The children of New Orleans want you to know something bad has happened to their schools. Many states are now considering turning over schools to private management based on the New Orleans “success.”
Don’t be fooled!
After Hurricane Katrina, when the state of Louisiana decided to experiment on our children and schools, kids were already badly traumatized. They needed people who understood their challenges and their pain, and how the storm had affected their communities. And they needed enrichment, through music, art, culturally appropriate pedagogy, and a deep commitment to learning and development.
Instead we got zero-tolerance policies and dehumanizing discipline. Black, indigenous teachers were fired and replaced by young, inexperienced, well-meaning white people under the age of twenty-seven. These people were unfamiliar with black children, as well as the culture of the city and the communities where they had been placed.
During the first few years after the storm, we had literally hundreds of meetings with people in the New Orleans community who expressed their concerns, as well as their willingness to help and be a part of a solution to the problems they expressed. Community members asked for big changes to the entire school curriculum to make it more culturally appropriate. They asked for simple things like teaching our children to swim—a top concern after so many people drowned in Hurricane Katrina. Most of those suggestions were ignored. The meetings were a waste of time for parents and communities.
The state of Louisiana and the national media often point out that there were problems with New Orleans schools before the storm. But after spending billions of dollars, our new recovery school system has only four schools that have received an “A” grade from the state.
We often hear the word “accountability” in our zero-tolerance schools.
It is time for someone other than our children to be held accountable. If a New Orleans student falls asleep in class, uses the bathroom without permission, or fails to walk on the line, there is “no excuse.” Kids are sanctioned, suspended, even expelled for small infractions. Our new school CEOs who apply these zero-tolerance policies claim that without “accountability” there is no order, and no order means no education.
Yet the adults inour school system are simply not applying the same standard to themselves. If we held school administrators in New Orleans to the same standards they hold our children to, most of these people would be out of a job.
If you live in one of the many communities that is considering the New Orleans school-takeover model, beware.
Democracy, community input, and the interest of the children have no place here. Don’t let the same thing happen in your home town.
Ashana Bigard is a lifelong resident of New Orleans, mother of three, social justice organizer, and advocate for children and families in Louisiana. She is Progressive Education Southcentral Regional Fellow.
Read more about what's happening to schools at our Progressive Public School Shakedown page.