Letters to the Editor

"Garfield is not a place where hope is stamped out of young people. It is taught, and learned."

Learning From Garfield

Regarding Garfield High School, Principal Susan Dersé said that "this is a place you could lose yourself" ["Pastimes at Garfield High," April 14]. I disagree. It is the place I found myself, and from it I continue to draw inspiration. Garfield is not an easy or simple place, but as a graduate of last year's senior class, I have to take offense at this article. What from the outside may appear an "out- of-control student culture" was, from my inside perspective, a generally harmo­nious experience.

It's true that Garfield is not perfect and there are far fewer opportunities for African-American students than for white students. Obviously, there should be no such disparity. Yet to suggest that the only solution is de-integration is ludicrous. Co-existing with people unlike one's self opens minds and doors. The students know this, as do many teachers. The quoted Ms. Laura Strentz is one such teacher who took pains to integrate her AP classes and offer help and guidance to African-American students hoping to achieve in this supposedly whites-only environment. Student groups work to open the lines of communication and actively promote change and interaction amongst disparate racial and interest groups. If anyone is to blame for this racial antagonism, it is the school administration and the district.

Regarding the drama program, the article seems prejudiced toward finding any hint of purported racism. Ms. Carole Ross may be claiming the reason for the drama club breakdown was her supposed attempt to integrate the program, but this is not necessarily the truth. Other incidents fostered an environment of resentment and unease, especially as Ms. Dersé attempted to appropriate many of the rights and responsibilities traditionally held by drama club members. In my experience, dramatic productions were among the most integrated experiences I had at Garfield. There is nothing wrong with that program that communication and compromise could not solve.

Ms. Dersé was unable to handle the pressures of the situation—fine. My class saw three principals, a sexual misconduct case, a teacher's suicide, a counselor fistfight, arsons, a slew of bomb threats, and an earthquake. Every time we returned, even when some of the teachers and principals did not. Every time we went back to our classes, to our clubs, to our futures. Gary Thomas was right: There is not enough being done to bridge the achievement gap. More will be done with someone who is able to empathize, and especially to act. The students have been waiting for this person and, if need be, will continue to wait. Garfield is not a place where hope is stamped out of young people. It is taught, and learned. So Dersé wants to leave? She can go ahead, Garfield doesn't need her.

Liz Bokan

New York, NY

Impressive, Depressing

Thanks for Nina Shapiro's article on the circumstances faced by Garfield High School—it was an impressive one. However, I was a little despondent after reading it. Even after seeking out many sources in the Garfield community, it is unfortunate that Ms. Shapiro's article could not avoid what seems to be present in so many news stories on Garfield: an attitude of intense, unchangeable pessimism, which, paired with negative facts and sound bites, presents the idea that the school and those within it are in a doomed position.

There are many things about Garfield that need fixing, but I wholly believe that the positive outweighs the negative tenfold. Administrative, financial, and racial issues aside, Garfield's student body is an incredible source of enthusiasm and diversity. Though Ms. Shapiro describes a "leadership vacuum," the Garfield I know is bursting with teachers who devote not only their class time but also much of their outside time and energy to creating a positive, meaningful environment. Perhaps most discouraging is the idea somewhat present that Principal Susan Dersé has, by announcing her resignation from Garfield, failed us. It is agreed upon by most that Garfield is a very difficult school to completely control, but in her three years here, Dersé has done an amazing job and seen our school through many obstacles with dignity and grace. Because of all this, we are a vibrant, promising place, and hopefully it will not be long before that is appreciated by those not already a part of it.

Mae Chevrette

Student, Garfield High School, Seattle

Shapiro's Class Assignment

Thank you to Nina Shapiro for diligent work in trying to sort out the complexities of Garfield High School ["Pastimes at Garfield High," April 14]. However, her article furthered the unfortunate mythology that racial tensions are boiling at Garfield and that its achievement gap between black and white students is evidence of poor administrative leadership.

Shapiro writes, "Such a dramatic difference in the level of achievement between groups at the same school is bound to create tension, and it has for some time at Garfield, with little district intervention." I'm now in my fourth year as a teacher at Garfield, and everyone I've ever heard talk about racial tension at Garfield has been an adult. Race relations among students, however, seem healthy. Every year for more than a decade, in a student-run program called Cultural Relations, more than 100 students of all races go on a weekend retreat where they engage in workshops to deepen their understanding of institutionalized racism. The students describe the experience as life-changing, and return to lead a weeklong series of workshops for the remaining student body examining race. Next year, Garfield's student newspaper, The Garfield Messenger, will be launching an antiracist initiative that will engage the Garfield community in a dialogue around race, power, and privilege. The collective attitude of Garfield students on race is overwhelmingly progressive. The myth that it has "racial tension" is furthered by adults with a political agenda.

Shapiro continues, "Still, there's no denying the glaringly different levels of achievement among whites and blacks at Garfield." And there is no denying the glaringly different levels of achievement among whites and blacks in every other school in Seattle and across America. Garfield has the same race problem that every school in America has, and it's serious. But attacking Susan Dersé and blaming students from the Accelerated Progress Program is useless, and a distraction from dealing with the real issues. The next assignment for Nina Shapiro should be an examination of race and schools and the reasons for the achievement gap as it exists at all levels, in every Seattle public school.

Steve Miranda

Language Arts Teacher, Garfield High School


A Powder Keg

If the response to Nina Shapiro's "Pastimes at Garfield High" [April 14] is anything like the responses to the numerous other Garfield High School exposés in the last decade, you'll likely receive letters from students and parents angered at the misrepresentation of the school.

In fact, I can't imagine anyone actually arguing that there aren't racial tensions or segregation at Garfield, or that the administration doesn't have a high turnover rate or operate controversially. Needless to say, one short article is hardly enough to document all of the insanity at Garfield, but Nina Shapiro's article was a reasonable compromise.

