Showing posts with label school board. Show all posts
Showing posts with label school board. Show all posts

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

It's true! Zombie bug thrives with no food

In the news tonight, researchers across the country frantically attempt to unlock the mystery of why the deadly brain-eating amoeba is thriving in Louisiana despite a seeming lack of feeding grounds.

The latest brain-buster for top scientists is the Naegleria fowerli amoeba's appearance in the Terrebonne Parish water system. Theoretically, they say, this should not be possible with no nutrients for the organism to consume.

The baffled brainiacs cited the following article from the Houma Courier website:

Three residents are expected to address the Terrebonne Parish School Board on Tuesday about a member's racially charged Facebook posts.

Dorothy Murray, the Rev. Vernell Johnson and Ronald Williams are on the agenda to address the Confederate flag and an unspecified board member's Facebook posts.

The School Board is scheduled to meet at 6 p.m. in its office, 201 Stadium Drive, Houma.

The action comes after School Board member Vicki Bonvillain's posts about the flag last month sparked concerns from the Terrebonne Parish NAACP.

On July 14, Bonvillain shared a picture on her Facebook page that said if the Confederate flag represents racism in America then so do other symbols, including the NAACP's logo, Black History Month, the Democratic Party, the Hispanic Scholarship Fund, the United Negro College Fund, Hispanic Heritage celebrations and the Black Panther Party.

"Our 'elected officials' want to accommodate our HISTORY to PLEASE some. WELL shouldn't ALL 'MLK' BLVDs be removed nationwide?" Bonvillain asked in a post July 9.

The posts have since been removed.
IN OTHER NEWS . . . despite making the news -- unfavorably -- for one damn thing after another, the state of Louisiana still wonders whether the rest of America is laughing with it or at it.

Film at 11.

Monday, August 05, 2013

The keys to the kingdom

Salvation can look like a Gideons' Bible.

It can look like a legal document, with a governor's signature and an embossed seal, commuting a condemned man's sentence.

Salvation can look like a beautiful woman with a pure heart, here to save you from your sorry self.

Salvation can look like a life preserver floating next to you in a choppy sea; it can look like an outstretched hand just before you slide off a precipice; it can look like the cover of your favorite record album.

Salvation, for me, looks like a brochure from the spring of 1976, one advertising this strange, unbelievably cool thing the East Baton Rouge Parish school system was calling a "magnet school." Inner-city Baton Rouge High -- venerable and grand and buffeted by the forces that had turned a small town divided by race and "the tracks" into a middle-sized city atomized into warring neighborhood enclaves -- was being remade into a school focused on academics and the performing arts, and not just anybody could get in.

THE SCHOOL'S new principal, Lee Faucette, was making the rounds of high schools and junior highs to make his best pitch to those schools' best students. And . . . sweet Jesus! Not just anybody could get in!

If you've ever been to junior high and hated it -- especially if you've been to junior high and absolutely hated school because you were somewhat good at it. . . . Well, if you have . . . and did . . . because you were . . . you know.

You know what a salvation Baton Rouge High was for kids like me -- for kids like us -- precisely because it was made for learning and not crowd control. Because there, you didn't have to be ashamed of learning. Because everyone there was there because there is where they wanted to be.

WHERE I didn't want to be come the fall of 1976 was at Belaire High, a soulless monolith that looked more like a maximum-security facility than an educational one. And to me, those magnet school brochures Mr. Faucette passed out looked like a Gideons' Bible, a commutation, a beautiful woman, a life preserver, an outstretched hand and a Bruce Springsteen album rolled into one glorious package.

I found this when my wife and I were in Baton Rouge cleaning out my elderly mom's house -- the home of my youth.  I saved it, and then she saved it, and then 37 years later, there it was stuck in a box jammed on a shelf. Sometimes, the only thing between you and a flood of blessed memories is cardboard, one-eighth-inch thick.

When we had to head back to Omaha, we filled our Toyota RAV and my mom's compact Kia with the stuff that mattered. My most excellent collection of 1960s G.I. Joes and Hot Wheels sits in the house that's no longer anyone's home, waiting for the estate sale.

The 1976 piece of card-stock salvation came home with me.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Public school buses for Jesus

Back in my Louisiana hometown, the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board is considering a list of $37.4 million in budget cuts as a start on tackling what officials think will end up being a $39 million budget deficit.

