Scenes from Los Angeles's teacher-librarian witch-hunt

Bfarn sez, "I don't know if you've been following the Los Angeles Unified School District's witch hunt, but they've been trying to lay off their entire staff of librarians. They've been conducting McCarthy-esque trials, forcing teacher-librarians to defend both their personal worth and their district-defined credentials.

One brave teacher has been blogging about the experience (as retweeted by Neil Gaiman!) and was singled out by LAUSD lawyers for her efforts.

They won, and lost their best teacher in the process."

After an hour of testimony and an hour lunch break, I returned to the stand feeling pretty good. I had answered well and was confident that I would continue to do so. That was until my entire personal blog, 90 pages of posts dating back to 2007, was brought out in printed form and submitted to the court. The lawyers had scoured my musings for ammo, and they found some key posts that did, in fact, make me look like a bit of an idiot for a moment or two. Taken so far out of the context of a school, and particularly my school, some of these posts made it seem as if I was full of it when I testified that I am a competent and active teacher. I wrote about days when I didn't feel much like teaching, or days when I didn't feel that I had taught very much. I wrote about the nature of my job in the library and its clerical demands, and how on some days I felt like I did nothing but shelve books. I wrote about allowing students to watch a movie trailer for Twilight. I wrote about having a slow day in the library. I wrote about times when my teaching practice seemed to be eroding slowly because of the cuts in clerical staff, meetings, etc. I wrote about times when kids worked collaboratively as I stood back and observed, therefore not directly 'teaching'. I wrote about feeling frustrated over the struggle to teach certain content. I wrote honestly and emotionally, reflectively, as one does on one's personal blog.

So, yes, I wrote about times when I wasn't delivering direct instruction, and they claimed this evidence impeached my testimony that I 'constantly' teach. Well, obviously I used the word 'constantly' in the widely accepted usage meaning very frequently (I constantly go to the gym. I constantly go to the movies.) No teacher, not one, constantly teaches in the literal sense of the word. We use the bathroom, we eat lunch, we chat with other teachers, we file papers, we clean the classroom, and yes, we do make personal phone calls sometimes or even, god forbid, answer a personal email between classes.

Message Received (Thanks, Bfarn!)

(Image: mediafront - cropped, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from info_grrl's photostream)


  1. LAUSD isn’t merely rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic – they’re adjusting the fringe on the blankets.

    Our school community had to go out this year and try to raise $300,000 from parents – an average of $1,000 per family, just to make sure we have a librarian, art teacher, PE coach and academic coach/tutors for next year. We can only imagine how bad it’s grown in neighborhoods where there isn’t a tight-knit, fairly well-off population of engaged families helping prop up public education.

    With the triple whammy of California’s budget crisis, a legacy of bloated bureaucracy (more than 700,000 children, the nation’s largest district) and the severe damage done to revenues by decades of Prop. 13’s tax limitations, God knows how much we’ll have to try to raise *next* year.

    This district isn’t merely holed below the surface and taking on water – it’s in flames.

  2. This is why I don’t have a blog.

    Blogs only *feel* intimate and personal. But they are a form of public speaking.

  3. The moral of the story is, don’t ever let your employer know the location or identity of your personal blog. There is no upside, it only provides ammunition for them to hurt you with.

    Perhaps after legal precedent is established that defines what the employer can or can not legally use against you, this could change. We need a solid legal definition of the boundaries between personal and professional lives. But right now, the more information your employer has on you, the more they can damage you.

    This is why, for myself at least, my employer knows absolutely nothing about me except what I have expressly told them, and that is very little despite working here nearly six years now.

    1. This is an excellent point. I make sure to use a fake name everywhere online in the fear an employer may Google my name. The saddest part is this then in turn makes you not want to get to know anyone at work. I have work friends that I hang out with outside of work but I am very sensitive who I give my Fake Names to. My two work friends know my Fake Name for Facebook, where I can be truly me. You have to live with two personas, an internet one and a work only one. It is really hard to filter yourself down like that. So I feel the pain this teacher is feeling about needing a personal outlet that is then being used against them publicly.

      The best solution is to keep everything off the internet. Write that stuff in your personal, at home, on paper journal. I have a teacher friend at work (looking for work actually) who refuses to get a Facebook account in fear of being found. But most don’t feel the same relief by journaling to themself, so the next best thing is to make a persona.

      Until privacy is increased online, we will have just those two options.

