Bayou children have 'boating' instead of busing to get to school... Louisiana activists show fight is the same all over

Rosina Phillippe, an activist in Grand Bayou, Louisiana, may at first glance seem to have little in common with Chicago parents and teachers in their fight against closing schools. Phillippe is a Native American living in a tribal village in Louisiana. Her village is accessible by water only, and their struggles against big oil companies that drill and install pipelines that erode the soil are very different from our struggle in Chicago.

But on a second and third look, we can see more and more how much we all have in common. Phillippe�s struggle to save her village from water that is rising and land that is sinking below sea level is tremendous, and is, of course, tied to global warming and carbon emissions. In South Chicago, several school activists have been fighting to get the Koch Brothers "Pet Coke" piles stopped from polluting everything.

So with the environmental challenges, there are similarities between a Native American village out in the bayous and Chicago village out where the steel mills once stood.

"The differences from before the natural disaster (Hurricane Katrina) has changed our culture," she told Substance. "Our tribal schools were located in our village for tribal children." Phillippe also attended the tribal school.

"Because of the segregation they closed the school in our village," she continued. "Now our children go to school in town. They travel by boat and bus to get there. This is good and bad. Good because our children are exposed to the world outside, bad because the children don�t learn about our culture. The curriculum is decided by the state and taught by teachers outside our village."

She was especially critical of Louisiana's Republican Governor Bobby Jindal, who is himself a "minority." "Governor Jindal advocates policies contrary to tribal and coastal communities," she continued. "Jindal lacks understanding of the diversity of cultures in Louisiana. The state's master plan needs to be more specific about cultural restoration. Jindal is pro-oil. We are now fighting fracking in Artesian Springs known for its pure water."

Kristina Peterson is a planner at Lowlander Center, which applies research and practical solutions for communities in danger of going underwater. She is also a professor at the University of New Orleans. Peterson told Substance �... as the sea level rises land goes down. Other problems are wells that are dug by oil companies destroy wet lands and pipe lines through communities erode the land. We lose a football field [size piece of land in the bayous] every half hour. The solution is to fill wells and reclaim silt from the water and put it back to rebuild the land.�

Along with the fight to save the environment, Peterson looks critically at the conditions of the schools in Louisiana.

Peterson states that Louisiana is now a national experiment to change everything into charter schools. The experiment began after Hurricane Katrina, when Louisiana school officials took over the public schools of New Orleans and abolished most of the real public schools, replacing them with charters that were not opened to all children. Arne Duncan talked about the Katrina hit on New Orleans as a great opportunity for "reform."

"The public schools have been gutted," Peterson continued. "There are only a few good charter schools and a lot of bad ones. Governor Jindal [who is close to the Tea Party] supported a bill that requires no certification for teachers. Jindal has been a destroyer of public education. Jindal is also destroying and gutting the public universities. The University of New Orleans has had its budget cut by 60 percent. Jindal believes that one of the state�s problems has been that Louisiana is too educated -- never mind that Jindal, was a Rhodes Scholar."

Charter schools have so many inconsistencies between them. The more resourced schools are in the wealthier areas, she went on. "I don�t like the idea of not credentialing teachers," she concluded. "There should be education programs in all the universities. The University of New Orleans used to have an excellent education program, but doesn�t have one anymore."


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