Class sizes will increase. Three schools will close. Staffers will face furloughs. Direct bus routes -- 62 of them -- for gifted and magnet-school students will be eliminated.

One thing that won't be cut, however, is bus service for parochial schools.

Non-Louisianians might react to this with a great big "WTF???" They might wonder what the name of "separation of church and state" are taxpayers doing funding bus service for Catholic schools.

LOUISIANIANS, however, probably would wonder why taxpayers wouldn't provide school buses for parochial-school students. They'd argue that white kids ought to have just as much access to school buses as black ones.

Absurdity, after all, is so prevalent in the Gret Stet as to not even be noticed.

In today's newspaper,
The Advocate reports on the abjectly insane machinations of what passes for self-governance in Louisiana with nary an eye roll:
Carnell Washington, president of the East Baton Rouge Federation of Teachers, said parochial school children should also lose direct bus routes if magnet and gifted children lose there’s.

“If we have to give up something, they should give up something,” Washington said.

Dilworth said he struggles with some suggested cuts, including ending after just one year an experiment in year-round schooling at Claiborne and Park elementary schools, saving $4 million in the process.

“So I spend $4 million at those schools and then look at the cuts I’m going to have to make across the district … can I justify that? No,” Dilworth said.

Washington placed the blame for the cuts on Gov. Bobby Jindal whom he described as “selfish.”

“We are here because the state of Louisiana has refused to fund public schools,” Washington said.
GOD, I HOPE someone makes a federal case of this.

It probably won't be the commenters at the bottom of the article -- the one yearning for a return to "neighborhood schools" and another who wants the school system to be rid of all its "magnate" programs.

Gee, if I were in charge, I'd make every school a "magnate" school. Them magnates would have enough money to pay for their own damned school buses.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Shoot the messenger principal

Denial in the name of "school reform" is going to do no one any good.

And in Omaha, politically correct political posturing may have just turned into full-blown delusion. Unfortunately, Washington has the clout -- and state officials are craven enough -- to turn a public-policy psychotic break into a world of hurt for children . . . and for those struggling to teach them.

Here's the story: One day, Nebraska education officials are praising the excellence of four local high schools. The next, the state puts the schools on a "persistently lowest achieving" list, qualifying them for federal stimulus money aimed at lifting troubled schools out of the educational gutter.

To qualify for these stimulus funds, Omaha Public Schools must institute "reforms" at the excellent-yet-underachieving schools, reforms ranging from removing the "excellent" administrators to shutting down the "excellent" schools.

We are Americans. That means we do insane things, from destroying Vietnamese villages in order to save them from the Red Menace to closing "excellent" schools to rescue them from dissoluteness.

AND IN OMAHA, according to a story in today's World-Herald, Americans are about to elevate their "crazy" to a whole new level:
The full list includes 28 high schools, eight middle schools and 18 elementary schools. Two of the schools house both middle and high school students.

Included on the list are five Omaha area high schools Omaha Central, Omaha North, Omaha South, Omaha Benson and Bellevue East. Indian Hill Elementary School in OPS also made the list.

The designation could mean federal grant funding for the schools if their districts agree to reforms prescribed by the Obama administration such as staffing changes at each school building.

John Mackiel, superintendent of the Omaha Public Schools, expressed frustration Wednesday at OPS schools making the list.

The four OPS high schools made the list because they have graduation rates below 75 percent.

Mackiel sharply criticized state officials for labeling the schools in order to receive federal funding.

“I don't believe there's anything more reprehensible than gaming the system to access $77 million of federal money by accepting it and then labeling schools that two months ago you just celebrated in terms of the educational opportunities going on in those schools,” he said.

Schools on the list are eligible for a total of $17 million in grants, but there probably will only be enough money to serve schools with the greatest need of improvement. As a result, many of the districts with schools listed won't have to make difficult decisions on whether to remove principals or take other drastic measures.

Schools that accept federal School Improvement Grants would have to implement one of four models. The models range in severity from removing the principal to closing the school.

Nebraska sought and received a waiver in the federal rules allowing use of a graduation rate of 75 percent instead of the 60 percent called for by the federal government.

Nebraska Education Commissioner Roger Breed said no Nebraska high schools except for Native American schools would have qualified for funding at 60 percent.


Mackiel called it “a curious Alice-in-Wonderland contradiction” that in February, the Nebraska Department of Education performed an annual assessment of the district and issued a “glowing” report commending the leadership at South, North, Central and Benson high schools.

