Letters for the week of January 9 

"The school boards of the 1969-1999 period did not mess up Oakland's schools. They made progress."

Who says Oakland's schools need fixing?

Your November 21 article ("Brown vs. Board of Education") on the Oakland schools is founded on the erroneous assumption that the schools had been "going bad" for thirty years and are now being "fixed."

In fact, the Oakland schools were not good in 1969, at least not for most of the Latino, African-American and Asian youngsters who attended them. Most black students were prevented from taking algebra and counseled away from attending college. Fremont High School did not have a single Latino teacher until students protested in 1968. Skyline High School was built intentionally to isolate white hills children from their less affluent counterparts in the flatlands. The downtown district headquarters was called the "White House" because no African-American clerks were allowed to work there.

In 1969, demonstrators, including Paul Cobb, demanded community participation in the selection of the new superintendent, and this protest ultimately resulted in the hiring of Oakland's first black superintendent, Marcus Foster. Blacks, Latinos, and Asians were later elected to the school board, and the governance of the school system became more democratic. These new school boards began making demands that included: hire more people of color; cut back on tracking; include multi-ethnic curriculum; and use minority contractors. White contractors, businessmen, and administrators were threatened by this process, and they called the new Oakland leaders corrupt. Pervasive American racism caused many in the media and the populace to believe the corruption charges, although not a single school board member or administrator was ever convicted of any form of corruption.

During the same thirty-year period, affluent families moved to the suburbs, Proposition 13 cut school funding, and the state of California made more restrictive demands on urban school districts. So, while the children had more needs, the district had less money and flexibility to meet their needs. The increasingly democratic school boards of the 1969-1999 period did not "mess up" the schools. They made progress in equity, despite a bleak political and financial landscape.

Failing to acknowledge this history in your reporting makes your readership more susceptible to the maneuverings of machine politicians who promise to "save" the schools from those vilified in this bogus history. Your article hatchets Wilda White, Paul Cobb, and Harold Pendergrass, even though they are among the school board members who are most willing to fight statewide structural barriers preventing decent education for the majority of California's children. The mean-spirited innuendoes and inflammatory language used in the article are a disservice not only to the board members pilloried, but also to your readership who have depended on the East Bay Express for the balanced, informed point of view so lacking in other local papers.

We might suggest the following steps to rectify repeating the sort of bias which is reflected in your Oakland schools article:

Any author reporting on a school district which is 93 percent children of color needs an enormous sensitivity to issues of race and class in order to control the inclination to accept as "obvious" things which are not at all obvious to the affected communities.

Since it is impossible to understand Oakland's civil rights legacy or current issues by reading the mainstream media, independent newspapers need a hiring policy and information network, which provides a fairer viewpoint.

When the newspaper reports on education struggles, teachers and students who are involved in those struggles should be interviewed.

Mainstream Bay Area media are sometimes sympathetic to black people as victims. They less frequently examine with sensitivity the actions of black leaders who are attempting to fight this victimization. Responsible independent media should recognize this reality and attempt to do better.

Elizabeth Henry, Doris Herrick, Greg Hodge, Sylvester Hodges, Lorna Jones, Kitty Kelly-Epstein, Kimmie Lawal, Joyce Roy
via the Internet

Go watch someone else

An article published in a recent edition of the East Bay Express, "Someone to Watch Over Me," (December 5) is an unfair characterization of the discharge planning policies of Summit Medical Center.

It is unfortunate that you chose to single out the medical center and our hardworking staff.

Summit case managers and social workers are full-time patient advocates. They work diligently with families and patients, often under difficult circumstances that severely limit options and constrain the staff's ability to place patients. Attempts are made to assure that families and patients are aware of the options available.

A more balanced reporting of this particular situation would have posed the dilemmas faced by the entire community regarding long-term care. Summit Medical Center case managers and social workers continue to be on the front line of this very difficult challenge. We strive always to do the very best for our patients and families. As with issues such as those posed by this particular case, we have undertaken a review of the policies and procedures involved and made changes as appropriate for the continued safety and well-being of our patients.

We hope that readers will consider the complexity of the issues involved as they evaluate East Bay Express reporting. We also hope that readers would join with Summit clinicians and staff in seeking solutions to very important issues surrounding long-term care.

Andrew Robertson, MD chief medical officer,
Summit Medical Center

Notes from the Real World

I would like to compliment you on our article on Alta Bates/Summit's relationship to unlicensed care facilities ("Someone to Watch over Me," December 5). Nicely written, well researched, and attention-getting. As an employee of "Altered States" Medical Center for almost 21 years, I am not surprised. Twenty-five years ago, my sociology professor exclaimed to an entire class that only people who can't make it in the real world become hospital administrators. I didn't grasp what he meant at the time, but for the last 21 years, I have had reason to recall his outburst almost daily. I and my fellow employees have survived a colorful parade of cultists, crooks, divas, and clueless nebbishes who have been placed in positions of authority and have, more than once, driven Alta Bates to the brink of ruin.

Tony Arganda, via the Internet


In last week's Planet Clair, slam poet Jamie Kennedy was erroneously described as having the disease Tourette's Syndrome. He doesn't actually have Tourette's, he hosts a show called Tourettes without Regrets.


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