It’s heartbreaking. This letter is to the new administration at Carson High School. They have berated my favorite teacher, Mr. Leibner, with misleading counts on his evaluation. They even didn’t like his awesome designed classroom. It’s just like what happened here on a segment of This American Life: Two Steps Back.
Here’s my open letter to the administrators:
Attn: Ms. Windy Warren, Mr. Adrian Magee, & Ms. Veronica Aragon
Carson Senior High School
22328 South Main Street
Carson, California 90745
Dear Ms. Warren, Mr. Magee, and Ms. Aragon,
I am writing to you to express my full support of Mr. Joshua Leibner, my AP English Language and philosophy teacher from high school from 2004–2006. It has taken me by great surprise that Mr. Leibner received an unsatisfactory evaluation from the current administration, and after reading the several counts against his teaching effectiveness (e.g. “The teacher has on site, and displays, an over-abundance of inappropriate realia” or “A climate does not exist with the classroom where respect is provided…” etc., etc.), I would have to strongly disagree. Mr. Leibner’s creative, insightful, and unique teaching (and even his wonderfully designed classroom) created for me, as a student of unrecognized potential, an environment in which I was finally able to question, deliberate, and tackle my studies in a meaningful and intellectual manner. I was a student in the experimental AP English Language class taught by Mr. Leibner and Dr. Stephen Schuetze-Coburn, which I thought was wildly successful as I received a climate of free thought and discussion in Mr. Leibner’s class and learned the fundamentals of language in Dr. Schuetze-Coburn’s class. As such, I would have to disagree with your administration’s evaluation of Mr. Leibner, especially regarding each count against his class’s climate in respect and his teaching of understanding gender biases, sexism, religious stereotypes/bashing, racial bigotry, violence, and drug and alcohol abuse. On the contrary, Mr. Leibner taught us the concept of deconstruction, allowing us, as students, to intellectually grapple with the constructs that have been impressed upon us as children, such as sexism, racism, and violence. We countered each concept by reading material, watching films, and experiencing plays and exhibits that engaged us with such topics. Our discussions were lively and respectful. Mr. Leibner challenged us to think critically, to act morally, and question everything, so that we could formulate our own answers. As most of us were children of immigrants, his liberal, broad, and engaging curriculum was what we needed to become successful and engaged citizens. During my time at USC, all my professors and fellow students commented on how well-read I was in contemporary literary fiction, and it was thanks to Mr. Leibner and his reading assignments, which included Pulitzer Prize–winning authors like Toni Morrison, Arundhati Roy, and Jeffery Eugenides, to name a few. I became a vivacious reader because of his class. Mr. Leibner understood who we were as students of color, and I can say without doubt that his class was the most inspirational course I took at Carson Senior High School.
There are many memories, class assignments, fieldtrips, and discussions I could relay to you, all of which will concretely show the effectiveness of Mr. Leibner’s excellent teaching, but let me speak of only a few. In 2004, Mr. Leibner, Ms. Bottlik, Dr. Schuetze-Coburn, and Mrs. North nominated me for the ASA Merit Scholarship, enabling me to attend the weekend college trip to UC Berkeley and UC Santa Cruz. It was the first time I was able to travel and experience the cultural richness San Francisco and the Bay Area had to offer. They took us to a play questioning inner-city violence, an opera exploring racism, and to the Golden Gate Bridge, where I first marveled at the artistic beauty this world has to offer. As a young, sheltered girl, this was groundbreaking. In 2005, Mr. Leibner took our class on a fieldtrip to the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles, where we watched the controversial play, “The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?” For most of us, this was our first theatrical experience in our own city. The openness of the play challenged my previous thoughts on what this medium could achieve, and I have never forgotten the intensity and emotion the play impressed upon me. Lastly, the countless of discussions, books, and films broadened my knowledge and skills, taught me how to think critically, and molded me into a creative and holistic person.
Without Mr. Leibner and my other teachers at ASA, I would have not become the successful person I am today. After I graduated high school, I attended a local community college and became an assistant editor at the student newspaper. With my success at El Camino College, I transferred to USC with only one year of college credits, and finished my English and philosophy degree with many honors and community service awards. I even cofounded a nonprofit and literary magazine in Filipino American arts and literature called TAYO Literary Magazine. For my first job, I was a production editor at Arcadia Publishing, a local history press in the South. It was here where everything I learned years ago in Mr. Leibner’s class took ground—I challenged my boss whenever our authors displayed a racist blackface or demeaning minstrel photograph, and rallied and supported Arcadia’s minority book collection, successfully producing Hawaiians in Los Angeles, African Americans in Chicago, Filipinos in Hawaii, and many more exciting titles. Today, I am going back to school to cultivate and craft my own writing. I have been accepted into Mills College’s master of fine arts program in fiction and have received the first full-tuition assistantship in narrative writing and community engagement. I will be planning and organizing my own ethnic studies curriculum, focusing on counter storytelling and a dynamic creative writing workshop for students of color.
I repeat this wholeheartedly—I could not have been as successful, as thoughtful, or as creative if it were not for Mr. Leibner’s class back in 2004. I was a little girl with no big dreams because I thought I wasn’t worth it to dream them. Mr. Leibner challenged me to think I that, yes, I could be whatever I wanted to be, as long as I worked hard for it. His class was my first big step in understanding this complicated world. As such, it is with much bravado and strength that I must respectfully disagree with you on Mr. Leibner’s unsatisfactory evaluation. He is a great teacher, an inspiring role model, and a good friend.
Melissa R. Sipin,
Class of 2006
If you know Mr. Leibner and how awesome a teacher he is, please consider writing a letter to the administrators as well. We need your help. Here are their emails: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you!