Art by Brian Hubble

Art by Brian Hubble

I am a parent of three, a black New Orleanian with roots going back at least five generations. I’m usually happy and optimistic, but when I talk about what has happened to my city, especially its schools, I become angry.

Even before Hurricane Katrina struck the city on Aug. 29, 2005, the schools of New Orleans were dilapidated. In the aftermath of the disaster, I participated in what felt like a hundred processes with parents and community members talking about what they would like to see happen. I thought we would be heard.

Many young people in our communities, even before the storm, had trauma disorders. Because of the hurricane, that number increased. Many of our children and families were in need of counseling, therapy and other services that we could have used the schools to deliver. We wanted a psychologist in every school. That didn’t happen.

Forty percent of people who died in Hurricane Katrina, died by drowning. Even though we live in a city below sea level and are surrounded by water, the people who designed our schools forgot to put in pools. That mistake could be easily corrected with the billions of dollars coming in. It hasn’t been.

We would rebuild in such a way that our children could finally break the cycle of poverty, by creating entrepreneur programs, and by funding high-school tech curriculums. We would have programs where students and our community would come up with ways to create new solutions for the city. We would train our teachers in new, innovative ways to reach children with different needs.

What actually happened was this: The state raised the cut-score on standardized tests and took over all the schools in Orleans Parish. It fired all of the teachers, counselors and administrators. Then Teach for America came in, because we suddenly had a teacher shortage.

Teaching is a profession that requires a four-year degree and classroom training. New Orleans embraced the notion that all you need to be a teacher here is to be smart, preferably white and from someplace else. Then, with four weeks of training you could come to a city with a devastated populace and properly educate children.

Today, what we see a lot of in New Orleans are charter entities getting more schools to run. Most of the charter operators and boards are white and from outside the city.

And children are being put out of schools. In charter schools in New Orleans, children can be suspended for almost anything. The most common transgression is willful disobedience. That can be coughing, laughing, picking up a pencil or looking at the teacher the wrong way. My own 8-year-old daughter was suspended for bringing a doll to school.

I could go on and on about how education has failed the children of New Orleans. I could tell you, for instance, about the roughly 15,000 young folks between 16 and 24 who are not working or in school.

With all of this bad news, there is good news. The good news is that there are people who are trying to address these challenges. The good news is that we can start doing this right in the next 10 years.

I’m still optimistic that all of these conversations will lead to action. I hope you will join me in this quest. I’m optimistic that together we can make New Orleans into a place that tells the story of people who were almost left behind but who then came together to make a victory for all.


Ashana Bigard is a New Orleanian and public school advocate. She can be reached at

Copyright Ashana Bigard



In Chicago, politicians use manufactured financial crises to privatize our school system and make their buddies more $$. In New Orleans, the same players used another kind of avoidable crisis as their excuse.

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"I'm a man who has been a political activist, who has a political consciousness, and who can write poetry."

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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