If backers of Proposition 74, the ill-named “Put the Kids First Act,” were really interested in the welfare of public-school children, they would attack genuine problems. Underfinancing, overcrowding, the charter-school drain on public funds and a host of other issues await resolution. But that isn’t the goal of those behind Proposition 74. They want to make it easier to purge teachers, tenured or probationary, whom they consider a threat to their view of American education. Hiding behind the charade that it takes five years to determine the fitness of a teacher, they want to extend the probationary period. But they also want to repeal the judicial procedures that for almost a century have given protection to tenured faculty faced with dismissal. The last time this was attempted was in the Reagan years, when the then-governor wanted to outlaw tenure, replacing it with yearly contracts without job protection. His proposal failed. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s crowd can’t wait to begin sacking the science teacher who doesn’t want to teach intelligent design, the social studies instructor who has an impartial word for the U.N., or the health educator who dares express any but the officially sanctioned line on sex. Tenure was designed to protect those good teachers from the wrath of vocal elements in the community who would impose their ideology on the public schools and the kids in them. Look at the record of school boards and administrators in this state before tenure offered a degree of protection to faculties. Their conduct demonstrates the need for permanent status for teachers once they pass a reasonable probationary period. In 1887, renowned San Francisco educator Kate Kennedy was dismissed by the local board primarily for her association with Henry George and the single-tax movement. Perhaps the earliest recorded scandal, one that surely proved the need for tenure, occurred in Los Angeles city schools in the mid-1890s. Sworn statements from several principals and teachers charged two school board members with demanding one month’s pay to guarantee that the board would reappoint the educators for the coming year. Four teachers with German names were fired at Oakland Technical High School in 1918 on trumped up charges of “disloyalty.” Ultrapatriotic (or perhaps disgruntled) students had spread rumors of their anti-American views. Los Angeles City School Superintendent Albert Shields wrote and imposed a lengthy loyalty oath on the city’s teachers in 1919 with the expressed intent of firing any who professed support for the IWW, a legal labor union. State Superintendent Will Wood investigated circulation of radical literature in the state’s public schools. His target: The New Republic, The Nation and those teachers who might have referred to them. Pasadena’s superintendent boasted that there were no “reds” in his schools and that he would recommend dismissal of those with radical tendencies. As late as the mid-1920s, Napa fired a female teacher who violated the rule against marriage. Lower courts upheld the dismissal as within the scope of the board’s authority. When the present state tenure law was adopted, recalcitrant school boards, fighting tooth and nail to maintain their right to fire teachers as they saw fit, simply decided to dismiss all teachers at the end of their probationary period rather than give them permanent status. That policy was followed in Glendale, Pasadena, Anaheim and elsewhere. Faced with an anti-tenure revolt, Mark Keppel, for nearly three decades Los Angeles County superintendent of public schools, whispered in a failing voice from his deathbed, his breath coming in gasps: “Don’t let them repeal the tenure law. The teachers and the children need it.” Keppel was right. Tenure protects good teachers who inspire their students to greater achievements. These educators are entitled to a refuge from the vagaries of politically motivated school boards more interested in promoting their own agendas than in good educational practices. Ralph E. Shaffer and Walter P. Coombs are professors emeriti at Cal Poly Pomona. Write to them by e-mail at [email protected] AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREWalnut’s Malik Khouzam voted Southern California Boys Athlete of the Week160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!