In “Details released in teacher’s harassment case” (July 13), you embraced the way Samohi parent Michael Chwe framed the release of records pertaining to Samohi math teacher Ari Marken as providing “basic information” for decisions by other parents. As a Samohi parent whose daughter took an advanced algebra course with Mr. Marken this past year, and as a UCLA professor who regularly reviews students’ math training for graduate study in biostatistics, I believe you omitted an essential detail, namely that Mr. Marken is an outstanding teacher.
I also believe that Michael Chwe’s website, which you cited in your article, smears Mr. Marken. After sensationally greeting visitors with the heading “SMMUSD Irresponsibility Endangers Our Children,” the website lists Mr. Marken, who was never charged with a crime, alongside former teacher Thomas Beltran, who pleaded guilty to seven counts of continuous sexual abuse, two counts of a lewd act on a child and one count of sexual penetration of a foreign object on a child under 14.
Professor Chwe, who is a faculty member in political science (also at UCLA), has expertise in game theory. He and I served together on a district-wide ad hoc committee that reviewed SMMUSD policies in the wake of the arrest of Beltran.
We clearly had very different reactions to being aware of the SMMUSD’s reprimand of Mr. Marken. He wanted to know more and fought in court to get more information. For a combination of reasons, I placed my trust in Mr. Marken.
Partly, my trust in Mr. Marken flowed from the trust I have in SMMUSD administrators. In multiple roles as a PTA officer and school site council member, I have interacted firsthand with SMMUSD administrators, and I do not believe they sit idly by when children might be in danger. I have not been shy about calling for change in our schools when I believe change is indicated, but the fact that Mr. Marken remained a Samohi teacher struck me as convincing evidence that whatever he had done did not rise to the level of a crime.
I also was influenced by a friend whose daughter had been a student of Mr. Marken two years earlier. Our friend described that Mr. Marken had been a great teacher, that it was very disruptive when Mr. Marken went on leave for the latter half of the school year in connection with a formal investigation and that she wished Mr. Marken had remained in the classroom.
Our daughter’s experience with Mr. Marken was uniformly positive. I was extremely impressed both with his rigorous treatment of the subject matter and with the way he cultivated enthusiasm for mathematics. I also think he deserves credit for maintaining a steady focus on education and for creating a positive learning environment in the classroom during a period that must have been extremely stressful as litigation over his personnel records was unfolding.
Not surprisingly, the substance of my opinion did not change at all after Mr. Marken’s personnel records were released. Someone might try to rationalize the litigation because it reassured us there was nothing to worry about, but the world is more than two-dimensional, and I believe we are very fortunate not to have lost more of Mr. Marken’s time in the classroom as a consequence. Meanwhile, I think your readers deserve to know that there are many parents like me who feel lucky to be able to put their children in SMMUSD schools and in particular to send their children to Samohi to have teachers like Mr. Marken.