people criticizing the school today for overreacting would’ve been criticizing the school for turning a blind eye.

      Libertarians aren’t criticizing the school for overreacting, we are viewing this as a symptom of an utterly broken and corrupt public school system. And the solution to that isn’t changing the level of reaction, it is to get rid of public schools altogether.

  33. “[…]The teacher who made the first report emailed him in April to say “I just want you to know that I am here for you . . . and I wish you the best resolution possible!”[…]”

    Yeah, I’m sure you do, you flaming POS.

  34. Idiots.

  35. Kind of reminds me of that scene from The Lives of Others: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UtdhFe5hy5s

    Only the firing here is not actually a joke itself. I guess California is now officially worse than East Germany.

  36. I’ve been a fan of Rafe Esquith for years — he’s a hero, to me, in so many ways.
    This story incensed me so much I started a petition on change.org — http://tinyurl.com/petitionforRafeE & I hope you’ll sign it (automatically emails the superintendent of the LA Unified School District with every signature).

  37. People who can’t take a joke… just ask Tim Hunt.

  38. Google pay 97$ per hour my last pay check was $8500 working 1o hours a week online. My younger brother friend has been averaging 12k for months now and he works about 22 hours a week. I cant believe how easy it was once I tried it out.
    This is wha- I do…… ?????? http://www.Wage-Report.com

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