I thought Las Vegas was crazy, but it is nothing compared to the French Quarter in New Orleans. Now granted, there are a lot more people in Vegas and you could fit the entire French Quarter in the lobby of one of the mega-casinos on the Strip… but you cannot deny the authenticity and music and culture of Bourbon Street.
I returned home this afternoon from the 8th Annual National Charter Schools Conference that was held in NOLA. While I was there, I learned some stuff about the Voodoo Queen, and Preservation Hall, and Cajun cooking, and an historic old city that has slowly risen from the destruction of Katrina.
I noticed that the local people talked about Katrina everywhere and I wondered if they are aware of how deeply scarred some of their neighbors are. I overheard a young waitress tell a co-worker that she still feels traumatized and that she thinks she needs therapy. Her co-worker just laughed at her. “Try spending three nights on a bridge like I did.”
I think they both need therapy and they are not alone. Virtually every article in the local section of the Times-Picayune this morning mentioned Katrina at some point: like the story about the lady who is suing a couple in Texas because they rescued her dog “Jazz” and now they don’t want to give her back. During the crisis the Texas couple wanted to help so they agreed to be foster parents to displaced animals. They took in Jazz, renamed her “Hope” and then got real attached to her. Meanwhile, her original owner dried out the house, recovered what possessions she could and then started to look for Jazz. She never gave up hope that she would find Jazz and bring her home.
The truth is Jazz probably doesn’t care what her name is or where she lives as long as it is with these humans that will go to extraordinary lengths to love her. And as long as the floodwaters don’t carry her away again.
There is probably a metaphor in there somewhere to apply to the National Charter Schools Conference. Or maybe not.
Maybe it’s enough to just say we can learn something, every day, about resiliency and post-traumatic stress disorder and how these events outside of school profoundly affect children. And maybe we should listen to our kids when they tell us that they are in crisis and that they hurt inside and they don’t even know why. ”After all,” the waitress said, “that damn flood happened three years ago!” And maybe when our dog floats away we should just go find her. In looking for Jazz…we might find Hope.
75% of the children at my school qualify for free or reduced lunch. We serve a community of the working poor. We are on the border to Mexico. We consider ourselves to be the most innovative school in America: a bold, independent, autonomous charter school that refuses all efforts from external agencies to defines us. We have created our own brand. We have never missed a single NCLB-AYP goal and have gained over 240 points on California’s Academic Performance Index… PRECISELY because we refuse to try and raise our test scores. We are in the business of raising children.
We have shouted from the rooftops that you can not improve public schools by 1) calling them names (i.e. “Program Improvement”), 2) ignoring schools that excel even in the face of daunting economic challenges, 3) stripping critical thinking, problem solving, creative writing, the arts, joy, or dancing from the curriculum to make room for the short-sighted, publisher-driven, “fundamentalist” agenda that is myopically constructed on the pillars of math and reading.
And you cannot improve public schools if you try to do so in isolation from the complex social problems that inevitably creep onto our campuses and into our daily work: unemployment, health care, social services, recreation, mental health, lead paint, and drugs and gang violence and childhood obesity and poor nutrition and crime and homelessness. And while it has been an effective strategy for federal and state legislators to accuse educators of MAKING EXCUSES when we point these circumstances out… it doesn’t absolve them from their moral and legal responsibility to create public policy that serves American children as zealously as their policies that favor…say… wealthy adults. And we should hold them accountable for that. And identify those politicians and lawmakers who fail to make Adequate Yearly Progress in this endeavor, place them on improvement plans, call them names like “Program Improvement Governmental Agency”, and ultimately replace them with individuals who are committed to the welfare of American children and who refuse to allow a single one to be left hungry or homeless or isolated or lacking in health care. Or behind.