In the next 10 days, Mackiel said, graduating seniors at the four high schools will be awarded more than $25 million in scholarships, “but to see the list today you wouldn't know that.”
MACKIEL is right. Both Central and North, to name just two, are excellent schools. Both feature first-rate facilities, and Omaha North also is a magnet school.

What all Omaha's "failing" schools also happen to be are smack-dab in the inner city. What all Omaha's "failing" schools happen to be charged with is educating most of the offspring of the city's underclass.

These are the young victims of a failed culture, one which values many things, just not education, responsibility, achievement or familial stability. Back when I was taking just enough college sociology courses to be dangerous, one term of art for such was "deviant." Another was "dysfunctional."

As in "deviant behavior." Within a "dysfunctional environment."

According to the state -- and to the feds, eager to remedy a crisis, just not the right one -- the likes of Benson, North, South and Central are "persistently lowest achieving" schools because they graduate only 75 percent of the children who wander through their doors. According to the real world, Jesus Christ never performed a bigger miracle when he caused Peter to walk on water or fed more than 5,000 with five loaves and two fish.

Verily, I say unto thee if North, South, Central and Benson were more white, less underclass and a lot more suburban, the quality of teaching going on there would have the world beating a path unto them as the new MIT, if not the new Jerusalem.

But you cannot say that in America, because that would be impolitic.

IT IS BETTER for state and federal officials to ignore that Omaha, for example, has the third-highest black poverty rate in the nation. Ignore that its percentage of African-American children in poverty is atop the American hit parade of suck.

No, it is much more expedient to pretend that none of these things stack the deck against even the best educators and the best-resourced schools. It's a lot easier to downplay the fact that this kind of endemic poverty breeds real cultural deviance -- as opposed to America's everyday, middling cultural deviance -- and that a deviant hip-hop subculture glorifying Every Wrong Thing takes real cultural deviance and supersizes it.

Why, oh why, open up that can of racially-charged Whoop-Ass when you can just blame the schools instead?

Not acknowledging plain facts does not make them any less plain. Or factual.

It certainly doesn't make stigmatizing certain schools and punishing the educators formerly known as "excellent" any less of an insanely stupid starting point for embarking on the Sisyphean task of trying to fix broken people and a deviant culture.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Baton Rouge High raises its cry
. . . for the coach we all adored

If you think about it for a minute, you realize that the bottom line in education is love.

Parents who love their kids enough to want something better for them.

Teachers who love their students enough to put in long hours for low pay . . . usually after digging deep to purchase classroom supplies the school system never bothered to.

Sometimes, it all bears fruit in students who develop a deep love for learning . . . and who will, someday, complete a sacred circle of life. They will love their kids enough. . . .

IF YOU PICK UP the newspaper in my hometown, though, you'll find there's a thin line between love and hate -- and it seems a lot of folks love to hate the East Baton Rouge Parish (La.) public schools:
For the third consecutive year, Survey Communications has polled heads of household in East Baton Rouge Parish — 800 of them this go-around — with half having children in the school system and half with children who attend other schools. Those interviewed, as in past years, were read a series of statements and asked if they agreed or disagreed.

This year’s results showed an across-the-board decline. For instance, in the past, more than 90 percent of respondents agreed the school system “welcomes partnerships with community businesses or civic groups.” This year, only 80 percent agreed with that statement.

Only 46 percent of respondents agreed that students in the school system “can achieve at/above the level of other students in private/parochial area schools,” down from 58 percent who agreed with that statement last year.

Boston suggested that a rise of negative press last year, including the state takeover of eight low-performing schools, is the likely culprit.

“A lot of times what happens with those sorts of reports, it creates fear, uncertainty and doubt in the minds of the general public,” Boston said.

Boston, however, suggested the downturn may be temporary. “This is not something that warrants any one of you running out in the street and jumping out in front of a bus,” he said.
THAT'S PROBABLY BECAUSE if they haven't jumped in front of a bus by now -- what with the school system going, since 1981, from almost 70-percent white to 80-something percent minority and with the state taking over several schools a year -- those now serving on the board don't have a suicidal bone in their bodies.

Let's face it, experts (like the PR guy in the Advocate story above) can spin poll numbers any way they want, but it's undeniable that, for a long time now, not many people have been loving up on the parish's public schools. And while the board considers a big public-relations campaign to turn sinking poll numbers around -- and, frankly, the school system could use a PR makeover -- its members need to realize that what their world needs now is love.

