Note: This column first appeared in WND June 11, 2007.
Marcos Aguilar, principal of Los Angeles' La Academia Semillas del Pueblo – "Seeds of the People Academy" – has arguably done the Hispanic cause in L.A. more harm than anyone since the Menendez brothers. What prevents him from being a complete failure is the impressive talent he has shown as bad example. Talk-radio hosts in L.A. thank God for the day he came into their lives.
Aguilar claims to be teaching his primary school students how "to analyze the world in several languages," including English, Spanish, Mandarin and Nahuatl, an Aztec language. By learning Nahuatl, the students are expected "to understand their relationship with nature" and the "customs and traditions that are so imbued in the language." Given what they actually do learn, these kids better hope the Aztec Denny's has pictures on the menu, or else they are going to starve to death.
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On the up side, the kids at Seeds Academy do plenty of math. On the down side, they do Nahuatl math, which works on a base-20 system, even though the rest of the world works on base 10. The fact that California also tests on a base-10 system helps account for Seeds' rank as the 458th best elementary school of the 463 in the L.A. Unified School District. Reportedly, Seeds beat out schools that calculated in Ebonics, Esperanto and Pig Latin.
Under the leadership of people like Aguilar, once proud California chalked up a "bottom six states," scoring 2005 rankings in every single National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP) test its students took. Only Mississippi sends a smaller percentage of high school students to four-year colleges than California. According to one typical study, the trend results from "too few counselors, teachers and college preparatory courses." As if.
When Jorge Lopez took over the 92 percent Hispanic Oakland Charter Academy in 2004, it was nearly as deranged as Seeds in L.A. In his visits, Lopez saw the educators forcing this "culture crap" on kids and mixing in enough "liberal jargon" to turn them against their parents. Lopez responded by firing the entire staff down to the janitors and starting over with the model pioneered by his mentor, Ben Chavis, at the nearby American Indian Public Charter School.
"Culture is a job for the parents," said Lopez. "My job is to educate the kids." This past year, with 100 percent of his students taking California's Academic Performance Index test, Oakland Charter scored an 857, second in Oakland only to Chavis' school.
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The first in his family born in America, Lopez grew up hard on the mean streets of Richmond, California. In the 10th grade at Richmond High – "Gladiator School" he calls it – he got jumped on the first day of school and pistol whipped on the second. On the third day, he called it quits and went to work with his mother cleaning houses. Only the intervention of an attorney client of his mother's redirected him into the safer confines of Berkeley High from which he finally graduated. With the help of an older brother and his girlfriend, now his wife and mother of his three children, Lopez abandoned a not-so-promising career dealing guns and drugs and made his way through college and into grad school.
The affable 35-year-old Lopez has an epic struggle on his hands. On this small battlefield in Oakland, he is fighting the Aguilars of California for the soul of Hispanic America, the soul of the nation for that matter, and he knows it. He says of Aguilar, "We're enemies." As he reminds his students, "The reason our parents moved to the United States is because their own countries were so screwed up." He does not push Mexican culture but what he calls "first generation ideals," namely hard work, family and conservative values in an American context.
To make Lopez's life just a little more difficult, however, the California media and educational establishment are pulling for Aguilar. "School regenerates immigrants' pride," reads one headline. "Charter School Fighting Back," reads another, and they are not talking about the Oakland Charter Academy. As is his wont, Lumbee Indian Ben Chavis cut right to the chase in explaining why many in authority want people like him and Lopez to fail. "The liberals hate (us)," he said, "for proving their method does not work with us 'darkies.'"