Tuesday, October 21, 2008

You know, there's been so much talk about the School Facilities Master Plan and how much removing the schools from recovering neighborhoods will shrink the footprint of this city...

...but this morning, I came across an amazing instance of how much removing the neighborhood has affected one school in particular.

More than two years ago, when (Martin Luther)King (Jr. Charter School) leaders started pushing to rebuild their school in the Lower 9th Ward, they argued King's presence would entice families back to the flood-ravaged neighborhood. And some families did indeed return home on that promise.

But most of the students no longer live in the Lower 9th Ward, and some of the school's leaders question when -- or if -- King will ever truly be a neighborhood school again.

On the one hand, it shows how much people want to simply go home. The Lower Nine was home. In the minds of these parents and their children, it still is. Actually, it's that kind of thinking that sustained Jewish communities around the globe in the ages between the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem and the establishment of the modern state of Israel: that there is indeed a promised land where one absolutely, wholeheartedly belongs, a land of one's forefathers and foremothers, and it is our purpose, through our way of living, to work towards regaining that. It's a way of living that is mostly anathema to a world of constant onward, upward, leave-the-past-behind, abandon-family-for-individual-success sort of motions.

On the other hand, in an economy going only further and further down the tubes, schlepping one's kids all the way from LaPlace, or schlepping oneself from the city of Slidell to Caffin and N. Claiborne Avenues in New Orleans to teach, will have to undergo some serious reexamination. Something will have to give someplace - and I hope it won't be the school itself.

I also have to question this whole notion presented in the article about King - that of its being, (i)n a sense, ... a new form of public community school, one perhaps unique to post-Katrina New Orleans, where a school's staff and families are linked together not by geography, but a common history, culture and commitment. For many King families and staff members, the school has become their primary link to their pre-storm neighbors and lives.

I find this a tough one to negotiate in terms of my thoughts on this matter. I've been reading a lot about the integration of the New Orleans public schools in the early 1960s lately, and it seems there is always a microscopic line between fighting for what you believe and pulling your children into that fight. When today's post-8-29 parents are much too busy simply running around to get the money to live, wherever they currently are, it seems sad to me that this is the only way loyalty to a neighborhood in which they can't live can be established.

And an even more important question is being overlooked here:

What will happen when all of the enrollment-prioritized former 9th Ward residents' children are no longer attending the school, and the actual residents' numbers are still a fraction of what was there before? Memories of the Lower-9-that-was cannot, by themselves, sustain a school.

Though I wish they could...

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