Board members need to love every kid in the parish, not just those in their districts. And people in Baton Rouge need to love every kid in the parish, too, not just their own.

White needs to love black, black needs to love white, rich needs to love poor and poor needs to love rich. Young needs to love old, old needs to love young, and everybody needs to love seeing kids learn.

Learn the right things.

From teachers and books.

In the classroom.

UNFORTUNATELY, true love is a rare enough thing -- especially in education -- that it really sticks out when you come across it.

Cities and states that truly love their schools tend to stick out in national rankings. They're the ones at the top of the good rankings, at the bottom of the bad ones . . . and they're the places with all the good jobs.

Then there's Louisiana. And, specifically, Baton Rouge.

If you're a parent in Louisiana, places that love their public schools are, more than likely, where your children will end up. Believe it or not, there are places in America where private school is a lifestyle option, not a perceived necessity.

And when the expatriate sons and daughters of Louisiana raise their children in these far-off places, they might be paying higher property taxes, but they won't feel compelled to pay a much more significant "private-school tax."

I was born, raised and educated in Baton Rouge. And I left for someplace I'm convinced is much, much better. National statistics and rankings are convinced of that, too.

While I was growing up -- and being educated -- in Baton Rouge, though, I knew where I was feeling the love . . . and where I wasn't. The former were rare enough to stand out in my mind three and four decades later.

FOR THAT MATTER, some of the latter were horrible enough to stick out, too.

Like fourth grade at Red Oaks Elementary. That was bad. A 9-year-old hasn't lived until he's had a lazy battleaxe of a fourth-grade teacher who likes to yell . . . and to grab a fistful of a misbehaving boy's Beatles-style mop top and walk around and around his desk until the flowing locks were twisted tight like a rope.

That was the only time I didn't mind my culturally retarded parents forcing me to wear short hair slicked down with Greasy Kid Stuff.

Later on, there were the little rednecks at another school -- all-white, of course -- calling the two beleaguered African-American teachers the N-word to their face.

And then there was junior high, otherwise known as Hell's Anteroom.

There, we had one potbellied sadist coach who used to laugh and laugh when a bunch of hoods -- in ninth grade for something like the third straight time -- would corner a younger kid during P.E., throw him down, pull up his shirt and give him the "red belly." Today, that would be known as "assault and battery," and I have no idea exactly how I managed to avoid that particular junior-high fate.

He also was particularly fond of firearms and, once a year or so, would have some geezers bring in lots of heavy firepower to show off to the Future Criminals of America. If you ask nicely, I still can explain to you what "M-1 thumb" is.

Oh . . . the M-1 rifle was quite a heavy weapon. The M-1 carbine was much more manageable.

Then there was Mr. (Deleted), our ninth-grade algebra teacher. That was the year I stopped doing well in math and, in fact, began to hate it.

Mr. (Deleted) would write all the equations on overhead-projector transparencies, then clean it off with lighter fluid. Flammable liquid + hot overhead projector = 30 teen-agers wondering if this be the day they all burn to death.

It also was Mr. (Deleted) -- the school's golf coach when he wasn't cheating death -- who informed me I surely would grow up to be a garbage man. With the mad mathematics skillz I picked up from him (not), I frankly can't figure out how he went bad on that prediction.

THE NEXT YEAR -- after giving hope one more shot and begging my parents to let me go to the brand-new magnet school -- I discovered something important upon arrival at Baton Rouge High:

School didn't suck.

Baton Rouge High would have been notable for me if the only thing it had going for it was an overwhelming majority of students who were there to learn. Well, that and the glaring absence of Coach Potbelly and Mr. (Deleted), the wannabe human torch.

But there was more.

That wonderful school was an island of tolerance, good will, racial harmony, and excellence in a city that too often has seen too little of too much of that sort of thing.

And we all took lots of crap from our "peers" because we did something different, stuck our necks out and dared to be part of a "different" kind of educational community. No, not "educational community" . . . community, period.

Exclamation point.

I well remember the cracks about the "maggot school" and "maggot faggots." Never have I been so proud to be called bad names.

And rarely has any school as a whole so embraced what was meant to be slurs and, with good cheer, thrown them back in the faces of "old times there are not forgotten."

Look away, look away, look away . . . Baton Rouge.

HOW DID THIS HAPPEN? I'm glad you asked.