      1. You make a good point… but sometimes you need to fight for what YOU believe.

        If we all hid… we most likely we would not be discussing this topic. She is indeed a brave Librarian… I appreciate her willingness to put out her life experience, opinions, and fighting the good fight for her beliefs.

        I would not have discovered, or been able to grasp the intricacies of this issue if she did not. …

        And There she goes …. constantly teaching again ;)

        1. +1 for the brave librarian (Don’t miss the comment by GwynethJ above!)

          My guess is that she knew it was public all along, but didn’t care. Or rather, cared too much to keep quiet.

      2. It’s interesting the paradox this produces – when it gets to the point where we can live truly only under a false name, and must restrict our true names to false living, things have gotten into a sad state. It’s like the common fiction trope about keeping your “true name” secret from potential enemies because of the power it gives them.

        Why not reverse things – reserve the “false” name for use by employers and governments? It’s enough to make me wish I had given my daughter a “false” official name, other than the one we call her…

  4. I can’t believe that there isn’t more outrage over this. It looks like a scene from 1954. There are armed guards inside the room. This practice should be illegal. Look at all the money we are spending on these “Witch Hunts”. Just so the “examiners” can justify there pathetic jobs. Welcome to the slippery slope.

    Torches and Pitchforks. ITS AN OUTRAGE!

  5. You know the system is broken when the students/teachers/and parents all know something is seriously wrong, and yet the government just keeps on like THIS is the only solution.

  6. This is just awful. I hate how the justice system allows lawyers to spin a story against someone unfairly with all the deft and bias of a PR smear campaign. Frightening stuff. I feel so bad for this person.

    It does raise a good point, though, about personal responsibility and theInternet. It’s interesting how some people will put anything they’re feeling online, even if it doesn’t accurately represent themselves. And yet, were they publishing a book or being filmed for TV they’ll think more (sometimes anyway) about what they say or how they act, in order to accurately present themselves.

    But the internet, a blog especially, isn’t any less public than any other medium. Why would you write deeply personal things on there and then be alarmed later when a total stranger has access to it?

    I don’t agree that this teacher’s feelings, written in a blog, should be used against her in ANY WAY, but I have to question why anyone would put this on a public page, intended for public consumption, in the first place. If that was the intent of the blog then fine, but clearly it was not.

    We need to education our kids not to use public areas (heck, even semi-private ones like Facebook) as public confessionals.

    The Internet is public, people need to stop acting likes it’s not.

  7. I was reading things and thinking, “Why courts? Why a judge? Why attorneys?” but this LA Times column helps make “sense” of it. Specifically this paragraph…

    To get the librarians off the payroll, the district’s attorneys need to prove to an administrative law judge that the librarians don’t have that recent teaching experience. To try to prove that they do teach, the librarians, in turn, come to their hearings with copies of lesson plans they’ve prepared and reading groups they’ve organized.

    Rather a mean means to an end.

  8. As the husband of an LAUSD teacher who’s also been issued a RIF for the third year in a row, I’m completely unsurprised. I’ve never seen an organization who’s administration was so contemptuous of it’s front line workers, nor one that seemed so bent on self destruction.

  9. Comments such as those from ‘g0d5m15t4k3’ and ‘Greekster’ are profoundly saddening. It’s not the lack of ‘online privacy’ that is troubling, as much as the fact that there is no basic sense of civility nor fairness. The same sort of individual who will lift sentences from blog posts out of context and use them to tar the poster will also resort to tricks like presenting the teacher’s trusted friends with subpoenas to testify. And ‘Greekster’ Essentially, what ‘g0d5m15t4k3’ advises is never to trust anyone; never to express your feelings; be as far as anyone can see a perfect cog in the machine, lest your basic humanity someday be held up as cause for your condemnation.

    Humans literally cannot live that way. It is destructive of not only our humanity, but also of our very lives. For that reason, I post this under the name that my parents gave me. I fully expect that someday this or another posting will come under fire – most likely tarring my as an enemy sympathizer in some future totalitarian society. That is something I accept.

    If enough people do the same, the outcome may well be that the ordinary distractions and foibles of human life will be seen as what they are – utterly unremarkable. Our young people – who bare their hearts to all on Facebook – seem to have an intuitive grasp of this principle. If every kid who’s had a messy breakup online, or bitched about a terrible boss, or committed some petty indiscretion at a party will become unemployable because of it, there simply won’t be a next generation of workers.

    Even angels, if held to the standards of the prosecution here, could not stand. And men are not angels. Blaming the victim offers only the false hope of, “if I keep my nose clean, it can’t happen to me.” It can.

