Joshua Leibner: Teacher, Role Model & Friend

CHS visits SF, 2008Unfortunately, my dear friend Mr. Leibner continues to battle for his job at Carson High School. I cannot overestimate the effect of the books, films, field trips, subjects and ideas he teaches, his teaching methodologies, even his very classroom design itself on my life and life-long learning. It’s astounding, the impact he has had in my life. A public school such as Carson High needs educators like Mr. Leibner, and I was fortunate to have him and other teachers there who had a more holistic and expansive perspective of education.

Here’s my open letter to the LA school board:

Attn: LAUSD Board of Education

Dear Ms. Marguerite LaMotte, Ms. Monica Garcia, Ms. Tamar Galatzan, Mr. Steve Zimmer, Mr. Bennett Kayser, Ms. Nury Martinez, Dr. Richard Vladovic, Ms. Monica Ratliff, Mr. Daryl Narimatsu, Ms. Rosie Martinez, Mr. Carl Joseph, Mr. Warren Fletcher, and Ms. Catherine Lombardo,

I am writing to you to express my full support of Mr. Joshua Leibner, my film and philosophy teacher in high school from 2002–2004. I am surprised and disheartened that Mr. Leibner still faces such adversity from the current administration at Carson High School. I strongly disagree about the several counts against the effectiveness of his teaching, e.g. “inappropriate regalia” or “pornographic” in the classroom or the lack of a respectful climate in the classroom, etc. Mr. Leibner creates an environment where students minds may thrive. His creative, insightful, and imaginative teaching (which includes his stimulating classroom) opens up worlds of possibilities that many students may never explore, if they never pass through his classroom.

As a student in Mr. Leibner’s philosophy and film courses, I experienced a climate of free-thought, understanding and discussion. Contrary to the assertion of the principal, Mr. Leibner’s classroom environment fosters understanding of complex subjects such as gender biases, sexism, religious stereotypes/bashing, racial bigotry, violence, and drug and alcohol abuse. Key to the intellectually stimulating atmosphere is Mr.Leibner’s use of deconstruction, which taught me how to parse out and fully comprehend the social constructs I grew up with in the community. Through the use of a variety of materials, from literature to plays, films and field trips, I learned to better understand issues of sexism, racism, bigotry, etc., and how they related and affected me as an individual. His eclectic collections of films and books were also a great comfort and wonder to me as a student of color, as his collections included works by celebrated contemporary authors or directors of color, such as Toni Morrison, Fernando Meirelles, and Kátia Lund. One of the things I loved about Mr. Leibner’s classes is that he never underestimated us as students. And while we did engage in topics that are often contentious, classroom discussions were always both lively and respectful. I attribute this to the fact that Mr. Leibner was a great facilitator of such conversations, and we felt comfortable sharing our thoughts in his classroom. He always challenged us to think critically, and encouraged us to articulate our own answers.

Mr. Leibner broadened my intellectual and educational horizons. As the daughter of immigrants, I was brought up with fairly rigid academic expectations. Mr. Leibner’s curriculum introduced me to studies and interests I never dreamed I could experience, let alone fully engage in as a career. Instead of limiting my options, I applied to many universities, both in California and out of state. Eventually, I moved to San Francisco to study journalism at San Francisco State University, and I just completed my master’s degree in library and information science from Syracuse University. My entire undergraduate and graduate career, my professors and fellow students were astounded by how well-read I was, how imaginative and thoughtful my comments were, and I believe it is all thanks to Mr. Leibner for nurturing these qualities in me during high school. From Mr. Leibner, I learned how to keep things in perspective, to remember that we all carry with us our own stories and experiences that help us relate to the rest of the world and those around us.

Easily, Mr. Leibner was the most inspirational teacher I had at Carson High. My fondest memories from high school revolve around his courses, from the films we watched to the field trips he supervised. Although I wasn’t part of the then-ASA, Mr. Leibner allowed me to participate in a field trip to San Francisco and the Bay Area, during which we toured various college campuses and experienced the city through food and plays. Now I live and work in the Bay Area as a web producer for a nonprofit investigative news organization, and every day I am reminded of that fateful trip to somewhere new.

Without Mr. Leibner, I would not have become the successful person I am today. After a personal disaster forced me to leave Boston University and enroll in a local community college, Mr. Leibner was still there for me, ever the teacher, and ever my personal cheerleader. He believed in my intellect and my thoughtfulness, and always pushed me to accomplish my dreams. At SF State, I continued to take literature and philosophy courses that broadened my mind, and started to contribute to the local news organizations in the Bay Area. I was art director for my school paper, page designer for a Japantown newspaper, and a web producer for a journalism nonprofit organization that helps ethnic news organizations close the digital divide. Now I hope to combine my skills in journalism with a library career, where I hope to make more of a difference in the community I live in, teaching them to broaden their horizons and share their stories. I am also considering PhD programs, because Leibner showed me that my education never really has to end.

I repeat this wholeheartedly—I would not have been as thoughtful, creative, or successful without Mr. Leibner’s influence. I easily could have kept my small dreams and stayed in my small world. Mr. Leibner challenged me to break those barriers, and what’s more, he truly believed that I could, and be whatever I wanted to be. Crossing the threshold of his classroom ultimately set me on a path of success, wonder and enlightenment, one that continues to this day.

Mr. Leibner does wonders for his students, and the administration would be remiss to dismiss him. I am happy to supply you with additional accounts of Mr. Leibner’s effectiveness as an educator. He is a great teacher, an inspiring role model, and best of all, a wonderful friend.

Respectfully,

Jaena Rae Cabrera
Class of 2004

Mr. Leibner’s final hearing before the school board is today. Sending him all my love.

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