Part of it was us. We were at Baton Rouge Magnet High because we wanted to be there. We wanted to have dreams. Most of us didn't want any more -- I don't think -- of the status quo in a middling, underachieving Southern state capital.

Part of it was that we were the best students taught by, for the most part, the best teachers. Things were expected of us.

And part of it was that BRHS was the most integrated school many of us had ever attended -- and it worked out. Blacks, whites and everybody else got along. Not only that, we formed close friendships.

Most of it, however, was love . . . L-O-V-E. Agape, even.

WHICH BRINGS ME to Coach Robert D. Holder. Coach Holder had taught high school in East Baton Rouge Parish since 1956 and at Baton Rouge High since 1970. By the time I arrived there, Coach Holder had been athletic director for three years and had achieved Official Icon status long before.

Thing is, Coach was the antithesis of the potbellied terror of junior high.

No sadistic laughter as teen-aged thugs terrorized P.E. prey. No taunts of "Hey! Don't hurt my BALL!" when some fallen victim had just gotten a premeditated faceful of leather in a dodge-ball game.

You see, Coach Holder -- even for those of us never lucky enough to have him as a coach -- was the definition of "cool" . . . in the most profound sense of the term. He didn't need to knock others down to make himself Big Man on Campus.

Instead, he spent 42 years befriending his students. Mentoring them. Keeping tabs on their schoolwork. Encouraging them. Serving as faculty sponsor for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

And, seemingly, trying to talk half the student body into going out for wrestling or track.

The Rev. Robert D. Holder died Oct. 20. Yes, reverend -- he was ordained as a Baptist minister in 1994. When he retired from teaching in 1998, Rev. Coach devoted himself full-time to his beloved Mount Pilgrim Baptist Church and to prison ministry.

SOME PEOPLE will see Coach Holder's obituary and see just another obituary -- born in Lumberton, Miss. Died in Baton Rouge. Retired educator. Air Force veteran (staff sergeant) of the Korean War. Funeral Thursday morning at Mount Pilgrim. Burial at Port Hudson National Cemetery.

I am a Southerner of a certain age, however. I know how to read between the lines.

Coach graduated from Southern University in 1951 with a degree in education. While Southern is a fine school, it wasn't young Robert Holder's choice to go there. Jim Crow made that choice for him.

Then, in 1951, he put life on hold to help fight the Korean War in the newly desegregated armed forces. In the Air Force, he could not only now fight alongside white folks, he could eat in the same mess hall, too.

But back in segregated Louisiana, he had to use the Colored Only water fountain and sit in the back of the bus. When he got out of the Air Force in 1955 and wanted to pursue a master's degree in education, he had to go up North to the University of Kansas to do it.

And after he had done that, it was back to East Baton Rouge Parish, where he taught and coached at Northwestern High School -- all black by order of the Gret Stet of Louisiana -- for the next 14 years.

Then it was on to Baton Rouge High just in time for integration under the "neighborhood schools" plan. (Yes, Virginia. In Baton Rouge, going to your neighborhood school was considered an integration plan . . . and it took a federal court order to accomplish that.)

BRHS was one of the few schools that actually ended up meaningfully integrated. I understand it was, er . . . interesting.

IMAGINE navigating that stretch of history in a land where not only are old times not forgotten, but aren't really even old times. At least not totally.

I figure an African-American of that generation would have a right to a fairly sizable chip on the shoulder. A lesser man than Coach Holder would have had a big one.

Me . . . had I been a few years older and black, I would have sported a whole damned log.

But that's not what Coach Holder was about. It's not what Baton Rouge Magnet High was about -- this in a city where the blue-light special at K-mart can turn into a racial pissing match.

The students at Baton Rouge High, to Coach and to any number of wonderful teachers like him, were just "the kids." To tell you the truth -- and I don't think this is a sad case of a middle-aged guy romanticizing his youth -- the BRHS of my late-'70s tenure was one of the least race-conscious places I can recall.

I think that's because we were a motivated bunch . . . and because we stood on the shoulders of giants. Educational giants. And Coach Holder was one of the "giantest" of them all.

When a man dies, those who knew him get to reminiscing, remembering all those little, unremarkable moments that make up a life. Only we discover those moments weren't so unremarkable at all.

Here are some of the Coach moments from the lives of some Bulldog alumni:

* I attended BRHS from 1977-1981 and remember Coach Holder as a constant presence always ready with a smile and a word of encouragement, and I never had him as a teacher.

