The good news about being a public school teacher in Mississippi today is there was no time to dissect every part of our Initiative 42 loss. We all know that most teachers are lucky to get a bathroom break on our easiest days; and if you don’t know, then I’m sorry you aren’t listening to Mississippi public school teachers.
Shame on you. Really. Shame on you for not listening to teachers. Like my grandmother, who was also a special education teacher and the grandest matriarch to ever matriarch would say, “Shame on you!” She taught me to read at a farm table. Listen to her.
When you spend your days with young people, there’s simply no way you can believe, during the day, that our future is doomed.
Today I was able to help out at the Scholastic Book Fair at my school library. The Scholastic Book Fair is a fundraiser that helps put books into our school library. Yes. It’s another fundraiser, but this fundraiser is my jam. It’s about books!
I was able to see children excited about books and ideas and a world bigger than our four brick walls. I pulled change out of my purse to cover the few pennies a student might come short because of sales tax because THAT book in THAT moment was the most important thing that could ever exist to THAT young person.
I helped students allocate budgets. This book costs $7.99, and this pen costs $3.99. But you only brought ten dollars, so you have to make a choice. High five for choosing the book over the pen! Great choice!
Oh, you are short ten cents for that book about the wimpy kid or the book about the Holocaust or any book at all? No problem. I can dig up ten cents or so out of my purse. I can’t stand to see a kid who came to buy a book leave a book fair without the book because of a few pennies. I’d never tell a kid that was my lunch money. And that was my lunch money.
But now I’m home from school, and I’m decompressing. I’m decompressing, and my state just gave me a clear message last night that they don’t care. Sure, there’s some lip service about how 42 defenders fought a “passionate fight.” Yet when I attended the 42 public forum, I heard lip service from the opposition about how “emotional” we were being. These words are not synonyms by any means.
I’m decompressing, and I can’t shake this graphic of Mississippi, county by county, and how each county voted for or against 42. After spending a few months inhaling information and analyzing data and scouring the Mississippi Secretary of State’s online campaign finance reports for who is giving who dollars, I immediately come home, and I want to analyze this graphic for specific “facts” that would back up my argument to support public education, but right now, I’m decompressing, and I’m going to just say what I know.
Mississippi is still fighting Brown Vs. Board of Education. I repeat. Mississippi is STILL fighting Brown Vs. Board of Education. Y’all. We are still fighting Brown Vs. Board of Education.
So just for now, I want to write about the kids who didn’t get to buy books today.
Let’s talk about how it feels to be the kid who didn’t get to buy a book today. You know what that kid did? Waited at the library table. Sure, he or she could check out a book or read a magazine. We did not banish them from the library experience by any means. It was still a getaway from class.
That kid could still browse books at the Book Fair, but what’s the point in browsing from a middle schooler’s perspective? I’m just going to look like the kid who can’t afford books.
When you were in middle school, would you want to feel like the kid who can’t afford books? Don’t go to that quick parent blaming. That’s too easy. What I’m asking is, when YOU were in middle school, would YOU want to feel like the kid who can’t afford books? You don’t get to end that sentence with any form of “but” at the end. It’s a yes or no answer.
Because here’s what haunts me about that county by county graphic of Mississippi. Let’s talk about the Mississippi Delta. Let’s talk about Marshall County. Let’s talk about, you know, the black ones. Let’s talk about it.
You know what happened in those counties when Ross Barnett could no longer hold the Supreme Court of the United States away with his hate. With Mississippi’s hate? Our state offered incentives. Our state offered incentives to build private schools and to build them quickly. They are called academies. Folklore tells us that the white men in these communities pillaged libraries and classrooms of books and desks to get these academies going.
And even today, in 2015, the white students go to the academies and the black students go to the public schools and when they take the ACT they score about the same at either school. That should tell you something.
Now let me tell you something Mississippi, while I’m looking at this map and I see counties with “good” schools who voted against Initiative 42 and I see counties with “failing schools” who voted for Initiative 42.
Shame on you, Mississippi. Shame on your hate. Shame on your fear-mongering. Shame on you for letting history repeat itself.
The majority of you don’t have to go to work tomorrow and look these poor kids in the face. You don’t have to give them your lunch money so they can buy a book. You don’t have to face the immediate, nitty gritty consequences of your actions.
Betty X is a teacher in Mississippi and is a contributor to the Mississippi Education Blog.