Louisiana and the Lost Legacies

The  recent study that is reported on by the Washington Post here brings up issues familiar to readers of this blog. Louisiana is ranked the third worst state in the nation in which to grow up. The article reports on the recently released  Annie E. Casey Foundation’s release of the findings of its 26th annual Kids Count report. While the report deserves more critical and sanguine analysis of methods, biases and presumptions than it receives it remains a professional and respected investigation into the health, education and economic well-being among American children and seeks to determine what trends are indicated by data collected and compared in the study. I have visited the issues of Louisiana’s low rankings before almost exactly a year before this post came out in fact. That post which is excerpted here from time to time appears at this link.

Louisiana has often been ranked at or near the bottom of various surveys and  studies that claim to show the relative position of various states in the United States as regards the kind of excellence a particular study seeks to define and understand. Those seeking to lead or hold public office in this state have long had to contend with the perception of inferiority as well as with the rankings that proclaim that inferiority. There are few enough conversations regarding policy which do not include a discussion of these realities: Louisiana is perceived as straggling and in many regards (even if the studies are flawed in some ways), it is straggling as regards the United States. One hesitates to post pictures with this kind of  an opening paragraph and to identify people with the negative comments and  categorization of the State. But most of those deeply involved in life here are well aware of  these perceptions and both the problems that cause the poor rankings and the problems that arise from  the poor rankings.

There was a ranking of Louisiana schools among the schools of the United States of America last year at about this time that inspired my earlier post. That article was discussed in the Daily Advertiser and  if the link still functions should be accessible here.  The survey ranked Louisiana schools at 47 out of perhaps 51 systems with the district of Columbia. Interestingly, the  Yahoo News did a ranking of fifty states about the same time and did that ranking on the broadest possible basis and ranked Louisiana of all fifty states and in that ranking Louisiana came out ranked fifth.  The two surveys may have been profoundly different and the new Casey Foundation survey may have  looked at different things as well. But surveys are tricky things, as are polls, studies and rankings. The question of what is good is a philosophical one and philosophy is very much in decline in this country and the world. We may ask if California’s horrible history of unsustainable water policy was built into the Casey study, or Oklahoma and the Northern plains far above them had to account in some way for soil depletion in the thirties and the resulting horror of the Dust Bowl. Or whether displaced Aboriginal Americans were made to count against people in terms of determining the tolerance of New England and the Mid West. My guess is that a trained critical and philosophical inquirer being honest would find that almost nothing like this was attempted but that in countless ways a punishment for slavery and the Confederacy’s perceived rebellion was built into the study.

