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(March 13, 2008)      

          Let me tell you a little about Louis B. Javitz.
          It’s important that you know about him, I think, and importance is a term I don’t just toss around.
          I wish I could tell you his history, where he was from, where he studied---all the nuts and bolts of how he became the man he was. It would be interesting. But I don’t know much of it. I was only eleven when I met Lou Javitz, and eleven-year-olds aren’t too concerned with such things.
          Lou was perhaps fifty then, round-faced with sort of frog eyes, engineer's glasses, and 5 o’clock shadow by 11 a.m. He was about five-feet-nine, and seemed to always wear dark slacks and white shirts with the sleeves rolled up. If there was a tie, it was skinny, black, and loosened into inconsequence.
          Lou's build was kind of portly, with a bull neck, and he spoke out of one side of his mouth because the other half was paralyzed. One of his legs was all busted up and stiff, and he dragged it as he walked. He sweated like crazy, whether it was hot or cool. His hair was a kind of mussed Brillo pad.
          I knew him as “Mr. Javitz,” and I knew just a few things about him. He had been badly injured while working as a blacksmith (I think employed by the U.S. Navy) at Pearl Harbor. He had a wife and a couple of sons. He owned his own gas station/garage in the Valley, and frequently stayed up all night overhauling engines.
          I knew about the all-night greasemonkey work because it left him especially short on patience the next day, when he came to work on no sleep. I knew about that because his work was to teach sixth grade at Meadows Elementary School in Thousand Oaks, California, where I was one of his students. I can still see the occasional eraser whiz past a kid’s forehead in a cloud of chalk dust.
          I’m older now than Lou Javitz was when he taught me, incredibly, and his personality and Meadows School are now kind of mixed together in mind and memory. Where one thing ends and the other begins, I no longer quite know. He is that school, to me, almost part of its very walls and chalkboards and desks. Schools, after all, are made of teachers.
          And Mr. Javitz was among Meadows' original batch. When he and I started there in 1962, the school was brand-new. I remember my father showing me a magazine article (Time, as I recall) in which Meadows was mentioned as architecturally innovative. It sure looked futuristic, what with circular buildings, and walls that folded aside so classrooms could be combined (quite a kid thrill, seeing those walls disappear to reveal all your other pals, like some parallel universe.)
          Oh, and there was a great, sweeping playground, and something called a “cafetorium” in which all the tables and benches somehow magically folded into the walls, so the students could put on Christmas concerts and the 8th graders have dances. I spent five years there, learning to play basketball on its blacktop courts, writing my first poems and short stories with yellow Ticonderoga No. 2 pencils at its wood desks.
          Here's part of one, which I did for Mr. Javitz:

          "Whether it's airplanes, trains, a car or bus
          Transportation is good for us. . .
          Take a plane to Maine
          but don't open the door
          Take a train to Texas
          but please don't be sore
          At the porters, for getting baggage mixed up
          or opening a door
          in the middle of a card game
          while you're trying to keep score. . ."

          Not bad for an eleven-year-old! (Especially one who had never traveled.) Mr. Javitz liked it (A-plus!), and I doubt I would have done anything as good for any other teacher. He had a knack for getting work out of you that you didn't know you were capable of.
          I can still see him arriving in the early mornings in his pale blue Dodge station wagon, stopping off for coffee in the teachers’ lounge, and dragging his stiff leg over to room 12, where he was met by a flailing, shouting, laughing 11-and-12-year-old mayhem of burgeoning body chemistry.
          Once inside that pie-wedge-shaped classroom, he harnessed our mad energy, honed the flailing arms and legs into incipient thinking machines. He was serious, and he expected us to be, too. I don’t think I ever worked as hard in school again, or learned as much, as I did in the 6th grade with Mr. Javitz. I mean really.
          And to think: he was not paid extra to teach us high-school level Spanish, and high-school level geometry. He was not paid extra to go to night school and study Spanish just so he could teach it to us. He was not paid extra to have us write 20-page reports about different countries of the world. Twenty pages! In sixth grade! He was not paid extra to go, desk-by-desk, around the room and help each of his (must have been close to 35) students with math, sentence diagramming, drops of sweat landing on our papers. . .
          He was not paid extra to inspire grass-stained boys and chattery little girls to take a real interest and pride in their work, many (including me) for the first time in their lives. He was not paid extra to make at least one kid think he could write. He was not paid extra to play put classical records on a phonograph, some afternoons, as we did our work. . .
          Yes, I see Mr. Javitz clearly, very clearly, sitting at his desk and smiling that crooked smile at us all, eyes crinkling with warmth. Having a piece of cake at a class holiday party. And I hear his cigarette-raspy, hearty laugh, and his rich baritone voice. Especially as it spoke a sentence one day as he dropped me off at home, when I'd stayed late to help clean up his classroom: “You can go far in life, and I want to see you do it!” He wasn't paid extra for that, either. 
          So when I read recently that the Conejo Valley Unified School District is planning to close my old school---despite its perfect condition and its status as a National Blue Ribbon institution, despite its shining history, and despite the astonishing amount of loyalty and love that former students have for it---it felt like they’re somehow also closing the spirit of Louis B. Javitz.
          I don’t think the great man would understand it.
          I don’t think he would understand CVUSD members being so unable to cope with budget cuts, so unimaginative and unintelligent that they want to actually close such a fine school.
          I don’t think Mr. Javitz would buy the official excuses about decreased district-wide enrollment and “diversity.” After all, student-teacher ratio is now right where he would have liked it. Diverse? There are, and have always been, minority kids at Meadows. I don’t think he would have understood singling out a school for closure because its neighborhoods have always been predominantly white.
          And I especially don’t think this tough, durable man who lived with terrible physical limitation and daily pain would have understood closing one of three schools in the area equipped to deal with disabled children.
          Frankly, I don’t think Lou Javitz would have understood a school district wanting to close a school---period. I can picture him shaking his head sadly at rumors that the proposed shutdown is actually born of mysterious CVUSD politics.
          And I absolutely know that he would have been outraged and insulted by an e-mail from the “committee” of parents and teachers recommending closure to the CVUSD, in which it callously, cynically dismissed impassioned defense of Meadows by hundreds of parents and ex-students as mere “my school is great and should not be closed” rhetoric.
          Well, Mr. Javitz isn’t here, but I think I can tell you exactly what he---and many other selfless and heroic teachers who have made Meadows an exceptional place of learning for 46 years---would say in response to that committee, and the CVUSD:
          “My school is great and should not be closed.”

 Mr. Louis B. Javitz

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