    1. Totally agreed. When someone is willing to sue you, most likely they are willing to do anything and everything they can get away with to win regardless of how unethical or irrelevant it is. And they can get away with a quite lot if they have more money/power than you do. The only, rather faint, hope one can have is that the authority is the type who believes in making a balanced, objective judgement as opposed to coldly applying policies and loopholes.

      I got sued once by an employer who claimed he had a restrictive covenant over me to kick me out of ‘his’ industry. Considering I was a mere sales clerk, working a few bucks above minimum wage with no special benefits or information access, it was ludicrous. But he was known for ‘making examples’ of people who crossed him. He thought the sheer distress from a lawsuit would have me surrender upon getting served (he got that wrong). The amount of information and background he dug up on me (I WASN’T on the intertubes back then) was disturbing. Despite the fact that I lead a pretty darn clean life- the worst thing he dug up was that I was behind on a few VISA payments at the time- he relentlessly tried to savage my reputation. There was no shame or reserve.

      Thankfully, the whole mess eventually fizzled. But it sure showed me how many tools greedy sociopaths have at the ready when they feel like bullying smaller people. If you show them you’re bleeding, they will crush you like a bug or spite themselves trying. Living under a rock makes little difference if they decide to feast on you.

  10. “You know the system is broken when the students/teachers/and parents all know something is seriously wrong, and yet the government just keeps on like THIS is the only solution.”

    You could say that about the US economy too.

    In this case breaking the public education system is all part of the plan. In right-wing-world, nobody deserves anything — including an education — unless they pay cash for it.

    Besides, uneducated and undereducated people are easier to lead — you know, like sheep. Or a mob. Which I think explains a lot about why so many US residents consistently vote against their own self-interest.

  11. I used to freelance write for several political websites in the early 2000s. I don’t need to believe what I write in order for it to be effective so my articles were spread out across the political spectrum. I wrote under my own name and it got me in trouble with my employer who did not believe my article weren’t my personal beliefs. Anyway, I use a fake name now and don’t write nearly as much.

  12. I once sent an email that was critical of an unaffiliated third-party company to a *private email list* complaining about customer service, and that email was forwarded by someone on that list without my permission to the CEO of that company, who was friends with the CEO of my company.

    I was fired the next day for “showing poor judgement” in being critical of that third party company.

    Never mind blogs – under no circumstances ever put anything in a letter or email that you wouldn’t say in public because it has a way of coming back to you later.

  13. If you have an employer, never talk or write about them, positively or negatively, especially in any fixed medium, under your own name.

    This is not new advice. Enough people have lost their jobs over the last ten years because of things they’ve written on blogs or on Usenet or on Facebook or whatever that one would have to be a recluse, relatively speaking, to not have heard of such occurrences and to govern themselves otherwise.

    This is not an example of chilled speech or a chilly climate; it’s just common sense. Pre-Net, you wouldn’t talk shit about your boss at a cocktail party, or criticise your employer in a letter to the editor, or joke around to your church group about how little work you did the previous week.

    Well, you might, but word might circulate and you might get shitcanned for any of the above.

    And what you think might be innocuous, your employer might not. The answer is simple: don’t take the risk. Stay schtum, or be anonymous.

    1. Agreed. I simply do not write about work, period. I don’t talk about my job, my role in the company, whether or not I had a good day or bad day or anything else associated with work.

      If I’ve got something to complain about, I do that with friends or my wife or otherwise “in person”. Everyone I care to have hear what I’ve got to say hears it and then it’s gone.

      Anyway, hopefully these people getting screwed can go find jobs where people still appreciate employees who aren’t completely dead inside.

  14. What miserable slavery that is. What happened to the notion of employees having rights, and groups like unions that would stand up for them? Oh, right.

  15. Surely the point here is not that she chose to air her personal opinions and feelings in a public forum, but that her comments did not warrant the way she was treated. If she had posted negative comments about her employer, or the students, or had provided evidence that she was milking the system, then fair enough. However there was nothing in her comments that warranted her removal. She expressed human feelings and reactions to the challenges of her job. She admitted to carrying out her work in a way that has been shown by peer-reviewed educational research to be beneficial to students (ie. student-centred rather than teacher centred). For this she paid the price, not that she chose to air these views in a public place.