The reality of the South as a subjugated and oppressed region of the United States does not cease to exist because things are never reported that way. Assumptions are never perfect in any of our major policy discussions and deeply held assumptions are seldom closely examined.  While we decry global warming and other forms of climate change  and the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and the rise of ISIS and many other groups devoted to modern Islamist Terror Jihad, and the crumbling US infrastructure and signs of geopolitical tension the tendency which defines our era most of all is the unwillingness to consider how larger systems of thought and belief distinctive to our own time might need to be reformed to handle the crises of our times. My undergraduate alma mater got rid of its philosophy department since I graduated and there are many reasons for this and the simple existence of such a department does not in fact assure anyone or any institution of very much but it is nonetheless a significant datum.
This sort of  deep and pervasive intellectual blindness is grievous beyond being simply sad and  when closely examined only goes to show how horribly out of balance the priorities of this society are in fact. Such decisions  as what to do with budgets, whom to hire and what courses to teach are often made very much in direct response to studies, polls and surveys which are really malicious in design if not in human intent (although that should not be taken for granted). Therefore a truly horrifying decision can make a kind of sense when one reasons from many bad starting places provided by highly respected sources and reinforced by federal policy all at the same time.
The Vermilion Parish School Board employed me as a substitute teacher for several years and then a few years ago employed me in a chaotic and abusive mess without definition through a new computer system. But it was not the worst system I have been exposed to. I have a GED diploma from Abbeville High School to bring together study in over a dozen pre-collegiate institutions and my dearly cherished niece and goddaughter graduated from the same school in a year after being admitted  and having done two years at John Paul the Great Academy in Lafayette. The institution struggles for money often enough and I have been shorted, had supplies misplaced or lost because of odd conditions symbolic of shortages and have known others who have experienced similar problems. But lately the Board has been praised for having very high graduation rates compared to the rest of the State of Louisiana. This has not ended the budget crisis and there was an announcement that no human French teacher would be assigned to Erath High School in the Future. The Parish  public system has several High Schools but not a plethora. As I recall there are now Abbeville High, Kaplan High, Gueydan High, Erath High, North Vermilion High and none other that I can think of at this time. There used to be more and some students travel a long way past old high schools to their new facilities. There are many home school students, various correspondence schools and a few modestly sized but not tiny sectarian or private schools in addition to the old  Catholic  high school which was refounded and renamed Vermilion Catholic High School when I was more or less and infant (it is a successor to Mount Carmel High School). Its hard to know how much the public schools represent the totality of education in the parish.  I reacted strongly in an email circulated in the aftermath of this decision and my reaction was very negative. I feel that  this single decision was made possible by rankings of graduation rates and is a horrible attack on our Vermilion Parish professional community and on our cultural life and heritage.
Every part of the country lives in a tension with these national rankings and their local consequences and there are many ways to respond badly. I found the VPSB choice horribly disloyal to the local community and its needs and traditions — although what will happen in the end I am not sure. However, others have supported their local communities in ways that undermine all integrity of the whole system. But the education picture in the country as a whole is far from clear. Lying, fibbing, making up nonsense and ignoring reality are very important parts of the reporting of schools and of educational performance in this country more than most. I discussed the Atlanta Public Schools in those terms in a post linked here.
But I  will revisit the most relevant parts of the post within this blog post. The Atlanta Public Schools were reacting to their very poor performance  on these tests which are another basis for making so many decisions. I respect their concern that the tests are not perfect measures of anything and do not always produce worthwhile goals and incentives for educational policy. As those who read me extensively in this blog or otherwise will know, I have been a teacher in numerous contexts as well as being a person who has taken many standardized tests. I have also advised people I cared about who take standardized tests.The testing culture which shapes testing results and does not produce the prosecutions which occurred in Atlanta is not a pure and pristine testing culture by any means.  Let me assure anyone unsure that people provide skinnies and acquire early copies of master forms and provide for special conditions for pretty girls who can use their favors to influence the right people, for stellar athletes who cannot make the grade after extensive tutorials and for the relations of rich donors to universities and prep schools. Teacher’s pets can sometimes be rewarded with hints that are unfair to others. That kind of impurity which is not so shocking but offends a sense of the sportsmanship that goes with standardized testing regimes is rampant enough to offend but not pervasive or normal in most testing regimes around the world. Beyond all of this in our own country margins are attached to scores to provide affirmative action for racial minorities, for women, for veterans and for the disabled before making decisions that will apply the scores. Different people react differently to different elements of these variations but  they all make the tests something other than pure objective scientific measurement.  Similar things happen in the world of polling, surveys and  studies.
