Education Can be the Key to Saving New Orleans
I'll cut to the chase: I love New Orleans. It's a beautiful city, rich in culture that no other American city can dare replicate. Nothing beats a NOLA spring day at about 74 degrees with a slight breeze. Maybe grab a snoball from Plum St. Take a ride on the streetcar and people-watch from the neutral ground, letting the breeze hit your face from the windows of the car. Maybe head down to the Quarter during the day and listen to some street musicians battle it out back-and-forth, or wander down Magazine St. to grab a Gutter Punk from Juan's.
There's so much to do here. I love this city and I can not even begin to imagine living anywhere else. Every time I try, I start feeling homesick, so I've given into her and I'm staying in New Orleans. Of course, I've written a few love notes to NOLA in the past, so I needn't drone on and on about my love of this fantastically unusual city.
I do, however, feel the need to drone on and on about the fact we need to take this city back. Look, I'll be up front with you: I live in Metairie and have my entire life. My paycheck comes from an organization in New Orleans proper, Downtown and I spend the majority of it back in New Orleans. This is not a typical Jeffersonian attack on New Orleans or its people. Finances permitting, I'd be living in NOLA in a heartbeat and plan (and hope) to. No, I could never attack New Orleans or its people. Wouldn't dream of it in a million years.
But facts remain: there are flaws and they are flaws we all know but to which most of us turn blind eyes. The crime in New Orleans is steadily increasing every day. That short period after Katrina (well,afterafter Katrina) where crime was down because so many people weren't here (and, really, who's going to break into a house that had 11ft of water in it?) is over. It's been over.
The first mistake that any New Orleanian can make is that typical "Not in my neighborhood. I live in a good area." No, you don't. Ask the people of Lakeview how they felt after the string of burglaries back in February. That feeling of living in a walled garden suddenly dissipated. There are gorgeous parts of this city. There are better parts and worse parts, but thinking that the crime in New Orleans doesn't or won't affect you is the biggest mistake anyone can make. I don't say that to alarm anyone or make them scared to live here. I'm saying that apathy will get you nowhere. Even if your house doesn't ever get broken into or your car never gets its stereo yanked out of it, the crime in New Orleans affects you. It affects you because New Orleans has always been built on a sense of community. WhileK-Villemay have stretched a truth by referencing a "gumbo party", the fact is: that happens. People will, as they do in many Southern homes, cook huge pots of food and invite their neighbors over to have some. Heck, when I was living in Old Metairie, my neighbors brought us lasagna and stewed cabbage and stuff like that all the time, just as they always came over whenever we had a big BBQ or crawfish boil going. That happens in the Lower 9th just as often as it does in Lakeview.
Your skin color or zip code does not single you out nor does it exclude you from the effects of crime in New Orleans. This is a city that has and needs to again thrive on creativity and hospitality. "Mardi Gras Mambo" doesn't say this is "where the blues was born" just because it sounded good at the time. Tourism isn't listed as our largest industry because it looks good on paper and we're certainly not the 8th most visited city yearly because we don't know how to treat guests.
That original heart and soul—that creativity and hospitality—is still alive in New Orleans. Businesses keep starting up here. Artists and musicians and actors call New Orleans home more and more. Hollywood is taking an interest in using us as their sets. Hell, we've got the best football team in the league, to boot! Speaking of, what happened after those home games and the opposing teams fans went and hung out in the Quarter, win or lose? We welcomed them. Of course, we chanted a few "Who Dat!"s in their faces first, but after, we bought them drinks, we thanked them for coming here. We treated them like we treat family when they visit us here. Because that's what being a New Orleanian is about.
So why does a city so rich in creativity and hospitality struggle with violent crimes and corruption? Honestly, I think it all boils down to one thing: education.
Consider this: studies (and common sense) shows that education and crime are inversely proportional. The lower your education standards are, the higher your crime rates will be. The opposite is true as well. Hell, a newspaper from 1936 even knew this. Louisiana consistently ranks in the bottom percentiles on every education ranking. In 2009, the National Report Card ranked us at 47th in the nation. In case you're a product of our school system, that's 47 out of 50 states. This is only a slight increase from our rank as 48 a few years prior. This is despicable. Why are our area youth being given such terrible educations? Well, for starters, they aren't.
