Thursday, July 06, 2006
I have seen the future, and it is bright
Bright like fire, that is. Like fire reflecting off the tin siding of a shack on wheels. Exhibit A: Terrence Carter of the Smith Community near Coushatta, Louisiana. Who, upset at being dumped by his girlfriend, kidnapped her 5 year old child and burned the child alive.
This Terrence Carter could have been one of my students when I taught in the Coushatta schools (but he isn't, he apparently dropped out before he got to me).
For those unclear on what Coushatta is, Coushatta is the parish seat and only major town in the 3rd-poorest parish (county) in the 2nd-poorest state in the United States. The town has a small hospital (run by the Catholic Church, interestingly enough), a single grocery store on Main Street, a good hardware store, and a few restaurants and gas stations, and not much else. Ooops, I forgot about the tractor sales lot and the Chevy dealer, which only sells Chevy trucks, and the "hotel" which is basically a junkyard (I suppose you could stay in it if you wanted, but the dude who owns it collects junk from around the countryside and tries to sell it to tourists coming through, not that there's tourists coming through, but a guy's gotta hope, I guess!). There's also a couple of jakeleg garages, you know the type, ramshackle metal barns and some dude inside with grease-stained overalls and a chaw of chewing terbaccer who has a few hand tools and a hand jack and that's about it (but one of these guys changed out my fuel pump when I needed it so I can't diss them too much).
The school district when I taught there paid us teachers a lofty $17,100 per year. That wasn't much money even with the low cost of living there. The school district has a total of less than 2,000 students, of which 3/4ths go to the consolidated elementary/middle school, and the remainder (approximately 400 students in all) to the high school. The "official" dropout rate is under 5%, but the "real" dropout rate is around 50%.
The Smith Community is an old sharecropper's community on the edge of an old plantation. It was majority-black when I was there (Red River Parish is about 40% black, which caused great problems when they had to consolidate the schools). If you look at it on Google Satellite you'll see that it is on the edge of a bunch of farmed squares (some of which are no longer farmed due to low commodities prices and being paid by the Feds not to farm). That's the old plantation. You'll see the airstrip to the east of it, then a cluster of buildings to the east of the airstrip. That's the old industrial park, which used to have a Sunbeam Corporation toaster and iron factory that provided jobs for a lot of the people of the area. It no longer does, because those jobs were exported overseas in the mid 1990's during the Clinton "prosperity", virtually destroying the local economy. Most of the people who are employed drive an hour to work in the Shreveport-Bossier metropolitan area to the north, where the riverboat gambling casinos are hiring a lot of rednecks to clean the floors, serve the food, and otherwise do menial chores for the rich Dallasites who clog the highway between Shreveport-Bossier and Dallas every weekend. But those are not full-time jobs -- as noted, the highways fill with Dallasites driving to Shreveport on Friday evening, and fill back up with them leaving Shreveport on Sunday evening.
Most people get by on family land, living with family or hauling a mobile home out there. There are very few homes being built in the Coushatta area, since nobody has money for that. Instead, they go buy an old repo trailer house for $3,000 or so, do some minimal work to make it habitable (patch the holes in the floor, fix the plumbing), pay someone $500 to haul it to the family land, and that's that.
