Monday, August 24, 2015

Daddy Knows Best: From Hurricane Katrina to Your Neighborhood School

Paternalism is an ideal that is historically ingrained in the fabric of our great country. Most often, it was used to justify slavery. In this view, slaves were lowly beings that were not intelligent enough to care for themselves, understand higher reasoning or logic. Therefore, slave masters were essentially saving their lives by providing them with food, shelter, religion, and in return, slaves offered their liberty, bodies, safety, and children.

We are just a little over a century since Emancipation, (I know, it seemed like it would be hundreds of years ago); rights have been granted, and some signed into law, schools are desegregated, and people of color now have a seat at the table... Well most tables.

Victims of Hurricane Katrina argue with National Guard Troops as they try to get on buses headed to Houston on Sept. 1, 2005.(Photo by Willie Allen Jr./St. Petersburg Times via ZUMA Wire)
August 23rd, 2015 marks the 10th anniversary of when Hurricane Katrina formed. When Katrina hit landfall in New Orleans, LA (NOLA), it was deemed one of America's greatest tragedies.  An immense amount of resources has been invested into the city since then, in an effort to revitalize the local economy as well as the schools.

Prior to the storm, Orleans Parish School Board, (the former entity of public schools in NOLA), was largely populated by public schools and union teachers. After the storm, the Recovery School District was enacted to jumpstart the system, and various education management organizations took over the schools. Now, all of NOLA schools are charters. You will find that the majority of teachers there are young, white, idealistic, recent college graduates, whereas, before the storm, many were unionized Black, experienced teachers.

The school district has implemented new systems that allow parents to choose the school their child will attend, versus the attendance zone regulation pre-Katrina. However, this is the extent to which parents have a choice in school decision making. Those decisions are left to the non-profit board of directors and the CEO or principal. This lack of autonomy that parents and their children are missing out on hurts them in the long run. They are provided a prepackaged education, very often, 'one size fits all', and have absolutely no say in it. Someone else, of obvious more aptitude and discernment makes those decisions. The effects of this eerily paternalistic form of education can be seen in the young men and women who pass through these schools and join the work force.

In April I visited NOLA, imbibed in the culture, music, food, history, as well as spoke to the people who live there. Largely, all of the service workers, between restaurants, hotels, tours, etc, were Black. I asked one young man, who was in his early 20s, what can people aspire to be here? He stated that getting a job in the hotels is what is considered doing well. I couldn't shake the feeling that I was in a 3rd world country.

There is danger in this form of paternalistic education. Quite simply, the emphasis on test preparation and instruction on "college and career ready" standards, does not give room to teaching self-efficacy, exploration of personal interests, nor alternative/non-traditional paths towards success. Using or finding your voice is simply not impressed upon. And in this day in age of mass economic, racial, and political oppression, this is exactly what our children need, not just in New Orleans, but everywhere. But Daddy knows best.

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