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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.