 In addition to all of these ways of shaping  results not very good but very old techniques of  intimidation, cheating lies and abuse not much modified since the early stone ages still occur in all sort of places around the world and are not absent from educational measurements. If that is the case then does it matter if the  kind of criminal cheating on a massive scale occurred in Georgia under what amounts to official gangsterism as the APS scandal  of 2013  and before? Does it matter that Beverly Hall and others in the Atlanta Public School System presided over wholesale distortions in public school testing, motivated largely by inflated racial loyalties driven by distorted national policies and false perspectives? Yes I think it matters.  Just as it matters that the VPSB superintendent Puyau who appears to be of at least partial Louisiana French descent is not able find the loyalty to fight for our region’s heritage Just as the it matters that the President Anthony Fontana child of a Sicilian American father who was a teacher  and a Cajun (therefore American) mother who was a teacher could not find motivation to fight harder to preserve this key teacher if he fought for that at all. It is not so much that compared to the Atlanta system in a state that did better in the Casey Foundation study the VPSB were not paragons of ethics. Compared to the APS the VPSB deserved none of  all the horrible and relatively obscene things I was calling them in my inside voice as I type that first email response to the news — that is not the point. The point is that in response to all of the vast supply of objective information that is supposed to make things better the VPSB in this instance became part of a vast and comprehensive societal movement to worthlessness. I write these angry and inflammatory words about them or about the APS or about the measuring  establishment  and  yet anyone can guess that I wonder if  perhaps we  who dislike these outcomes largely deserve them. I write that because I know the basic futility of my complaints because I surely cannot make all the difference alone and apparently others feel much the same, the people who feel that sense of hopelessness are not stupid. The measures  of the Board I called the Very Poorly Structured Budgeters  in my email were based on a contempt for their constituents that comes largely from national studies designed against these people and which they use to calculate needs and resources and make decisions that arise from accepted practices and from the parameters by which they define their objectives it is a larger picture and not their specific practices which are entirely flawed. That does not mean there is no personal are moral fault. I was not then and am not now  afraid for my critique to come to the attention of Puyau, Fontana or anyone else in my small community.  Nor was I afraid to offend the Black Exaltationists of the country in the APS post.  I believe they should be grown ups and perhaps they believe that as well. But despite whatever differences we may have this is not only about personal values. Just as I criticize them I also know there is wholesale lying and cheating is occurring in many school districts around the country.
I myself have mixed feelings and a mix of things to say about standardized testing itself. I know we have visions create by national standards and studies that are shaped by those who do not believe high schools should ever have more diverse educational outcomes leading to apprenticeships, tech schools and work programs for a good portion of seniors who will still graduate and take some classes in the main school. Those are things that I think should happen.  Likewise they should offer advanced college prep and individual classes. I also think a military track should exist in each school. In other words I think the public school system is broken. I think reliance on studies that are assumed to be well intended but are not  must change or we will pay an ever higher price.
This sense of what the ideals are is very real and very powerful and the APS case in Georgia illustrates that fact.  Consider the stature  of Beverly Hall and the thirty or so other school officials indicted in the investigation of cheating in the Atlanta Public School System. This is especially important because Ms. Hall has been honored as National School System Superintendent of the Year and has been a symbol for many of the direction in which our American educational culture ought to be moving.  Hall’s behavior cannot be understood without reference to the national policies arising from the issue of race and the significance of these events being first uncovered beneath the Georgia flag. In this struggle by the State of Georgia and other authorities to deal with these issues the colors which were the confederate battle flag has waved above this instance of endless and widespread nonviolent black supremacy. The flag has often been attacked in Georgia but the falsification of all standards to promote the relative position of the Black race in our society has been fostered by all our learned and moral opinions. Now the  the whole Confederate history is nearly wiped away  because homicidal action of Dylan Roof in a very political but also sacred church. This action surely needs to be condemned and I have done so, but it has a context in the violence of our society more than in the Confederate Flag. The events and actions of this young man are much horrifying in appearance and also so prejudged that any chance he went in to do something other than murder cannot be considered by many who never prejudge any other homicide that way. He may have been looking for trouble but not planning to kill anyone — a trial should determine that.
