A reminder from New Orleans

Devon Metzger is Professor of Education at Chico State University

Having lived and taught in New Orleans for nearly 10 years, I find it especially heartbreaking to witness the continuing tragedy that has befallen this unique and great historical city. We can only hope that the rebuilding process will be swift and allow its citizens to rebuild their lives.

In addition to devastating New Orleans, Katrina, in her aftermath, exposed a very disturbing and dark side to this proud city. There are really two distinct and sharply divided worlds in New Orleans. A very fragile living arrangement has been allowed to exist in New Orleans; a carefully built social and economic divide that is too often disrupted by violence, a disruption generally hidden from the many tourist who visit.

When ordered to evacuate, the two worlds in New Orleans responded as expected. Those who could leave the threatened city, fled. Those who could not leave remained, unable to escape the approaching devastation. How unfair and cruel to call for a citywide evacuation without a plan or without support, when it was known that more 100,000 citizens did not have the means to depart the city. How appalling to overhear remarks that these same people got what they deserved.

For me, as a former educator in New Orleans, what we are witnessing in New Orleans is not a surprise. I am reminded, once again, of the established and critical equation so central to our democratic society—the quality of our education is directly related to the quality of our lives. Perhaps the weapon most deliberately used in New Orleans to protect and sustain the uneasy division between the two worlds is the role of schooling. Those who have the social and economic capital long ago separated their children from those who do not. This contrived and artificial division resulted in Orleans Parish public schools being largely left to the poor and disenfranchised. Under-funded and generally ignored, public schools in Orleans Parish have simply been unable to serve their important and needed role in society. In its most basic terms, education offers one of the few solutions for breaking the hardened cycle of poverty, so prevalent in New Orleans.

What has been exposed in New Orleans seems to offer a reminder to those of us living in this area. We are very fortunate to have the quality of schools that our children experience, and we must continue to adequately fund, support and expect that all of our schools will offer all of our children a quality education.