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Education Bookcast

Feb 8, 2019

In 1974, Garfield High School got a new principal (headmaster) in the form of Alex Avilez. The school was in turmoil, with a major gang presence, and a police presence to help combat the gang presence. It was noisy, with music blaring from "dozens" of radios; fights broke out often; truancy was rampant; and the dropout rate was 50%.

Avilez's core belief was in people's fundamental goodness. He was excited about young people and about human potential, and wanted to aim for a peaceful Garfield High in which everyone loved one another. The way to achieve this, he decided, was to treat the students as the adults they were about to become. He registered the gangs with the school, placed their insignia in prominent locations, and negotiated with gang leaders to preserve decorum and reduce violence.

Possemato was principal after Avilez. Together with Gradillas, he had a very different approach to discipline at the school. Although Gradillas believed that every child knows the difference between right and wrong, he felt that this sense was often deeply buried, and the way to get the best out of adolescents often involved pushing their buttons and riling them up emotionally. He would physically take down students being a danger to others, accuse liars of being cowards, and tell parents that they were sorry that their children had no respect for them.

The difference in the effectiveness of these two approaches was stark. One almost plunged the school into an abyss, while the other saved it from closing. It is an important part of the Garfield High story that doesn't get told as much as Escalante's calculus teaching, and yet was essential to its success.

Enjoy the episode.