As far as schooling goes, the school district has a single truant officer. He is also the attendance director, the technology directory, the bus director, and the discipline officer. He spends most of his time filling out the forms (in triplicate) that the Federal and state governments require. The district has a one (1) Special Education supervisor, who is the total staff of the Special Education department other than the special ed teachers. Evaluation of students is farmed out to contractors, and you pretty much have to sue the school district to get them to spend the (non-existent) money to do so -- every time a child is evaluated, it means that the schools have to do without paper and toner for their copy machines for a month. That said, there are several dozen special ed students, most of whom are either labeled mildly mentally retarded or behavior disordered (the school district has no facilities for more handicapped students, of which there are probably a half dozen in the district, who end up being sent to residential schools elsewhere). The school district has no money for supplemental materials or specially-trained teachers, so these kids are basically warehoused and often just run loose on the campus uncontrolled because the principal is afraid of getting sued if he disciplines a special ed child (remember, they got labeled as special ed in the first place because their parent threatened to sue). One principal got fired because a special ed kid brought a knife to school (forbidden under Louisiana law, period, but this very large and muscular and thuggish kid was threatening to knife another child he'd been in a fight with earlier that day, he ran home and got the knife and thank god a teacher caught him before he found the kid he was wanting to kill), and instead of expelling the child as required under Louisiana law, simply suspended him for three days. Because, see, if he'd expelled a special ed kid, then he would have had money taken out of his budget in order to home-teach that kid (i.e., a teacher sent to the kid's house several hours a week to give assignments and provide tutoring in order to meet federal requirements), and he didn't want to lose the money out of his budget, which would have required firing one of his teachers and cramming 40 kids in a classroom instead of just 30 kids.
So that's Coushatta -- a poor town in one of the poorest parishes of one of the poorest states in the nation, a town which is only a few feet removed from the third world, those few feet being the distance from the trailer house steps to the ground. Needless to say there are no social services worth the name. There's no money for it. The only services are those which families provide for themselves, and some of the families have been dysfunctional since the days of slavery. So mentally ill people in Coushatta -- of which there are definitely a few, probably a dozen out of the 500 students at the school I taught -- simply are turned loose on the streets, because there's no money to treat them or otherwise deal with them especially now that the state has completely abolished their mental hospital system other than for the criminally insane, and their families (which lack both education and resources) are left to deal with their mentally ill prodgeny alone. In a sense, Coushatta is the future of America -- poor, unschooled, only semi-employed, living in tin shacks, with random crazy people rambling around doing crazy things like killing the occasional 5 year old child (but that's unusually crazy even for Coushatta). The problem with that statement, however, is that this is how Coushatta has always been, with a few wealthy people (the owner of the lumber mill, the cotton plantation owners back in the days when those squares you see near the airstrip were all planted in cotton back before the price of cotton crashed, the town doctors), and the rest dirt poor and ignorant. In a sense, the rest of the nation is catching up to Coushatta, not the other way around. I have seen our future, and it isn't bright, unless you count the fire reflecting off of a trailer houses' tin siding.
- Badtux the Louisiana Penguin
Posted by: BadTux / 7/06/2006 08:37:00 PM
I went through that area when I went to take a look at the manfield battle field. I noticed that there were a few nice homes tucked away in the woods but most of the homes seemed like they were owned by very poor people.
# posted by Ole Blue The Heretic : 7/7/06 5:33 AM
Forgive me, Mr Penguin, but I don't quite understand how the official drop-out rate can be at 5% when 50% aren't completing their schooling.
# posted by Progressive Traditionalist : 8/7/06 7:34 AM
That was a sad description, but I fear you are correct in that it is the future. It is disheartening.
# posted by oldwhitelady : 9/7/06 8:44 PM
Well, first of all, Louisiana is a "lenient home schooling" state. All you have to do is file papers with the local school board saying that you're home schooling, and that's that. I know (knew?) the attendance officer at the Coushatta school board officer (the same guy who is the IT director, the discipline officer, the bus director, yada yada), and he would rail about it until he was red in the face... "Alma Mae isn't home schooling her children! Alma Mae can't even read herself! All those kids are doing is sitting around the house getting dumber!" But he was powerless under Louisiana law to do anything about it other than report to the one (1) social worker in the parish that he feared the children were being neglected.
That social worker had a case load of several hundred kids who were supposedly under her "supervision". Given the number of children whose lives were actually in danger, nothing ever got done about kids merely being neglected but whose lives were not in danger -- there just aren't enough foster homes in the entire state for all the kids who are not being raised right, those foster homes have to be reserved for children whose lives were in danger in their natural homes. She might make a home visit, but probably not. Too many kids, only one her.