That an isolated incident of thoughtless vandalism (which occurs every day at Garfield) was interpreted as a racist or anti-Semitic act requiring a police investigation or racial watchdog groups is a perfect testament to the powder keg that is Garfield. Although I was part of a small group of students to flee Garfield, the same year many teachers and administrators fled, I fondly remember the chaos. It almost seems like Garfield is just an exaggerated reflection of adult racial tensions, administrative fuckups, and socioeconomic disparities on Seattle's youth . . . nah, that couldn't be it.

Evan Kuhlmann

New York, NY

Two Neocoms

Where did the Weekly dredge up the two neocoms who disguise themselves as opinion journalists, Knute Berger and Geov Parrish [Mossback, "Condoliar Rice," and "Things Fall Apart," April 14]?

Week after week, they disparage this country and its leaders. They name-call (i.e., "Bushies," "Condoliar Rice"), lie, intone half-truths, and completely omit any information that conflicts with their far left, pro-communist philosophy. It is impossible to counter such trash with any cogent arguments. But, when you force them to stick to a subject—Richard Clarke, for instance—they lose all credibility.

Clarke, who testified before the 9/11 commission, has no credibility. A recording of an earlier news conference, in which Clarke praised the current administration for their actions re terrorism and the 9/11 tragedy, surfaced soon after he had testified to the commission that the administration was negligent. Clarke was resentful of being demoted by the administration. His motives appear to be revenge for that demotion and the money he will make on his book.

If, after Pearl Harbor was attacked in 1941, anyone had suggested that we needed a commission to find out whose fault it was, they would have been tarred and feathered and laughed out of Washington, D.C. We were at war! We are at war now! The 9/11 commission is clearly highly partisan. Jamie Gorelick, a commission member, is also a lawyer for a firm that is currently representing Saudi Arabia in a lawsuit initiated by the families of the 9/11 victims. She was deputy attorney general under Janet Reno. In 1996, she created a policy memo that raised the legal wall of separation between the FBI and the CIA. They were then unable to share intelligence as a result of that memo. (It was the Patriot Act that subsequently eliminated that barrier.) There are reports that the so-called 20th 9/11 hijacker, who was in Justice Department custody, had a computer that revealed the names of the other hijackers. But, because of this memo, they could not share the information on the computer with the CIA. Clearly, Gorelick should resign from the commission and testify under oath as to why she raised this barrier beyond what was legally required under the then-current law. She has refused to do so. The American people need this information to understand what needs to be done to correct past errors.

Jack Leicester


Editor's reply: For the record, there were at least nine investigations into Pearl Harbor, including the Roberts Commission, which convened less than two weeks after the attacks.

The Lesson of 9/11

Does Mayor Nickels call in his chief of police to "command" him that should his department come across any potential bank robbery or kidnapping or mugging, the crime needs to be stopped [Mossback, "Condoliar Rice," April 14]? Hell no!!! The same logic applies to the president and the FBI, CIA, INS, or any other arm of the federal government with some law enforcement role.

Hence, the absurd obsession with knowing to what specificity a warning Bush may, or may not, have received about terrorist plots is silly. As if such a warning were some "key" missing link to stopping the 9/11 plot. That is a D-U-M-B suggestion. Are we to believe that unless President Bush specifically and clearly commanded, "Now stop that evil-doer hijacking plot," no one at the FBI or CIA or INS actually would?!

We now know the FBI and CIA were just as obsessed, perhaps more so, with violating U.S. law, or the perception thereof, as they were in catching the terrorists. The terrorists harbored no concern about such legal minutiae or niceties, and as a result we got 9/11. We have learned our lesson.

John Harvey


Kill Brian?

Brian Miller's review of Kill Bill Vol. 2 was one of the most uninformative rants I have ever had the displeasure of reading ["The Tarantino Britannica," April 14]. I'm not sure where he was sitting during the screening, but from where I sat, oohs, aahs, and laughter could be heard throughout the auditorium. Also, I don't know which "geeks" he was referring to; after all, it was a press screening comprised mostly of film reviewers and their friends, not "fan-boys," as Miller would have readers believe.

This condescending reviewer is so caught up in mentioning Quentin Taran­tino's past efforts and mocking Tarantino's cinematic references that he forgot to review the film. Instead, he wastes my time by trying to get inside the head of a person that he probably has never met. I laughed aloud when I read, "Well, now we can call Harvey Weinstein's bluff . . . ," like he and the readers are actually in relation with the exceptionally successful producer.

Where did your reviewer acquire the information that Weinstein was "bluffing and stalling?" I perceived the decision to chop the four-hour epic into two parts as an intelligent pecuniary move. Miramax will make twice the box office, theaters will sell double the amount of popcorn, and filmgoers will have had two fun nights out. Everyone wins.

What amazes me about Kill Bill (both volumes) is how Tarantino is able to disassemble hundreds of drive-in, exploitation, and Hong Kong action films and reassemble the choicest parts into an original vision that both the uninitiated and jaded filmgoer can enjoy. C'mon, it is just a big-budget drive-in movie. Readers who interpret Miller's evaluation might make the mistake that he is writing about what was supposed to be the sequel to Lawrence of Arabia with a built-in code of ethics.

Does this reviewer even like movies?

Steve Messerer


C'mon! Write to Seattle Weekly, 1008 Western Ave., Ste. 300, Seattle, WA 98104; fax to 206-467-4377; or e-mail to letters@seattle­weekly.com. By submission of a letter, you agree that we may edit the letter and publish and/or license the publication of it in print, electronically, and for archival purposes. Please include name, location, and phone number.

comments powered by Disqus

Friends to Follow