Get to Know a Donor: Jonathan Leibovic



I got to know Jonathan Leibovic in school, when we both worked with the Student Farmworker Alliance. Among other campaigns, our group held protests, teach-ins, and parties to raise attention and funds for the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. I soon found out that most people in the group treated this activism as a fulltime endeavor, and would go on to find small, meaningful ways to keep striving for a more equal and just society. Jonathan was no exception.

I’ve run into Jonathan twice since college. The first was in Providence, where I learned from him that he was training to be a science teacher. The second was in New York City at the People’s Climate March in fall 2014. As surprising as it was to see someone I hadn’t in years, it was pretty un-shocking that I found him there. Catching up with him toward the end of the route, he told me a bit more about how teaching in Philadelphia, now his job, was going.

Jonathan was full of warmth in welcoming me into SLA, a pretty tight knit group I strolled into one day after lurking on the listserv for too long.  He’s witty, caring, and just the right balance of realistically angry, sad, and motivated by the problems of the world to be a force to take seriously.

He also wins tons of points for being so far the only person to not only get what this blog’s title references, but like it. I will be forever grateful for that.


Besides affordable housing, a cause that matters to me: Listening, because when we genuinely listen to each other we often discover that (1) problems that seem unrelated might actually be the same, and (2) problems that might seem intractable can sometimes — but definitely not always — have a simple solution.


What’s something you recently taught one/some/all of your students? I recently taught all of my students that nobody can force them to say the Pledge of Allegiance or even to stand while it is being recited.  Our assistant principal reprimanded two 8th graders during a recent assembly for not standing during the pledge.  We’ve also been talking a lot about Flint, Michigan recently.  Above every sink in Philadelphia Public Schools (not the water fountains, fortunately) is a warning sign declaring “Do Not Drink from This Sink.”  This week my students will be testing water quality from several sinks and water fountains in the school building.

What’s something one/some/all of your students recently taught you? One of my 8th graders recently told me that his Wii sensor bar was broken.  “So I looked up some videos on Youtube about how to fix it, and I saw that you can use candles.”  What do you mean?  Use candles for what?  “Here, let me show you the video.”  Well, you’re not supposed to be on your phone during school hours, but… okay, fine.  He pulls up the video, which shows a young man gesturing at a TV screen with a Wii-mote.  Instead of the typical infra-red sensor bar, there are a pair of tea-light candles, about 2 feet apart, in front of the TV screen.  And the Wii appears to be functioning normally.  I cautioned him that it could be fake.  “It’s not.  I tried it.”  Hmm.  Can you bring it in tomorrow and show me?  “Sure.  Oh, and Mr. Leibovic?”  Yes?  “Is that science?”  Yes, kiddo, that’s science.  He brought it in the next day and really did work.


What’s your favorite piece of technology? How about non-digital technology? It’s a toss-up between the bicycle and the toaster oven.  Paper is also pretty cool.  And jet-packs.  Do we have jet-packs yet?

What percentage of your crying sessions are due to sadness, happiness, onion, and other, would you estimate? Please define any given Other percentages. These days most of my tears are onion-induced, but every once in a while there’s a slice of the Cry Pie reserved for genuine emotion.  I cried once last year (my first year teaching) after school because I realized that in spite of my best efforts, half of my students were failing math and wouldn’t get into the high schools they had applied to, and while I was cleaning up a pile of sunflower seed husks that someone had spat into a corner behind the computer desks I heard a troupe of 4th graders singing “I Believe I Can Fly” in the hallway, and I just sat in a corner and blubbered for a while until one of the janitors came in.

If you could make something required reading for everyone on the planet, what would it be? The Little Prince.  Every person should be required to read it out loud to a young child.


Madi’s question: What podcasts do you listen to? What’s a podcast?  Just kidding, I’m not that old yet, but getting there.  Listen, young whippersnapper, before podcasts we had this thing called radio.  It’s like a podcast except you can only listen to whatever they’re playing at the time.  But there are different stations, maybe a dozen or so depending on the town you live in.  Philadelphia has this wonderful radio station called WHYY, and it airs some of my favorite programming including RadioLab, Snap Judgment, American Roots, and The Best of CarTalk.  It also airs some of my least favorite programming (see Prairie Home Companion, Wits, You Bet Your Garden, and anything having to do with pledge drive season).  And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that every weeknight at 7:00 pm I switch my radio dial to 88.5 WXPN to catch Kids’ Corner with Kathy O’Connell. [Ed. note: you can listen to WHYY live from in/outside of Philadelphia here. Also, lolz @ show called You Bet Your Garden]


A vintage shot from the student activism days

What question should I ask the next person? Ask them what we should name the (hypothetical) new planet!


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