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PAUL KARRER: MLK Day through fifth-grade eyes


On the Friday before Martin Luther King Junior day last year, I asked my fifth-graders if they knew why we had the day off. One suggested, “To celebrate MLK’s birthday.”

To be honest, for a 10-year-old, that wasn’t bad.

“No,” Another piped in, “It’s cuz he fought for blacks’ rights.”

“Good and you’re 100% correct,” I replied.

Let’s call the child who piped up with that answer Isaiah. He’s perceptive and often sees the big picture.
I thought it would be appropriate to show a short clip on both Martin Luther King Junior’s accomplishments, and his struggles. Not many of the kids knew he had been stabbed nor that his house had been bombed.

The same film showed the iconic footage of police dogs being set upon blacks and of high-pressure water cannons hosing protesters. Rosa parks was mentioned and the famous bus boycott. My kids made shocked noises now and then. I also viewed a short clip about his assassination. I mentioned that when I was a kid, my mom took me from Connecticut to Florida on a train and that once we hit the South, bathrooms clearly stated WHITE or COLORED. I honestly told them I was way too young to remember it.

Isaiah raised his hand, “Were you a racist?”There was no malice, no wise guy intent in his question. Every child watched me with their predominantly Latino/Latina eyes. Isaiah is a brilliant, great kid. A high-level thinker. He just put the facts together and made a logical conclusion. Our teacher is Anglo. Anglos were racist. He lived then, therefore he must have been a racist.

The quick response out of my mouth was, “No, of course not.”

And then I thought, This child has just dared to ask you a question from his heart. A question, if a teacher had a thin skin might have gone the wrong way.

“Isaiah, you make me happy. You always ask good questions. You just made me re-think my answer.

“Yes, Isaiah. I’m sorry to say when I think about it, my family and I were ignorant and racist sometimes. I think I’m not any more.”

One of my girls said, “That’s why you teach us huh?”

“Yes, I’d like to think so.”

Another one piped in, “And your wife is Korean.”

Wow, they’re defending ME! Man, I love these kids.

“You know what? We are having recess a couple of minutes early.”

A shout of communal joy rang out and I dismissed them. I thought my moral lesson for the day had been learned, but I was wrong. One girl hung back, waiting until all the kids left.

“Mr. Karrer, Martin Luther King Jr. was shot right?”


“You ever been shot?”

Her eyes plumbed my depths.


“My dad was shot. He’s in prison now. Elissa’s dad was shot too. He’s dead you know.”

“Yes, I knew about her dad.”

She smiled, “See you after recess.” Put her books in her backpack and left me alone in the room with much to ponder.

Paul Karrer is a retired teacher. This first appeared in the Salinas Californian.


[20100505 (LA/B2) -- CASE: Frederick Salyer faces antitrust charges. -- PHOTOGRAPHER: KSBW-TV] *** [Scott Salyer, CEO of S K Foods. Credit: KSBW]

Scott Salyer, image courtesy of KSBW-TV

 Sipping a coffee in The Cherry Bean in Salinas, a friend asked me, “Hey, whatever happened to O.J. Simpson?”

I replied, “I think he’s doing time in Nevada … for a robbery.”

“Really! Robbery? You sure?”

“I think so.”

“You should write about it and while you’re at it let people know the status of some of the other local baddies.”

And so I have…

  1. O.J. Simpson

After escaping conviction for the deaths of Nicole Simpson and Richard Goldman, O.J. Simpson was arrested in September 2007 during a robbery gone wrong in Las Vegas. He and a group of men barged into a hotel/casino to steal his own sports memorabilia. Problem is he did it at gunpoint. He was charged with kidnapping and armed robbery and sentenced to 33 years at Lovelock Correctional Facility in Nevada. He’s eligible for parole in October 2017. Bets are he doesn’t get out. (Apparently what one does in Vegas actually does stay in Vegas.) He is 69 years old.

  1. Tomas Pollacci (Pebble Beach)

A serial rapist, Pollacci grew up in Pebble Beach. He had a distinct method of dating: drugging unsuspecting women, then raping them. He often did it in the family liquor store on Lighthouse Avenue, in Pacific Grove. Pollacci was sentenced to eight years but then had another six added on when more victims came forward.

However, the state Department of Mental Health will assess him before his sentence is completed to determine if he should be placed indefinitely into the state Sexually Violent Predator Program. He is currently in Valley State Prison in Chowchilla (possible parole 2024) He is 56.

  1. Jodi Arias (Salinas)

The infamous black widow murderer was convicted of brutally murdering her ex-boyfriend, Travis Alexander, a motivational speaker and Mormon. He had been shot in the head and stabbed more than two dozen times, and his throat had been slit from ear to ear. Arias received a life sentence without the possibility of parole after 25 years. With talks of an appeal underway, Aria will serve time at the Arizona State Prison Complex-Perryville. (Unfortunately, she was from our very own Salinas.) She is 36.

  1. John Franklin Kenney (Carmel Valley)

Murdered his neighbors over a boulder in the driveway. Kenney, a Carmel Valley resident shot (twice each) to death his neighbors Elizabeth and Mel Grimes over continued driveway right-of-way issues – a boulder in the end. He was sentenced in 2008 to life in prison without the possibility of parole. He is incarcerated in Richard J. Donovan Correction Facility in San Diego. He is 82.