Every school has its problems, this is true, but there are so many amazing teachers at even the worst ranking schools. I can't speak for other schools, but as a UNO student, I can emphatically state that UNO is rife with amazing teachers that should be making a Drew Brees salary. So what's the problem if we have great teachers? Well, for starters, it's hard to teach without books or projectors or computers or chalk. Yeah, some teachers have to bring their own chalk because the school doesn't afford them that luxury. If you need to staple something, be careful with it because if it breaks, there probably won't be a replacement. (A teacher did say this, perhaps half-jokingly.) UNO and colleges and high schools and elementary schools across the state of Louisiana are having their funding cut. And not little trims here and there—over $300 million has been cut from education and health by Governor Bobby Jindal.
Here's the deal: Jindal touts himself as a fiscal conservative. I agree with that view and it's one of the pillars of my political ideology. But therein lies the problem with having ideologies: most people don't stray from them for fear of being called a "flip-flopper". (See: John Kerry). See, I see myself as a Libertarian. Libertarians have some pretty radical viewpoints (to some people) and I do believe in them, such as privatizing pretty much everything and leaving the government out of our daily lives. Some Libertarians tout privatizing the police and fire departments. On paper, it makes a lot of sense because it does create competition and leaves government corruption out of it. But in addition to being a Libertarian, I'm also a realist. Obviously in our world, privatizing the police and fire departments just wouldn't work. This is one area where I stray from typical hard-core Libertarian beliefs.
This is where Mr. Jindal fails. He refuses to stray even the slightest bit from his Republican views for fear of being chastised by the rest of his party for being too soft or, god forbid, liberal. Jindal is emphatically against raising taxes as he feels the government should try to cut its spending before even thinking about passing costs on to citizens. I applaud Mr. Jindal for this and I agree 110%. However, in his endless quest to never be even remotely mistaken as anything even sorta, kinda resembling a liberal, he has decided to cut one of the most important budgets: education (and health).
Now, since Mr. Jindal received his education from Oxford and Brown and not any Louisiana colleges or universities, I suppose I can see why he's not worried. I'm willing to bet that his children will have no problems getting into either of those schools, or any other excellent university in any of the other 49 states. So why should Mr. Jindal care about Louisiana education? Well, for the very reason I wrote this post: crime and corruption.
See, if kids spend more time in school, they spend less time in the streets. If we get to kids at younger ages, there's a better chance they'll have sense not to get involved in events and people that bring down the greater good of society. If kids are educated, they will feel empowered and they'll feel that, yes, even they can find a job and have a family one day. A lot of teens turn to crime because they feel like they have no direction or goal in life, so, what's the use? If they feel destined to end up in jail one day, why bother fighting it? Giving kids a goal and a chance will, in many cases, give them reason to avoid the temptation of crime or drugs.
So how does education help fight corruption? Well, New Orleans (as well as Louisiana on the whole) consistently has a poor voter turn-out. The reason most people don't vote is because they don't think their vote counts or they just assume that whomever gets elected will just be useless anyway, so why bother? Some people also will just vote for the incumbent because it's the only name they know. This is why criminals like William Jefferson got re-elected. People hear a name and just hit that button because they don't know any better. If you have an educated public, however, they can spot bad eggs easier and they'll feel more empowered to research a candidate before voting. In time, this would weed out corruption and, as a result, crime, too.
Obviously, nothing is flawless and this wouldn't eradicate crime and corruption, but I'll be damned if it doesn't curb it.
Mr. Jindal, I urge you to rethink your position on education funding. It's necessary to keep Louisiana a viable place for people to live and work.
People of New Orleans, I urge you to want this. I urge you to want this city to be amazing. It'll never be done overnight. It'll be years, I'm willing to bet, before noticeable changes happen, but things like Saturday night's shooting on Canal St. shouldneverhave happened. Here's the city, on the coattails of theTremepremiere and French Quarter Fest and right on the edge of the Quarter, seven people get shot. I'm tired of reading these stories about violent crimes. There have been 219 murders in 2010 so far. That's a little over 2 murders every day this year. This is a problem that needs to be handled and turning our backs on it is not going to fix it.