    We can blame this on the authorities – they are the ones who are taking the direct action. However, how many of you who aren’t teachers (or have teachers in the family) have really stood beside them and supported them against this sort of crap. If the employers have unreasonable expectations of teacher behaviour and performance, it’s because the consumers (that’s you folks) have demanded it. We hire teachers on very human wages because we’re not prepared to pay more for them, and then we expect a decidedly superhuman level of performance and behaviour. The community supports crazy educational reforms which have no basis in evidence and which have been shown to be damaging to student outcomes. The public would prefer to listen to politicians and bean counters rather than the teachers themselves when it comes to how best to teach.

    The Direct Instruction reference is an interesting one. Here in our benighted state, educational “reforms” were introduced in some remote schools. Aimed at lifting performance amongst indigenous students, the schools took on a “Direct Instruction” program from the US. No teacher could teach it unless they had been trained by the US facilitators (who had no experience in dealing with indigenous kids). Teachers had to deliver the exact program in the time frame stated without deviating from it regardless of external factors like floods, cyclones and funerals – they were told what to say and when to say it. Daily results were sent back to the US and the next day’s work was forwarded on. The curriculum was to be delivered unchanged, even when it dealt with distinctly American situations, like dimes and quarters, ounces and pounds and animals not native to the local area (or even the country). The answers to testing were extremely prescriptive – kids were marked wrong for called what was clearly a ship a boat. We’re still waiting for the excellent results to arrive.

  16. I have to wonder how much is being spent on these hearings. How many of these librarian’s salaries equal what the city is paying lawyers. Are there subs being paid to be in the library while these teachers are off being interrogated?

    And of course, that leads to thinking about teacher pay and how society values teachers, police and other publicly paid workers (who don’t vote their own pay raises).

    How are schools going to “leave no child behind” by cutting staff and alienating those they keep?

  17. I found this article because another school librarian friend of mine recognized the featured creative commons picture & emailed me – Yup! That’s my gorgeous beloved middle school library!
    As the Daring Librarian – and a teacher, I must say that I am VERY upset, heartsick, and furious at what is occurring on our left coast. I have a blog, and I admit I don’t use it to vent much, mostly share resources, lesson ideas, and pop culture literary tie-ins (such as Neil Gaiman Dr. Who epsisodes!) oh and GLEE!
    (I also played the Twilight trailer at my school, sue me. Errrm…strike that.)
    Thank you Cory for writing this for us…so that everyone knows what can happen when people aren’t looking too too hard. Advocacy right now for our school libraries is more important than EVER!
    ~Gwyneth Jones
    The Daring Librarian

  18. “I used to freelance write for several political websites in the early 2000s. I don’t need to believe what I write in order for it to be effective so my articles were spread out across the political spectrum …. it got me in trouble with my employer who did not believe my article weren’t my personal beliefs.”

    This surprised you? Really?

    Years ago I heard a story about an announcer newly hired as an AM talk show host. During a commercial break in his first airshift, the story goes, he got on the intercom to ask his producer, “Sorry, I forget. Am I supposed to be for gun control or against it?”

    I know it’s just a job, and not much different from telemarketers and ad copywriters who have to sell products and ideas they know are crap. Still, stories like that that one, and yours, make media folks sound pretty cynical.

  19. As much as I hated the blog for its yawn worthy narcissism at times, this phenomenon (being dooced or losing one’s job bc of one’s website/blog) was detailed quite well in doocedotcom. Spelling it out phonetically as she seems the type to do a daily affirmation of a googling herself.

    Regardless of who it happens to, it saddens me that this violation is not somehow deemed unconstitutional.

  20. I am constantly disgusted at what lawyers will take money to do.

    Attacking librarians now? Seriously?

  21. Nationwide, we hear pundits and politicians on both sides shriek about how schools are letting American children down. Yet I have never seen such bipartisan determination to absolutely destroy education and take away every resource we have. Unions are not the problem. Charter schools are not the solution. Biting the bullet and funding our schools to reduce class sizes and provide plenty of support will be our best hope. Good for this librarian! Someone needs to speak up!

  22. I am horrified that so many people’s response is to feel they must post under a fake name, or never blog, or never express an opinion because it may be used against them.

    If the forces of evil are out to get you they will find a way.

    If you don’t use the forums you have to promote change you believe in because you fear the consequences, then you deserve the consequences you fear.

  23. The government is always skimming our paychecks claiming it’s for schools and libraries but the fact is most of it goes to benefit the already rich via their proxies the corporations. The biggest scam is surely war. The poor and young die, the rich and old benefit. No money for schools but plenty for war.

    If I supported a gang financially, knowing that they killed people for profit, it would clearly be morally wrong.

    Governments are organized crime writ large.

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