Stinky Toilets, and, Maybe Worse, Stinky Grammar

My daughter has been well taught in a gifted magnet program on the campus of a good elementary school in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Sure, there were problems, including the lack of soap and toilet tissue, but she blossomed under master teachers and a good orchestral music program.

Now she’s starting junior high. I’ve been sorting through the enrollment materials: information sheets, codes of dress and conduct, summer reading and writing assignments.

My first shock was that the assignment from her new English teacher contained grammar and punctuation errors. I may be from another generation, but don’t subjects and verbs still have to agree?

I delivered the enrollment forms on deadline day to the magnet office. It’s on the campus of a 3,000-student junior/senior high school. Hallways were filthy. Tables were left littered with food and wrappings. The restroom should have been closed by the health department.


Having just read the dress code, I can say with certainty that one in 10 students should have been sent home. I quizzed the woman in the office. “Don’t you enforce the code?”

“Oh, the vice principal who kept up with that, he left. The new one, well....”

She spoke of the usual problems: thefts, fights, alcohol and drug use, bullying. “The normal stuff. But it’s really pretty quiet.” What, compared with Iraq?

The campus was institutionally gray and depressing. The perimeter fences imposed a prison, but security was a farce. State budget cuts will hit our schools hard over the summer. Already they barely make do, receiving less per student for a year than some parents might spend for a new school outfit.

So what will my child face? Some capable teachers, but also some whose grammar is worse than her own, a campus that’s ugly at best and filthy at worst, security that won’t keep her safe and a state that funds prisons over education. Shame on us.


Mary June Nestler is dean of the Episcopal Theological School at Claremont.