*Coach Holder was my PE teacher and impacted my life from his positive example. He believed in me even when I did not always believe in myself.

* My freshman year was scary, and running track for the first time didn't help with the transition and nervousness, either. The first day I stepped into the gym to change for practice, Coach Holder, the Guardian, as I at some point began to call him, saw that I was afraid. He told me "Everything will be OK. All you can do is your best. I'll be watching you to make sure of it!" I never looked back and ran cross country and track for four years. He paved a way for my confidence and made my years at Baton Rouge High School memorable. For the confidence he helped me find, for the love of God as he always preached, I will forever be grateful for having him in my life.

* I attended BRHS from 1976-1979. In those years, Coach Holder was the head of the Athletic Department and was my wrestling coach. More importantly, he served as a mentor for me throughout my years at BRHS, and never relinquished that role. Over the last 30 years, I have worked with Rev. Holder in many ministerial capacities. He was one of the original instructors in our Fourth District Congress of Christian Education, and his class on effective Bible reading was one of the most popular year in and year out.

* Some of the members of the cross-country team decided that we didn't want to run to the LSU lake and back, so we went to a friend's house and ate snacks. Later, that friend's brother dropped us off a few blocks from the school. Coach Holder occasionally would get in his car and drive our running route to make sure we were all safe. Well, that was one of the days that he was out making sure that everyone was okay. When we returned back to the school, Coach Holder made us run sprints until our legs were about to fall off, and some of us threw up. We never cheated again.

* I knew Coach Holder since I was a freshman in 1973. He not only cared about what you did on the track or the field, but what you also did in class and helped mentor young girls and boys into responsible adults. I am still a good friend of his son Jonathan, and this relationship continues until this day. I will miss Coach Holder very much. Many of us are very blessed to have had this man in our lives.

* He recruited me to wrestle after I had him for tennis in 9th grade. Who can ever forget his rainbow suspenders and Bible? He was a true one of a kind. I remember after getting an A in his PE class, he was trying to chase me down to give me a 'B' for bad.

* In '73, Coach Holder was getting everyone into a huge variety of sports. He was unique. I remember he had us play everything from badminton to golf.

* The last time I saw Coach Holder was when I was still living in Baton Rouge, so it was probably in the '90s. He said something that still makes me grin: "David, you're one of the few in your class who hasn't gotten fat!" I definitely can't say that I've always lived up to his praise since then, but it's a nice memory to have. He was a very kind man -- like a huge Teddy bear. He had good words for me every time I saw him. He was a dedicated Christian and a strong coach. He was the sponsor of the FCA during my tenure at BRHS, and I considered him to be a wonderful mentor and a father figure to all of us.

* I attended BRHS from 1977-1979, and Coach Holder was the sponsor for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes -- of which I was an officer my senior year. Besides meeting on the appointed club meeting day, Coach Holder would meet some of us each morning at the flag pole to pray with us before classes. He was a very dedicated teacher and dear friend.

* I was on the wrestling team and a member of the FCA. Coach Holder was like a father to us, keeping his kids out of trouble. He put his faith into practice every day and was an inspiration to me and many others.

* I took regular phys ed for my first semester there, because one couldn't get in the ballet classes mid-year. I might have considered that a waste of time but for getting to know Coach Holder. He always tried to get me interested in athletics, but being a part of FCA and meeting at the flagpole was as far as I went with that. He didn't give up on a kid, though.

He had me by his side doing high kicks one day in an attempt to show me how good I would be at the high jump. I told him what we were doing reminded me of the Radio City Rockettes. I think he was a little disgusted with my attitude, but I thought he was adorable for trying.

He had a nice high kick for a grown man, too. It is probably good that we didn't have a girls basketball team or he would have been after me (6 foot 2 inches) for that, and he would have been crushed that I didn't go for it, unless he ever saw me play.

Still, he would likely have been there offering extra help whenever possible.

GET THE PICTURE? That's why a number of us Baton Rouge High alumni want -- after the upcoming campus renovations and rebuilding are complete -- the new gymnasium to be named the Robert D. Holder Memorial Gymnasium.

There could be no more fitting honor for a man who gave so much for so long to so many students -- transcending generational, racial and class divides in a city too long defined by what pulls it apart instead of what draws it together.

The above comments were drawn from comments left on alumni Facebook pages, and from an online petition to the parish School Board asking that the new gym memorialize a man who was Baton Rouge High. If the man shattered even one stereotype in a place and time infested by stereotypes, that would be reason enough to name the gym for him right there.

