"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Help for The Big Uneasy

I taught in Louisiana for two years, just as the state testing system was coming online in 2000. Louisiana had the dubious distinction of being the first state in the Union to use a single test to make promotion decisions in elementary schools. Since NCLB, the number of states following Louisiana's lead is 10.

The grinding poverty of African-American neighborhoods cannot be imagined by those who have not been among the squalid conditions of a people who have been systematically shut out of the pursuit of the American dream since their ancestors arrived here in chains 200 years ago.

In the meantime, the governor of Louisiana is "just furious" over the looting and lawlessness in New Orleans. Those who have actually seen the conditions of poverty in Ms. Blanco's poorest neighborhoods are not nearly so furious as they resigned and saddened that this explosion of rage will be used by a blind and bigoted media to blame the victims for the awful conditions that they are sure to continue to inherit. Those who have seen the conditions firsthand are also surprised that it took a hurricane for the pervasive, hopeless despair to break out into the bitter, and equally hopeless, feeding frenzy of rage that we now see on TV.

In the school that I was following in the first year of high-stakes testing, 70% of the 4th graders were held back. These are the children of parents who would now be wading the streets of New Orleans had they lived there, parents loading plasma TVs and video games into shopping carts that will be parked on the bank when they are put on the bus for a ride to the next shelter.

The same high expectations for all, then? Whether you are waiting for rescue in the attic of a shotgun shack in the flooded ghetto, or watching your plantation facade be ravaged from the safety of your suite at the Hilton in Baton Rouge? That demand, in the face of what we can now see in New Orleans, we can begin to appreciate, perhaps, for its blind stupidity or its outright and blatant racism. In light of our history, either is unforgivable.


  1. Anonymous1:12 PM

    Katrina has exposed a country that has abandoned its people and more tragically, its children.

  2. Anonymous9:14 PM

    A friend of mine sent me this one-

    "This is the lead paragraph of a story about the hurricane in the Washington Post: NEW ORLEANS, Aug. 31 -- Rochelle Montrel, dedicated middle school teacher, thought she should stay in town to prepare for the first day of classes. "We have all this testing now, earlier and earlier," she said Wednesday, "and I wanted to be ready."