The Washington Post article cited here at the start of this post is Christopher Ingraham’s continuance in a well established tradition of  showing the horrors of the South carrying onto the future from the past. But other horrors are little examined. We have not as a society correctly calculated the consequences of rhetoric and policy extolling equality in a way which destroys ethnic and regional richness and replaces it with shallow absurdity. Or the consequence of an indoctrination maniacally  demonizing racial distinction and white supremacy of any kind.   We do not consider the consequences of failure to investigate highly organized falsifications and badly designed standards while pouring resources into repeatedly simplifying the mechanisms of stopping fraud at many points. We do not understand the exigencies of any kind of meritocratic institutions on which we must rely. Today as we think back on the Independence Day anniversaries of 150 years since the greatest battle ever fought in the Western Hemisphere was drawn out at Gettysburg and the horror of the Vicksburg siege ended in the failed Confederacy we must recognize the change which Gettysburg assured has been a complicated kind of change bringing both good and evil to Georgia and the South. We must also consider that process launched in and for our nation. The occupation of the South and the repression of its state institutions by the federal government has never ended and has not abated. The morals of it have never been fairly examined.  But examining and measuring have been part of the oppression. But before focusing on race let me examine some other implications of all this horrific mess.
The creation of a destructive class of vicious and entitled black abusers has been one result, Dylan Roof and others who may be like him has been another result, but they are not the only groups empowered and supported against the society and culture of these states and all of the union. Just as not all in our School Board are eager to destroy our heritage and there are  in countless school districts many African Americans who would participate in a more positive system drawing on a diverse set of roots of progress. But these people are overwhelmed in the stream of a fantasized racial exact equality in our land. The Black Republicanism which many in the South and the Northern Opposition sought to stop in the War Between the States has reached its fruit and full flower in many places across our society. This racial element is very significant in all of this although one must applaud the black officers of the court who are involved in the prosecution and the black teachers and administrators who lost their jobs in droves opposing the total adulteration of scholastic integrity. There story is not much being told yet and may not be told. It is a story which ought to inspire us to give to the United Negro College Fund and to see in institutions like Grambling and Southern University in my own state. There is in such racially conscious institutions a different ethic than the wholesale cultural terrorism that the US Supreme Court has imposed upon the Union of the States. We are not likely to see such an outpouring of generosity to the UNCF by “Southron” whites of the old school.  We are more likely to see the anger and resentment captured in at least some of the Trump supporting movement. I am not sure Trump is a bad guy but his approach breeds alienation. It is more successful and appealing than anything I have to say in a country rocked by hopeless resentment or racially charged righteous anger.
Right now  when they meet a blindly accepted  national standard relatively honestly and their graduation rate is high a school board may feel that they can do anything they want and they are the good guys. What something like the last French teacher or the last teacher’s absence in any major subject and this subject most of all can do to a community is a hard thing to calculate. I do not know even now in the case of the VPSB who voted which way and I do not no know the depths of their budget crisis, I do not know just how intransigent the teacher’s union was in preventing other settlements.  But while this situation of crisis and the structural maladies are enormous that does not absolve the persons involved. The standards received from some national measuring apparatus are not to be examined in detail they are to be used to define all aspects of life and not to be criticized by anyone who know what I consider most worth knowing for any reason. Often time a norm is not a standard of excellence but a prohibition of excellence “Making every child a little behind” who is “common to the core” is my idea for a good honest name for our pedagogical history.
California has migrants and illegal aliens whose educational status is often less honestly reported than ours and I recommend reading Leah Remini’s book Troublemaker and asking yourself if her memoir doesn’t indicate that lots of the Scientologists in the Golden State are not getting much of an education as we usually measure it. Tom Wolfe’s  novel Bonfire of the Vanities describes a fictional public school outside the Deep South that is horrifying and is based on his deep and meticulous factual research. And are we supposed to believe that in the horrors of Chi-raq — bloody Chicago they do all the even we know they do but tell the truth about children’s welfare?   There are troubles here but there are troubles everywhere and the national lying campaign does not help.