But Coach Holder did more than that. He stood for more than that.

ROBERT DANUEL HOLDER was the embodiment of the ideals Baton Rouge Magnet High stands upon -- that it's not what you are that matters, and it's not who people say you are that matters . . . it's the kind of person you become that matters.

It's the ability to think for oneself that matters. It's the ability to shatter narrow stereotypes by our actions and by the content of our character that matters.

The Baton Rouge High that I know stands for these things. It stands for these things because of faculty members like Coach Holder. Because of the great faculty who worked alongside Coach Holder.

They set the tone.

That critical mass of administrators (like magnet school architect and founding Principal Lee Faucette) and faculty gave our generation of students the freedom and the guidance allowing us to, in many cases, transcend what we thought we were when we walked into our place in Baton Rouge history that first day in 1976.

I owe -- we owe -- them all a debt we cannot repay. And Coach Holder stood . . . stands still, having transcended this vail of tears . . . not only on his own merits, but as a representative of theirs as well.

IF BATON ROUGE needs reminding of what a good public-school education can mean for a city's children -- and it does -- maybe the School Board doesn't need a big public-relations campaign after all. Maybe it just needs to remind a fragmented city that there was a man named Robert Holder, and he wasn't on the faculty at Parkview Baptist. Or Catholic High.

Maybe it just needs to remind a fragmented city that it's about to give up, perhaps, on the next "Coach Holder" . . . a kid on the "margins" of society who not only can't afford private school, but might not be particularly welcome in some of them.

Maybe it needs to remind a stratified city that the original Coach Holder was enabled, in part, to do such a good job with earlier generations of young Baton Rougeans because Kansas' margins were considerably wider than Louisiana's back in the day.

To tell you the truth, maybe the School Board just needs to use the example of Coach Holder and all those he represents to challenge itself -- it's capable of more. It can do better.

The once-upon-a-time example of a humble coach at the city's oldest school ought to accuse the school system as it inspires it. Challenge old assumptions; smash ugly stereotypes. Think for yourselves.

And remember that when we're all dead and gone, our white-folk dust and our black-folk dust will all end up the same shade of gray. Love one another.

AND THERE WE ARE . . . back to the bottom line of education. Love.

That is what everything's all about: Love. Love for your home . . . love for your neighbor . . . love of your children.

What public education in Baton Rouge needs is a good example. And the rest of the city could use one, too.

The Bible that Coach so loved says, in Matthew 23, "He who is greatest among you shall be your servant." Truer words. . . .

What Baton Rouge's public schools need is what Coach Holder had. Indeed, that's what we all need.

Please, let's name a new gym at an old school for a good man. Let's do it not just to honor Robert D. Holder -- though honors he deserves -- but let's do it to honor all those who put their "kids" before themselves.

Let's do it to remind ourselves that's really, really important.

Rest in peace, Coach.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Aske nawt fore hoom thee bel towlez. . . .

When the president of a local school board decides that, no, public education isn't necessarily a public obligation, I'm not sure how much further a community has to go before it hits rock bottom.

After all, it's a little eye-raising -- even in Louisiana -- when a public-school poobah comes out for vouchers. What's next? Prostitutes for monogamy?

THAT'S WHERE the court of winners and wretches finds my hometown -- in a nosedive and still pushing the yoke and throttle hard. If it's indeed true that a strong community is one of proverbial "brother's keepers," Baton Rouge surely bears the mark of Cain.

Not that I'm completely surprised or anything.

Why would the president of a public school board -- such as East Baton Rouge Parish's Jerry Arbour -- say, in effect, "We give up. We can't educate your kids properly. Take the state's money and run"?

Communities outsource things like collecting garbage, not educating their children. Public funds need to go to entities accountable to taxpayers as a whole, not to entities accountable to God-knows-whom (or what) or, perhaps, accountable to no one at all.

Why would communities not insist upon adhering to such a basic principle?

Well, for one thing, because it's hard. And because, first, some sort of commonweal must exist. Individuals must find it within themselves to bond themselves irrevocably to others on some level beyond that of the clan . . . or Klan, as the case may be.

John Deaux must, somewhere within himself, find the strength to be his brother's keeper. Even if that brother is a minority, or poor, or just not all that edifying to be around.

You'd think folks in the Bible Belt would be more serious about biblical principles. But we are talking about Louisiana.

