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Mother on Fire: Sandra’s Excellent Education Adventure


Okay, so about a month ago my brilliant, talented and extremely ferocious
friend Sandra Tsing Loh sent me an email.

In it she explained that she and some other mothers
had decided it was absolutely essential to stage a grassroots rally (and parade and art-happening and possibly a teach-in) in Sacramento to protest the latest draconian round of public education budget cuts. The idea was to get a bunch of press attention and, in so doing, hopefully goad/threaten/persuade/emotionally blackmail lawmakers into budget cutting somewhere other than education.

(The early release of those 22,000 low-level,
short-timer prisoners—a move on which Arnold back-pedaled—might be a good place to start.)

The rally, she said, is scheduled for June 17, the date chosen because the stretch of time between June 15 and July 3 is the approximate window during which the state legislature is expected to vote on California’s proposed budget.

Would I be willing to come? Sandra wanted to know.

She said the rally would celebrate children “the people California forgot,”
on the steps of the Capitol.

Hard to argue with that. (And I wouldn’t dream of arguing with Sandra anyway, as she’s usually right—especially on education issues.)

She further lured me with the promise
that I could get from LA to Sac’to by riding with her in a “luxury RV”—one of four that she was renting for the occasion from CruiseAmerica.

“I’ll be taking a lesson from CruiseAmerica in RV driving,”
she assured me, adding, “On board is a masseuse, tai chi master, chocolate. Think: On the Road, Fear and Loathing, Moby Dick, The Odyssey. . . but with mothers. And chocolate.”

Tai Chi, chocolate, and the chance to rouse some rabble in the name of educational justice?
—or to at least chronicle said rabble rousing? Cool!

Unfortunately, when I checked my trusty Blackberry datebook,
I noted I would be in Bennington College in Vermont, on June 17, the day of the rally.


(As I may have mentioned, a year ago I decided to get a master’s degree in creative writing from Bennington. This requires, among other things, a twice-yearly ten-day writers “residency” at the place. I graduate in June ’09. You’re all invited.)

I would have to settle for reporting on her extremely worthy grassroots civic adventure from afar, I told her. (Consider this the first installment.)

In the meantime, Sandra has been broadcasting her own radio journal about the political/emotional/spiritual highs and lows of rally organizing on KPCC in her weekly segments called The Loh Life. You can listen to the segments in order here and here and here and here and here.

AND if you want to join the rally adventure (or know somebody else who does), there’s a website that has all the information.

Green Dot Charter guru Steve Barr says he’s coming
, and bringing his new baby in a Baby Bjorn tummy pack.

(The soon to be rallying new baby Barr,
whose name is Jack, is pictured below.)


PS: LA Teachers are also planning a demonstration against the cuts.
Theirs is scheduled for June 6 and is to consist of a three hour walk out. LAUSD officials are hoping to block the walkout, citing student safety.

PPS: Hey, for starters maybe interested parties would agree to donate to the schools the $30 million
(!!!) that is expected to be spent on battling over an anti-gay marriage amendment to the California constitution.


  • …I could get from LA to Sac’to by riding with her in a “luxury RV”—one of four that she was renting for the occasion from CruiseAmerica.

    I’m afraid that I must block the RV’s, which will require more oil and will increase global warming…if you believe that nonsense.

    Celeste, if that is your friend or representative of her(which I don’t know), you have a really, really weird friend. Satan’s sister, maybe? Why doesn’t she just threaten the lawmakers with a spell?

    So far, you have argued that there isn’t enough money spent for prisons, state parks, and schools. Just whose sacred cows are fair game to balance the state budget–or, does California just keep raising taxes until everyone if forced to leave?

    Good luck on your trip to Bennington. Check this before buying your tickets: Clark Howard’s Travel Tips

  • hmmm,I just may be able to make it up there. they’re threatening to close down our local canyon school because of the budget cuts – they were so happy when it didn’t burn down in the fires but now, well…

    thanks for this (I had heard her spiel onte h radio but hadn’t followed up yet -) – I’ll post it and pass it along and do my part.

    Back to grading paopers – the semester is OVER. Yeah.

  • Sorry about all the typos – up too late.

    I do remember California schools before Prop 13 – those were the days. The schools were sure “fixed” then – at the top of the nation. We had strong unions then as well.

  • By the way, this teachers union member was indeed up too late working. Working! – imagine that!