The struggle of life in Louisiana is an easy one to simplify.  The student who struggle in many ways with situations in our public schools and post secondary education  are preparing for a life of struggle here or away from here. But the struggle is not always fairly meaured as regards what we achieve in an ongoing struggle as to where we stand in the country.  Louisiana has been amazingly dominant in the millions of pounds of seafood landed at saltwater ports. There are times when half of the top five or ten ports were Louisiana ports in that category. We have never done as well in ranking of the dollar values of catches landed. Although the seafood industry is still a big deal.

Louisiana has done an amazing job of leading in the production of offshore oil and gas at various times but has gotten little of that money into state coffers to invest in things like education. The federal government has taken most of that revenue from huge categories of mineral production and has sent back funds in other forms with less social benefit like transfer payments to needy in systems that foster permanent poverty.

The Gulf of Mexico's oil reserves remain vital to our country's future.

Louisiana has a vast treasury of cultural resources but exists in a society committed in general to degrading and destroying those resources over time.Jean Lafitte National Park and CODOFIL notwithstanding there has been a constant war on the distinctive values and traditions and assets of the state. So one has to ask what people here are being educated towards and why and how.

This may be one of the many reasons why although Louisiana has above average military enlistment it ranks below some of its neighbors in the former Confederacy. The military establishment here is significant but certainly not the biggest Fort Polk came out of recent reductions pretty well but over the decades has lost ground to other bases like Fort Hood. Fort Polk may have to change its name to Fort Parks but for now is named after a Confederate General. So rankings are part of the overall struggle to make sense of our place in the world.

 

My cousin Severin was killed in battle in Afghanistan.

Not very many people read this neglected blog compared to its heyday. However many of those who do have not heard of the term Silicon Bayou. There is disagreement about all aspects of the term. However the truth is that the area from New Orleans to Houston including Baton Rouge and Lafayette most of all is a technology center for the nation many aspects of the industries and universities in the region are ranked well in the fields of technology and information science.  The future is being built and sought here and has been for a long time. The results are always going to be mixed for many reasons.  I myself once led a group of interested people around the world in developing a plan for colonizing the Moon and Mars. There are thousands of ventures that do not achieve major recognition that have some influence. But there are also large operations and institutions.

How a crater on the Moon or Mars might be developed.

That brings us back to the idea of perception. Louisiana has a substantial tourism industry and a substantial film industry. Both of these industries labor to improve perceptions of the state in different ways. Nonetheless, there is little perception nationally or globally of how much this state faces challenges for the world and the nation and not caused primarily by the negligence or incompetence of this society itself. In fact I am very discouraged about the state, personally discouraged and discouraged at all kinds of levels. But the State has problems brought on us from the larger society as well. Those problems and our reactions to them affect our children’s lives as well.

Shrimp boats become skimmers

In the face of all the challenges of Louisiana life in this time it is interesting to not that Lafayette has been ranked as one of the happiest or the happiest city in the United States of America.  This happiness is not indifferent to or disconnected from all of our modern struggles but is perhaps rooted in our older heritage. That is perhaps also a key to how we perceive ourselves.

 

my great grandmother's painting

As we all seek to find our way forward it is useful to remember who we are, to see who we wish to become and to try to help our young people realize dreams they and we both can value and affirm. The future after all is uncertain and we cannot be sure where everything will end up. I know that we will not find a way forward if we lose all respect for one another.

Congratulating Louisiana State Senator Fred Mills on reforming Marijuana law...

 

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3 responses to “Louisiana and the Lost Legacies

  1. Frank, you are knocking on an open door. I do get so annoyed by rankings which have dominated human progress because, as the circular argument goes, humans need to progress.

    You are right to point to the awkward issue of primary authority, a “My dad’s bigger than your dad” type of mentality. I live in the North East of England, an area that is generally considered to be a dump by the rest of the UK. Why? Because a body has ranked it near the bottom of whatever league it needs it to be; participants agree that the value of something can be ranked and, so, winners and losers are created.

    Diamonds are ranked, so is coal.

  2. Pingback: The Other Election Day and My Life | Franksummers3ba's Blog

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