Publisher: The elephant in the classroom

A recent front-page story on alternative schools in The Advocate referred to a state report of three-dozen schools and 139 programs that face challenges as they work to help 18,000 students. But when you look at some of the statements and stats regarding the students and their situations at home, you have to ask: Is there a larger issue involved that we are all avoiding?

Elizabeth Osteberg, a Harvard-educated principal at NET Charter in New Orleans, shared these stats in the article:

• On any given day, 3 of 10 students are absent and fall behind.

• 1 in 5 students is pregnant, a parent or a veteran of the criminal justice system.

• Around 90% are overage and reading at middle-school level (grades 9-12 and ages 15-21). Some work seven years for a diploma.

Also quoted in The Advocate article was Ricky Chatman, director of alternative education in the West Feliciana school district. He points out “every kid can’t learn in the same environment. What we try to do is put them in the right environment.” (That is the reason the charter law was created—to allow for different environments, NOT one size fits all. But the unions fight that for the sake of protecting jobs—not helping children succeed. Thank God school choice is an option in Louisiana for parents who want it.)

Chatman says we used to focus on parents and grandparents, “but with youth today, you have great-grandparents. The great-grandparents can be 45 years of age.” What? That is what he said. And that is why this is NOT just an issue of educating these young children. It’s a question of how do you deal with generations of teenage moms. Single birth mothers in the minority community are 72% and among whites it is 28%. This is the elephant in the classroom that few want to talk about—but it is a major issue and a source of generational poverty in many families. Few leaders—community leaders, pastors, elected officials, educational leaders—step up and address a growing attitude and culture that says this is acceptable. Meanwhile, our challenges increase.

Hey, all of us who are parents know raising children is a BIG JOB, and I believe it’s our most important one. It is hard with two parents. And if you have one parent with two, three, four or five children, how hard is it to provide and do homework and visit your children’s teachers? And what if you had that first child at 15 or 16 and had to drop out of school and can’t read? This is generational, and we are dealing with outcomes. So are we confronting the root issues—or just chipping away at the results of decades of avoiding them? The children are innocent and deserve a chance. But the parents, grandparents—and yes, great-grandparents—need to accept their responsibilities for this situation. How did this happen and why is it continuing to happen in our state?

We as a community need to ask the tough questions and expect leaders to answer them. We all have a role in finding solutions, but we also have responsibilities as parents. And that means not just supporting the status quo. Accepting the status quo and remaining silent is a big part of the problem here, and it must change or public schools will continue to fail while alternative schools increase. And the children will be the casualties. Is that acceptable to anyone?

Alabama vs. Louisiana politics

The race for U.S. Senate in the state of Alabama has become quite controversial with the recent allegations against Judge Roy Moore, including attempted sexual contact with a 14-year-old and sexual assault of a 16-year-old. He has denied it all, but many in his own Republican Party are asking him to step down (as this column goes to press).

While we should be very disturbed about these numerous allegations and stories, folks in Louisiana certainly can’t point fingers or look down our noses at Alabama after the lurid history we have had with certain politicians. These alleged instances are 40 years old—which means the 1970s, when Edwin Edwards was first elected governor. He was elected at 49-years-old, and the stories began soon after.

In 1985, when Edwards was on trial, the Los Angeles Times wrote a story about our governor. It said, “Even more titillating, while his wife of 36 years stands silently by, altogether unamused, Edwards deliberately feeds rumors about his allegedly insatiable appetite for pretty women, the younger the better.

“Practically everybody seems to know a story about Edwards, chauffeured by a state trooper, trolling sorority row at LSU, or propositioning somebody’s wife or sister or girlfriend.”

You would think that folks were appalled at stories of an over-50 governor trolling teenagers on sorority row. (I have heard firsthand from a college co-ed at that time.) And while he did lose his bid for re-election in 1987, Louisiana voters turned around and put him in a first-place finish in 1991 race for governor to face klansman David Duke in a runoff. Many did hold their noses and voted for Edwards “the crook” to keep Duke out of office. This was a dark chapter in our history—and both Edwards and Duke ended up in federal prison.

I would like to think that Louisiana has learned something from the past but recent history doesn’t convince me. Voters did say “no thanks” to Sen. David Vitter in the governor’s race, after having re-elected him U.S. Senator despite his “confession” of sexual indiscretions. But I would point out that enough Republicans in our state—especially the “religious right”—did select him over two other very capable, leading Republicans to get him into a gubernatorial runoff against a Democrat. It was the rest of Louisiana—along with many Republicans—who wouldn’t go along and drew another line. (Vitter expected the line to be drawn in red vs. blue, and he was wrong—and was responsible for electing Gov. John Bel Edwards.)

The “lines of principle” are also erasable and conditional for many Louisiana Democrats. In the race for Congress in the 6th District in 2014, ex-convict Edwards, now 87-years-old, made the runoff with heavy Democratic and minority support, and got almost 40% of the vote in the final tally. Despite the stories of teenage sorority girls 40 years ago (which I don’t recall the media mentioning in this 2014 race), corruption and a conviction, those Edward die-hards stuck with him.

So while we all watch Alabama and what they do, many must sit in silence—and cast no stones.

Giving back

At this time of year we all have much to be thankful for and know we are blessed to live in America. Baton Rouge has always been a community with a big heart, ready to help others in need.  With this issue we published a special Giving Guide that includes information on many of the nonprofits that serve our area year-round to help as you decide on your year-end giving—or plan for 2018.

Also, Tuesday, Nov. 28, is the National Day of Giving. #GiveBR is a 24-hour campaign that strives to build a culture of philanthropy as well as increase our community’s awareness of greater Baton Rouge nonprofits and their work. To donate, visit

Our entire team here wants to wish you and your family a happy Thanksgiving holiday.

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