A HEART-RENDING EVENING
by Elliott Stonecipher
AT FAIR PARK HIGH SCHOOL
At 9:30 last night, I walked to my car from Fair Park High School’s front door. Greenwood Road was nearly deserted, and my drive home was just as quiet. Caddo Parish School Board member Curtis Hooks’ education “town hall” had begun three hours earlier, and I, along with the several dozen citizens who attended, I’d bet, were emotionally drained.
A panelist at Curtis’ invitation, I watched and listened in rapt attention, and no small amount of sadness, as speaker after speaker shook fist after fist at the gods of cultural and political change. Their remonstrations did not fall on deaf ears; I agreed with them far more than I agree with Louisiana’s new education dictators.
Governor Bobby Jindal has drawn a line in Louisiana’s public education dirt, and on the other side is a boiling cauldron of dumped-on traditional public education supporters. These grandparents and parents, teachers, other educators and school support personnel are, yes, a minority … an angry and wounded minority. Should these men and women join with those of us who want real public education reform, but in no way support the over-the-top power display of Jindal, the struggle ahead will last many, many years longer than our governor’s likely (intended?) residence in Louisiana.
Thus we come to the question of moment: will the coalition of those represented at Fair Park last night – majorities of African-American community leaders, professional educators, labor union members – finally let go their unshakable defense of the education status quo? … the failed education status quo? Will that public education establishment read the bills Jindal and his legislature have now made law, and see that their train not only left Louisiana’s station, but crashed and burned only a mile or two down the tracks?
The folk gathered last night – Elliott Stonecipher specifically included – remain in a weird kind of disbelief: how does a public education system in place for lifetimes effectively go away in a 23-day legislative session in Baton Rouge? How can any governor – even hell-bent to do so for obviously personal political reasons – borrow, rent, lease or buy that many lawmakers for such a purpose? The answer, more and more are awakening to accept, is as simple as it is ugly: they did it because they had it in their hearts and minds to do so – or at least to take the governor’s orders to do so – and they had the power. They did it because they could.
The reality of this truth is laced with historical lessons, none of them pretty. Abuse of power never goes down easily or well. Thus, anger is, in some quarters, real and high and likely consequential.
The other side of the argument, as it fell to me to try to explain last night, is the real wind in the sails of the warship our governor captains: the public education system he and his pirates hijacked had already failed a generation or two of our children. Those whipping-up the crowd in Fair Park’s auditorium last night refuse to acknowledge that, much less say it aloud. To hear their disavowal of participation in that failure was mind-numbing. To scream at the way and manner and process and abuse, yes, yes, yes and, yes! To fail to understand how such abuse was bred and reared is self-defeating … again.
As I worked to explain last night, the first step for the defenders of the status quo is to stop defending it, and grasp that while their last war is over, this one awaits. There is a window of two or three years, I think, to fight the most egregious abuses among the Jindal “reforms,” while supporting something other than the new system he put in place. Open-enrollment alternatives which give traditional public education a fighting chance exist. Voter-approved community (independent) school districts, with equalization of funding among districts in a parish, stand out.
Clinging to our present and failed public school system is no option, and neither is an inarguably unproven replacement which, perhaps most notably, gives “reformers” ready access to hundreds-of-millions in taxpayer booty.
Many of us in Shreveport knew and cherished the work and heart of long-time First Methodist Church pastor, Dr. D. L. Dykes, a man who preached the most memorable sermon I have heard. (For me, that’s no small thing: in my time I have known and leaned on the work and word of several compelling such leaders.) The sermon’s back-drop was the Vietnam War and the unique toll it assessed on the soldiers who fought, and on the spirit of America. The message was of course much broader, with a title suggesting volumes in its handful of words: “There’s Never a Right Time to Do a Wrong Thing.”
My drive home last night was with a full heart and busy mind. Before it was done, I knew this much: what Gov. Jindal’s 23-day public education blitzkrieg has been done to so many, many lives is a wrong thing for which there could never be a right time.
Wherever we may find them, we now await true leaders with calmer heads, fuller hearts and gentler spirits. They are called to clean-up the mess that’s now been made …
… of the mess that had been made.
Elliott Stonecipher’s reports, essays and commentaries are written strictly in the public interest. No compensation of any kind has been solicited, offered or accepted for this work.
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