    (Sorry, I couldn’t help it. I know too many teachers, most of them who work way harder than I do under worse conditions. It’s a sore spot. I know there are problems as well – I don’t dispute that but I fail to see that there is a single cause – that’s a kind of easy fallacy.)

  • Funny how the glory days before Prop 13 coincided with the days before illegal immigration totally flip flopped the demographics of LAUSD and the city of L A: Hispanics went from being less than 20% to 75%, and illegals make up some 35% of that, and the same demographic shift has occurred even in formerly African American communities like South L A, creating these “sudden and unexplained” racial tensions everywhere from the schools to correctional facilities (Daily News reports on one even in relatively comfy Malibu today) to large prisons and the jails. Whites and Asians together make up barely 11% now, and the middle class of ALL colors (especially the blacks in my experience) are opting out of public schools for private or charter where available. (Fact that LAUSD obstructs the law requiring them to share space with charters makes public school choice very limited.)

    But oh, wait, RG lives in the OC, NOT LAUSD, and still has the state subsidizing a small canyon school, in an area prone to flooding and high insurance danger? Sorry, Girl, live your ideals: advocate for closing down that school and be required to send your kids to a truly diverse, poorly performing school like the rest of us, then you might begin to understand why parents subjected to the tyranny of LAUSD support charters. But instead, you want to raise OUR property taxes to subsidize YOUR little boutique school?

    Woody, I may disagree with many of your social views, but I share your alarm on Celeste’s (and her supporters’) fiscal notions: EVERYTHING can be solved by more money, which means higher taxes on the disenfranchised parents subject to the tyranny of LAUSD (yeah, increase those property taxes! Make the old citizens pay their “fair share” too, and those already struggling with lower prop values and higher taxes); let’s NOT do anything about illegal immigration, but tax these same suckers for more and more gang prevention and intervention programs, since it’s our job to absorb, educate and provide healthcare and social programs for all the uneducated poor from the Western Hemisphere — to NOT advocate that, makes one a racist, xenophobe, and worse.

    The list goes on and on: I am all for environmental protections like for the fabulous California park system, though, Woody — but unrestricted immigration has become a major environmental issue that these libs can’t address and cross-correlate as un – PC. Celeste and her supporters could tax us all into oblivion, driving even more middle class and small/moderate business out of state more quickly, and run up debts our kids can’t pay for many more generations than can the current cop of incompetent pols. (And no, our local and state problems don’t all have to do with Iraq — although I agree with the Dems on that one, a huge blunder reflecting lack of cultural understanding of the Arab/ Middle Eastern world.)

  • You should come and visit our “boutique” school, please. Check our how our community contributes to it and see how well or not so well the students “perform” and just how “diverse” we are or aren’t. In fact, check out all of Orange Unified before you start calling us the OC – that generally refers to those folks on the coast in the higher income brackets.

    As far as ic an tell, we’re all in the same boat – some boats are ships and some are rafts and most near as I can tell are ill-equipped to make any kind of voyage.

    By the way, I grew up in LA, born in Inglewood (Morningside!) and did time in schools across the city and county as did my father and his siblings, the children of immigrants form Mexico.

  • Okay, I got rid of the extra post.

    But, hey, you two, nobody said anything about throwing money at a problem. I believe it has been your loyal blog mistress here who has been repeatedly and relentlessly critical of the Los Angeles district for misspending money, and supportive of the charters for doing more with less.

    But 10 percent cuts to education—when we are already spending less per student than most states, and when our test scores and graduation rates are in the toilet—is, how to put it? unwise.

    I know you’d all like to blame everything on immigrants, legal and not, but it just don’t work that way.

  • The “you’d all like to blame everything on immigrants, legal and not,” is about as condescendingly reductionist a comment as I can expect here, and it’s not something anyone ever said: but don’t listen to anything anyone says about and illegal immigration, of course, that’s off the PC scale. And the amount of spending per capita doesn’t determine school performance, if you look at surrounding cities: it’s the socio-economic level of the students and other attributes of the towns themselves. (The Beverly Hills Courier ran a recent comparative analysis highlighting that, as it struggles with its own financial issues in the face of declining enrollment, as families move to more suburban areas or opt for private school. They’ve decided to close classes and cut jobs rather than accept any more “diversity permits” since scale and student safety and satisfaction are more important… Their schools are culturally diverse, too, but not magnets for large numbers of low-income immigrants.)