Then there are the kids who just fail to show up from one year to the next. They're there in 8th grade, never show up at the high school for 9th grade. Those kids now get kicked out by the computer system as "missing kids", and the attendance director calls the elementary school and asks them to track down where the kid went. The school secretary usually knows where the kid went, in these small towns the school secretary has been around for decades and knows the dirt on everybody and everything -- "the kid is living with his uncle up in Shreveport," she'll report. But no records request has come in from the Caddo Parish School Board for the child's records. Hmm. "Exited to private school" or "Exited to out-of-state school" gets put into the computer. Note that kids get passed around from relative to relative all over the area, sometimes being in the Red River school, sometimes Bienville, sometimes Bossier or Caddo depending on what relative last moved up there... I remember a kid I taught in Coushatta, a couple of years later I was at a grocery store in Bossier and he comes up and says "Mr. Green! Remember me?" and no, I didn't, he was about 3 feet taller than the last I'd seen of him, but I did remember his brother Elvis who came up behind his "little" brother Joe (yes, *ELVIS*, some dippy woman named her kid ELVIS!) at which point I said "Oh! Joe! You're a bit bigger than the last time I saw you!". They were living in a trailer park in Bossier because their mom had lost her job in food prep at the Coushatta hospital and was now working as a waitress at the boat. That's how it works a lot of the time, Momma or Poppa gets a job at the boat, the family all moves to a by-the-week place or a trailer park. Momma or Poppa loses the job, they move back home to the run-down old trailer on family land (but it's paid for!). The kids get dragged around, and if they disappear between schools, nobody knows, because nobody has the money to hire a full-time attendance officer to track down where that kid went, and besides, nobody really *wants* to know because if they really knew, it'd be tagged against their dropout rate...
I'm not sure what the solution to the dropout problem is. Frankly, the 50% who drop out are the ones who never learned basic skills in the first place and probably don't belong in high school in the first place. Back in an earlier era they went to work in the factory or fields. Nowdays they work odd jobs and go crazy and burn children to death after getting mad at the child's momma. The only "American Dream" they have is that maybe one day they'll win the lottery... they otherwise have no skills, no hope, no job worth the name, no future.
And the 50% who do manage to stay on and graduate from high school aren't much better off. They can read (but usually don't want to), they can do math and they can write a few words together into a simple letter, but that's about it. The school simply lacks the resources and sufficient trained teachers to do the job. So they have a bunch of retired-on-the-job sorts, a bunch of newbie teachers like me who are still trying to figure out that whole teaching thing, and a small handful of dedicated teachers who do their best but with utterly no support from parents and limited support from administrators (who themselves have utterly no support from the School Board or from law enforcement or the State itself). People made fun of Hillary Clinton for saying "it takes a village". But in the case of getting a child educated, yes, it does -- it takes parents, it takes relatives, it takes people in the community, and yes, it takes teachers too but they can't do it alone. But they're being required to do it alone, even though they can't. And the children are the ones who suffer, and who grow up with no future, and who in turn raise another generation of children with no future when they're not busy killing each other or killing their girlfriend's child...
- Badtux the "I've seen the future" Penguin
# posted by BadTux : 9/7/06 10:35 PM
My sister in law moved there because her friends offered her a free place to stay.
We live in Michigan and her husband had a job at perrigo making 13 dollars an hour.
They moved because they like to freeload off people.
Tell me the truth guys is Coushatta a "bad" place cuz im thinking she is a idiot!
Also they are buying a house for like 25,000.
You cant even buy a tralior for that here!
# posted by : 1/8/06 9:05 PM
It's not a bad place as long as you don't mind bad schools and needing to drive 40 miles to Shreveport or Bossier for a job and for most basic services. It wasn't my cup of tea because I got tired of driving the 40 miles every day, but some people enjoy living in a place where they can pretty much do what they want with nobody stopping them -- yes, Louisiana recently passed a building code, but Red River Parish doesn't enforce it, they have no code inspectors to do so (or pretty much any other government services, for that matter).
So every year, several houses burn down because of non-code wiring, non-code fireplace or wood-burning stove installs, etc., but (shrug)... that's how folks want it there. And they get it good and hard.
# posted by BadTux : 2/8/06 8:49 AM
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