So Much for Staying Together for the Kids

I typically don’t talk about education, mainly because I don’t have kids. But then again, neither does Oprah, so maybe that makes me an expert just like her.

In any case, I find it quite troubling that we could very well soon have five separate public school districts within East Baton Rouge Parish. That’s five times the number of Dairy Queens in the whole damn parish, for Christ’s sake!

Seriously, five school districts to one sorry Dairy Queen? And it’s not even a full-fledged stand-alone DQ! It’s one of those crappy quasi-DQs embedded in a gas station, conveniently located in “” of all places “” Central.

Of the countless parishes, counties, and townships across this country that have at least one DQ, do we really want to be the only one with a 5:1 school district-to-Dairy Queen ratio?

I know, I know, there are supposed to be more DQs opening here soon, but I’ll believe it when I see it. After all, they’ve been saying the same thing about that huge Globo Gym on Sherwood Forest Boulevard for almost a year now.

At the risk of sounding like a shill for Dairy Queen, there’s one thing you’ll never hear at DQ when you’ve got an envie for a creamy dessert late at night: “I’m sorry, sir, but our ice cream machine is being cleaned.”

How many pieces can you break off a potato chip before the chip goes from being a chip to just a crumb?

I mean, really?!? Why the hell can’t fast-food places wait until they’re actually closed before they start shutting down equipment essential to preparing standard menu items? At a minimum, they should put out a sign indicating when they’re cleaning the damn thing so shake-craving patrons won’t get stuck in a painfully slow-moving drive-thru line with no hope of dessert or escape due to cars in the front and back, a building to the left, and an unscalable (at least in a Honda CRV) embankment of attractive landscaping on the right. I’m looking at you, Jack in the Box!

Sorry. Where was I again? Oh yeah, education.

There’s a plan to form yet another breakaway school district that’s progressing briskly through the Legislature. The proposed district would occupy the southeastern corner of the parish, bordered by I-12 to the north and I-10 to the west.

As I alluded to earlier, this would be the fourth such district to secede from the East Baton Rouge Parish School System. The Zachary and Baker school systems went operational nearly a decade ago, while Central opened in 2007.

In the first two cases, the new school districts were formed along the borders of cities that were incorporated for many decades. And in the case of Central, at least they had the decency to fight for the right to incorporate Central as a city before forming their own school system.

Plus, it’s just as well that Central became incorporated, even if it was primarily just a means to form its own school district. Besides, it’s less a suburb of Baton Rouge and more a suburb of Denham Springs, anyhow.

This newest proposed district, however, has absolutely nothing to do with a city, town, hamlet, or even a traditional community wanting to run its own school system. There’s nothing traditional about using interstates to form community boundaries.

Instead, it’s an arbitrarily carved-out portion of the parish that just so happens to be where a high percentage of white folks live. Yeah, I said it.

Look, I know that lots of people are justifiably frustrated with the EBR School System and have been for many years. I imagine if I had a kid in one of the several failing public schools, or if I were shelling out thousands of dollars for private school tuition in this struggling economy, I’d want to take drastic action, too.

But if we allow this latest proposed school district to break away, who’s to say the trend won’t continue in other sections of the parish? What’s to stop other residents from following suit and getting their legislators to sponsor and pass bills creating even more separate districts?

And what would that ultimately do to the EBR School System? How many pieces can you break off a potato chip before the chip goes from being a chip to just a crumb?

Yes, I realize that there are a lot of mitigating factors that led to the mess we’re in, especially the record-long, 47-year-old desegregation case.

There are lots of people and issues associated with that infamous case that we could pin the blame on, like the segregationist Judge E. Gordon West who did everything he could to keep the status quo while overseeing the case for nearly two decades. Not surprising for a guy who called the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling “one of the truly regrettable decisions of all times.”

Or we could blame Judge John Parker who tried to force the issue with court-ordered busing after taking over the case from West. Parker’s forced busing resulted in thousands of white students immediately fleeing the EBR School System, either to neighboring parishes or to private schools, ultimately leading to the current 89% black enrollment we see in a parish that essentially has a 50-50 black-white population mix.

Then again, we could just blame the people who originally filed the suit in 1956 to force the then-segregated school system to comply with Brown. I’m sure there are more than a handful of people around here who still see them as nothing more than “troublemakers.”

The bottom line, however, is that none of those circumstances make EBR unique. Several other similar cases were filed in Louisiana and in other Southern states during that same period. Delay tactics were commonly used by the establishment in those places as well in hopes of avoiding the implementation of Brown as long as possible, if not altogether. And many other school systems also were subject to forced busing.

Yet, you’d be hard-pressed to find another school system that went through a similar ordeal that’s anywhere near as dysfunctional as EBR’s is right now. Moreover, I can’t imagine another place where a school system has been transformed from a single entity into five separate districts in the span of a decade.

The message to the next generation is clear: To hell with the greater good. It sounds too much like a communist ideal, anyway.

And to think, for 47 years, the EBR school board was seeking “unitary status.”

So, since our experiences and challenges are not unique, and since we seem to be significantly more f””ked up than lots of other places, where CAN we place the blame?

Well, to borrow a phrase from another noted child expert, Michael Jackson, maybe we should start with the man in the mirror.

We have to face the truth about ourselves. The phrase “One Baton Rouge” is a joke. It’s impossible to be a commUNITY in the truest sense of the word when the prevailing paradigm is a schismatic one.

And trust me, the separatist zeitgeist is alive and well in the Greater Baton Rouge area. And it doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon.

We see it not just in exasperated parents wanting to break off from EBR and form their own glorified home-schooling system. It’s prevalent in other political issues, as well.

Why else would the city of Zachary want to break away from the Baton Rouge Convention and Visitors Bureau and keep its share of the parish’s hotel occupancy tax?

Who gives a sh””t if House Bill 1165 by Rep. Kenny Havard, R-Jackson, leads to an irreparable splintering of the CVB and renders it ineffective? City leaders like Mayor David Amrhein want their cut of the pot so they can better attract people to the cultural and tourist Mecca that is Zachary.

I just love how the adults in charge are teaching kids to take their ball and go home. Essentially, what’s being taught is that, if you’re part of a group that’s facing trouble, leave and go do your own thing “¦ just like David Lee Roth.

The message to the next generation is clear: To hell with the greater good. It sounds too much like a communist ideal, anyway.

Whatever their motivation, I’m just glad I didn’t serve my time in the Navy with people like that. “Oh, the ship’s on fire? Ah, f””k it. Let’s just lop off a part of the boat that’s not burning and set sail on that. Or better yet, we can go build our own aircraft carrier. Abandon ship!”

About Jeremy White

Jeremy White is an engineer by education, but a smartass by birth. He managed to overcome the obstacles presented by his technical background, and has brilliantly devised a way to make a living making fun of people.

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