    But go ahead, keep arguing it’s all the amount of money we spend that makes LAUSD suck. While admitting that hundreds of millions wasted here and there on software and building boondoggles might be a factor, too, along with a stranglehold by the unions that prevents firing any teachers except those on probabion, or complying with the law when it comes to charters…

    And RG, what does your community contributing to your little school have anything to do with anything, and who said you didn’t? You don’t think our canyons and flats bend over backwards dedicating time and money to the few schools we have left, and most would kill to have ANY local school, especially at the middle school level and up? And when did I ever mistake your little canyon (which sounds and looks more like Topanga, Celeste’s digs, but actually a more downscale version — from what I can see of the homes and interviews with residents which have been all over the news), with Newport Beach? And your growing up in Inglewood has no correlation to what it’s suddenly become now — that’s one of the issues involved here. Nothing in the city is like it was 20 years ago, and it ain’t cuz of Prop 13.

  • RG, OK, I’ll bite: so just how “diverse” is your local school, by stats? How many diversity permits from out of area and the breakdown by race/ test scores, that LAUSD must keep? Vs. how many from the community? I’ve already conceded you’re not “rich.”

  • WBC – this teacher is too busy trying to file grades to meet your demands for stats – but my point is a simple one – our schools are under-funded throughout the state (city, suburbs and rural areas, each with their own range of diversities) and the state is suffering the consequences. I say that as someone who teaches at the community college level and has students both native and non-native speakers of English who cannot write.

    We are all, indeed, in the same leaky boat.

    Back to paddling (and bailing).

  • I had to look it up. That picture really is Celeste’s crazy friend. What’s worse…She has been a regular commentator on NPR’s “Morning Edition”…. (I didn’t recognize KPCC as the Kalifornia Propaganda Communist Channel.)

  • Celeste, that is a pretty Elvira photo of Sandra. Not your usual soccer mom image you want lobbying in Sacto — but don’t worry, Woody, we Angelenos don different personas at different times and I’m sure she’ll turn up looking perfectly “normal.”

    KPCC is NOT the KalPropCommieChannel, though: that honor goes to KPFK, check it out. Pacifica Radio.

    Celeste, one thing I do agree with (besides the waste at LAUSD) is that L A isn’t getting our share of state funds for education — or for transportation, for that matter, whether it’s the fact that State stole $1.2 billion of our “surplus” gas taxes last year and Arnold announced he’s taking another $800 mil this year (that’s a cool $2 bil, the entire state deficit of Arizona), which we levied on our silly selves because we were assured it would go to fix OUR roads and for other Transportation issues. Then there are highway funds that go disproportionately to places like Stockton, while Janice Hahn keeps pointing out that it’s out ports that handle the bulk of cargo, and our state’s roads are worn down by those gazillion trucks and thousands of people are injured or die from the toxic smog they produce. While the feds won’t let us regulate our state truck emissions…

    Part of the problem, besides overall incompetence from the clowns we have in Sacto, is that the City relies on two paid lobbyists to look out for us in Sacto, saving money by closing a paid city staff. This came to light again last Friday in Council when Wendy Greuel told her colleagues with shock and dismay that there’s a bill AB212 (Felipe Fuentes) which eviscerates the Council and City’s power to stop any and all highly dense, ALL-“affordable housing” projects going into any community, anywhere, overriding community and city General Plans. ( has the background of the story, how this was not only known but co-planned by Fuentes’ mentors Councilmembers Alarcon and Cardenas, with full support of Reyes of course — but since some CM’s still represent their constituents, they weren’t advised…) This is a hot-button issue which Kaye, Zev Y and community leaders are using to galvanize homeowners’ groups.

    Greig Smith fumed about our lack of State representation in general, and we seem to be losing billions annually as a result. The same is true with LAUSD not getting its share of state school funding, even though the district faces unusual burdens. Plus there was some horrendous failure to fill out some paperwork properly that cost us millions… Celeste, you probably know more about that stuff.

    RG, my gripe isn’t with individual teachers like yourself, who often do a great job on an individual basis, despite the bad apples. One of my own kids went to a public kindergarten (had to apply for a STAR permit and pay some $4000 for the half-day program, that’s another story unique to this mess called LAUSD), and the old-school teacher blew my socks off, the way she taught the non-English speakers to read by Christmas. (Not Hispanic, two Japanese and a French kid, but of modest means, who couldn’t afford international private schools. I myself learned English in kindergarten.)