  1. Frederick Scott Salyer (Pebble Beach)

This scion of one of California’s most prominent agriculture families pleaded guilty in a federal bribery and conspiracy case in which he was accused of trying to corner the nation’s market for tomato products. His crimes included bribing buyers to purchase his products over those of competitors, of mislabeling products that were old or moldy, and of stashing millions of dollars in Luxembourg as part of a plan to flee rather than face prosecution.

Prior to his guilty plea, Salyer spent eight months in custody, most of it in the Sacramento County Jail, before his lawyers succeeded in having him released on $6 million bail and placed under house arrest and electronic monitoring at his Pebble Beach mansion.

He was sentenced in February 2013 in federal court in Sacramento to six years in prison, to be followed by three years of supervised release, for racketeering and price fixing. He is at the U.S. Penitentiary Atwater in Merced County and scheduled for release Nov. 30. Salyer is 60.

  1. Manoel Antonio Errico (Monterey/Brazil/Argentina)

Seven years after being on the lam and indicted on 31 federal charges, former Cedar Funding investment company loan servicing manager Manoel Antonio Errico was extradited to the United States from Argentina to face charges. The indictment accuses Errico, of defrauding investors. He allegedly induced victims to invest in loans purportedly secured by deeds of trusts. About 1,600 investors, many of them Central Coast residents, sank nearly $150 million in Cedar Funding’s mortgage pool and loans on individual pieces of real estate.

Errico fled the United States in June 2009 while the company was under federal investigation and returned to his native Brazil, which does not extradite its citizens. Errico was snagged in April 2016 when he unwisely traveled from Brazil to Argentina. Oooops. Errico is 61.

  1. David Nilsen

David Nilsen, Cedar Funding’s owner and president, pleaded guilty in 2011 to a federal charge of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and was sentenced in 2012 to eight years in prison and ordered to pay $69,828,833 in restitution. (Good luck on that.) He is being held at Sheridan, Ore.. Federal Detention Center. His release date is June 15 2018. Nilsen is 66.

Paul Karrer is a retired teacher. This first appeared in the Salinas Californian.


PAUL KARRER: The search for magic in the classroom


Group of happy young children who are at schoolWill “newer” always be seen as “better,” despite the evidence?

I recently received an email from a first-year sixth grade teacher asking about my classroom management system. I’ve taught for 37 years, making me a veteran teacher by any reckoning.

Flattered of course, I revealed the nitty-gritty of my ticket system. Long and short of it — when kids are good they get tickets. When negative behaviors transpire, tickets are taken away.

Tickets are used for class auctions or to buy lunch with the teacher.

Initially, I was pleased, but upon reflection, saddened when I realized no one has asked me about anything regarding teaching for years. Newer teachers usually mentor student teachers, even though it takes five to seven years to firm up a solid teaching base.

The education reform movement has stifled veteran teachers, pooh-poohing their knowledge and wealth of experience. A false association has been put in place: Because new teachers (many of whom quit within their first five years) are adept at computer use, they are seen as harbingers of the latest in fix-it-all education. Who better to implement the new stuff than flexible newbies indebted to the principal for employment?

By comparison, veteran teachers have seen a near countless number of educational fixes. And we survived them. Well, some of us did.

Normally, what happens on a political level is a new administrative junta comes in and flushes all previous magic systems replacing them with a new magic system. The new systems are lobbied and echo-chambered by shills for publishing and these days testing companies (often one and the same). Locally, this plays out with districts trying to comply with fads, trends, and laws they did not make.

Veteran teachers are bailing in record numbers because of the destruction of the public school system. We are dying from a thousand cuts. And the saddest thing? The newer teachers don’t know what’s being done.

Tickets work and veteran teachers have more than a few worthy and effective educational tricks up their sleeves that deserve appreciation. If there were a super duper silver teaching bullet, Socrates, Euclid, and Pythagoras would have used it.

Little secret…there ain’t no magic silver bullet. But some things work for some of us. Just ask any veteran teacher.

The solutions that we’ve seen:

Math: Math Their Way, Math Land, Mathematics Unlimited, California Math, Excel Math, Math Expressions, Dot Math, Math Manipulatives, New Math, Common Core Math, and more.

Reading: Campanitas de Oro (Spanish whole language), Impressions (English whole language), MacCracken Whole Language, SRA-Reading Lions, Open Court, Phonics, Dibels, Fluency testing, Daily 5, Accelerated Reader, Scholastic News, Listening Centers, Pearson Language Arts (Common Core), Whole Language, Phonetic learning, High Point, Read Naturally, School Thematic Approach, HLT, and more.

The How of Teaching: Self-contained classes, blended (switching classes), team teaching, combination classes, combination bilingual classes, after school programs, learning centers, projects, leveled ELA, immersion cooperative groups, pair-share, No Child Left Behind, Race To The Top, Common Core, Goals and Standards, behavior modification plans, and more.

Karrer, a longtime teacher in Castroville, is a member of the North Monterey County Federation of Teachers. Find him online here. He wrote this for the California Federation of Teachers website.