AND WE ARE TALKING about the Deep South here. We are, after all, talking about a region where -- historically -- the electorate hasn't cared much for education, and what care it had was for "white" schools. "Nigger schools" got what was left over from those slim pickings.

In state after state, community after community across the South -- and, to be fair, in many urban areas outside the South -- we have seen a familiar progression from the earliest days of school desegregation.

First, a federal court steps in to order the integration of public schools long under the unequal and unjust yoke of de jure segregation. Then, after much fulminating by local pols and sometimes violent outrage on the part of the public, a token effort is made at "integration." Usually, this involves the admittance of a token number of minority students into "white" schools under the banner of various "freedom of choice" schemes.

Of course, after some time, a federal district judge would deem such tokenism as wholly unacceptable. Baton Rouge's stab as such foot-dragging proceeded at a grade-per-year snail's pace, and had not yet reached the elementary grades by the time the federal judge had enough in 1970.

Then -- at least in Baton Rouge's case -- "integration" was to be achieved through voluntary majority-minority transfers and through a "neighborhood schools" plan. That's right, going to your own neighborhood school constituted race-mixing progress.

Except that white folks either a) fled what previously were mixed areas of town, b) fled the public schools or c) both. And the "integrated" schools largely weren't.

Finally, fed up with segregated "integrated" public schools, federal courts then turned to the B-word -- busing. That, of course, led to an explosion in the numbers of private schools, particularly in Baton Rouge. And to a population explosion in "whiter" outlying areas.

As the public schools, under "forced busing," went from majority white to majority black -- and from majority middle-income to majority lower income -- the white exodus picked up steam, with previous holdouts fleeing what they now saw as "failing schools." I'm not sure, but I think the difference between acceptably mediocre and "failing" is somehow proportionate to the percentage of African-American (and underclass) students.

Now -- almost three decades after "forced busing" began and several years after it was deemed pointless and abandoned along with the 47-year deseg case -- my hometown school district has gone from 65 percent white to 83 percent minority. Whites, once a strong majority in Baton Rouge, now make up less than half the population.

Until Katrina flooded Baton Rouge with those fleeing New Orleans and southeast Louisiana, the city's population hadn't grown in two decades.

THAT'S THE HISTORY of these things, and I would imagine Baton Rouge's troubled transformation mirrors that of more than a few Southern cities. And some Northern cities, too.

No, I am not digressing. My point is to suggest that America's original sin -- slavery and racism -- destroyed basic bonds of human affection. Racism was so prevalent for so long that the notion of commonweal has become unthinkable.

When a people has become so accustomed -- so enculturated over centuries -- to thinking that some humans are chattel, that some humans are less than oneself, it becomes impossible to think of anyone as one's brother. And impossible to believe that you are The Other's keeper . . . and he yours.

Is that, ultimately, why Jerry Arbour, the school board president, finds it easy to figuratively throw up his hands and abandon his responsibility to educate the public's children? Is that, ultimately, why Baton Rouge -- why Louisiana -- pretty much always has thrown up its hands and abdicated its responsibility too?

And why, when someone at the capitol gets the notion that the state budget is too big, it's always education, health care and social services that take the big hit?

IF PRESSED by someone up here in Yankeeland to explain my hometown and home state, maybe I'll tell them that to understand Baton Rouge (and Louisiana) you need to understand a city (and a state) that throws its hands up.


See, when you're faced with a really big problem -- as most people are sooner or later -- you basically have two choices: You bear down and fix it, or you throw your hands up.

For centuries, when faced with corrupt oligarchs and politicians, what have Louisianians done . . . what do Louisianians do still? They throw their hands up, and the crooked pols are still in charge.

When faced with endemic poverty and social dysfunction? Throw your hands up.

Sputtering economic infrastructure . . . ignorant workforce? Put on a pot of gumbo, grab a six pack of Abita . . . and throw your hands up.

Failing schools? Throw your hands up.

In other words, "It ain't me, it ain't my kin, throw the bastards a voucher and let the private schools clean up the mess."

IF I AM NOT my brother's keeper (if I have no brother, just The Other) there is no such thing as commonweal and -- unless I'm getting directly screwed here -- civic culture and governance ain't my problem. My problem is how to move heaven and earth to get a prime tailgaiting spot at Tiger Stadium.

To be born a Louisianian is to learn not to ask for whom the bell tolls.

It's much easier just to throw up your hands.