Teresa Russo is concerned about the future of students in New Orleans. Photo belongs to Russo.
After living in New Orleans for two years, I thought I knew a lot about the city. Obviously not everything, but the important stuff: the difference between Cajun and Creole, the meaning of Fais Do-Do, how to sort of dance Zydeco and which neighborhoods you should never be stuck in after dark. Working with the ReThinkers, I realized that there was a big chunk of this city I was missing out on: the school system. As a student of Tulane University, it strikes me as really odd now to think that I knew nothing about the learning institutions of the city I was attending college in.
It surprised me that so many schools were failing their students and adding to the “school to prison pipeline” system that just churned out future inmates. I was even more surprised when we got into the specifics of charter and KIPP schools that were controlled by CEOs and corporations instead of personal hands-on staff with no agenda. When the students talked about how all of their old teachers were fired and replaced with fresh out of college government selected teachers, I was appalled. I heard more than one account of the new teachers saying out right that they were only there for the paycheck and benefits the job gave them. How can you ever hope for a better future when the foundations are crumbling like this?
New Orleans especially is a city in turmoil and for there to be so much money spent on tourism and advertising while kids are being failed by the school system is plain wrong. There are no words for it, no way to make sense of it. If all they do is keep locking up teenagers who never got a good education then pretty soon it’s going to make more sense to stop building school and just build a jail house in its place.
[Editor’s Note: This reflection was captured as part of an English class taught by Luisa Dantas to explore place-based storytelling.]