    BUT she did it by defying the “required” school programs like Open Court, with old-fashioned drills, phonics, etc. The other two classes didn’t achieve anywhere near her results. Normally she’d have gotten in trouble for being this exceptional, but with her seniority and record, she told the Principal to not open her door if she didn’t want to see anything irregular, because it was her way or the highway.

    — My gripe is with the UTLA which requires an iron grip on the educational system, including over teachers like this, and worst of all, fights charters which can do a lot more with less money and it’s the LAW and parents’ will. The exceptional charter in Chatsworth that just had to close because LAUSD wouldn’t give them space, is a real crime.

    Okay, that’s my spiel on LAUSD and budgetary incompetence. Just don’t blame it all on Prop 13, though I know it’s fashionable to do so. E.g., OpEd today in LAT, Bill Stall, wanting to revise the bill. He admits to being on Jerry Brown’s staff back 30 years ago when they and a “blue chip coalition” of government and business “leaders” were sure it wouldn’t pass — but it flew by with 65%. But he misses the irony that if he thinks the public is ready to revoke it now, he’s just as out of touch. (These guys are now pushing to allow a mere majority to raise prop taxes — which would be taxation without representation in our city, where they’re now in the minority. Maybe they’ll fuel a counter- movement harking back to the founding fathers, that only prop owners can levy prop taxes.) The populist blogs, even on the MSM, are all vehemently opposed to the pious opinings of the Stalls and Tim Ruttens, but they’ve been going against public opinion for 30 years, so why stop now. Meanwhile, we COULD be billions richer if people focused on our getting more of our fair share from State and the feds.

  • Good points, WBC, especially about LA getting stiffed on funds et al.

    (And, yes, I remember the cost of the STAR program for my own kid. It was freaking high.)

    Love KPCC.

    KPFK , on the other hand, has….issues. (I heard they were even dissing me on air on some show or other because I supported the police union on the financial disclosure issue. The horror!)

    KPFK does host Deadline LA (on which I’m often a guest, and will be again this Saturday), which is really, really good. It somehow slipped in under the radar.

    That photo of Sandra is from one of her one woman shows.

  • WBC: …but don’t worry, Woody, we Angelenos don different personas at different times and I’m sure she’ll turn up looking perfectly “normal.”

    I’m waiting to see a picture of Celeste in her Topanga Days costume–fairy wings and all.

    WBC: KPCC is NOT the KalPropCommieChannel, though: that honor goes to KPFK, check it out. Pacifica Radio.

    I’m not on top of public radio in L.A. I figured that they were all commie.

  • The issue with STAR for me was, that it’s fine if you choose to pay for it to give your kindergarten kid the other half of the day to play, or for music or tennis lessons, etc., that’s no longer part of school — but in areas like Coldwater Canyon we’re assigned to public schools in the flats that are so poor no one goes; if you want to get into another elem. school, which is actually in a less affluent but “local” area so it’s pretty good (like Westwood Charter, Fairburn, etc. — the best schools are too full for STAR) you HAVE to pay for the STAR program just to attend the public school. These schools are very mixed socio-economically/ culturally, which was a really interesting experience, from the mailman’s kids to tenured UCLA professors’ kids, and some great teachers and programs. I just didn’t feel we should HAVE to pay the equivalent of a lot of parochial schools just to go to a public school that wasn’t downright awful… So like most people I looked for private options. (With a kid too young for private kindergarten but feeling another year of preschool was a waste of time, that kindergarten/ STAR experience worked out well for that year — THAT teacher had him reading at second grade level before he turned 6.) If need be could have stayed through 5th grade — but people were very concerned about the Middle School, and most looked at Magnets — a process that turned Sandra into a knife-wielding zombie, it seems — and other options. Anyway, given this mess, when people make the effort to organize good charter schools and they’re prevented from operating, it makes me really mad.

    I haven’t heard Deadline L A., will look for it. There’s a Radio Intifada I catch once in a while to hear that POV, and really, it’s not as bad the name sounds, pretty moderate.

  • Deadline LA is great.

    My sweetie does the KPFK book show – Mondays at noon.

    then there’s the irreverent Pocho Hour of Power on Fridays…

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