Students in New Orleans Speak Out

Students in New Orleans speak out, and ask some hard questions…

IMG_1120 Early Friday morning students arrived at their schools only to find that it was no regular morning. Pasted on the walls all around the schools were large black & white posters. But these were not your typical posters. These posters had facts, questions, and statistics regarding New Orleans public charter schools and their inhabitants — former students, teachers, principals, and CEOs. Some posters had questions on them that referenced the firing of over 7,000 teachers post-Katrina: *The black math teacher from 2004 who lived in your neighborhood, where are they?* And some questioned the salaries of school principals and administrators compared to the quality of the schools they run: *Your principal makes $100,000 a year, but why is your school only a ‘D’ school?* These are only a few of the many posters that were found at several high schools across the New Orleans area, including Lake Area, Sci Academy, Warren Easton, and Landry Walker.

IMG_1119Students at these schools and others had a lot to say about the posters and the questions they posed.  Responding to the question, *Your homie from the class of 2013…where are they now?* one high school student answered, *Most of the people I knew in the class of 2013 are currently in college, or didn’t finish and plan to go back this year. That makes me anxious and worry about if I can finish college when I’m ‘supposed’ to and wonder what happened to throw them off track. It makes me feel sad that people go into college unsure of their main drive and because of being rushed into it, they lose track of what they really want.*

Another student nearby answered as well saying, *Most of them are still in college but a few are struggling to have somewhere to stay and are still trying to get into college. They have no choice but to get a job, and their job is weighing on them and keeping them from going to school.*

At another local high school a student responded by saying, *My friend is currently working at Papa John’s, and it’s sad especially because he is now struggling and on the verge of giving up.* One student candidly said, *I don’t know where they are, and I feel some type of way because of their disappearance.* One final student gave a chilling answer, *Probably dead to be honest.*

image1Over at a high school on the West Bank students responded to several questions that were on posters around their school. Responding to, *How many teachers live in your neighborhood?* A student answered, *None. I feel disappointed because the teachers come from all over and they don’t know what the people from my neighborhood are going through.*

Other questions centered around how students get exposed to black culture in their schools. Two of them included, *The principal who taught you the black national anthem, what happened to them?* and *The science teacher from 2003 who taught you to be proud of your heritage, where are they?*

The first student answered, *It’s like a crime to teach your truth and your history, because if it wasn’t they wouldn’t have been fired and white people wouldn’t be the main ones teaching in our schools. There’s only a certain time for us to talk about black people in schools — February.*

IMG_1117And the other said, *I don’t even know what the Black National Anthem is, which makes me sad because it shows what type of schools I went to. The fact that I live in Louisiana and don’t know the Black National Anthem puts things into perspective for me.*

While the last student responded, *Well, that school doesn’t even have the same name any more. It’s charter school now, everything has changed — new principal, new teachers, new uniforms, new name. I don’t even know what happened to those teachers. When the school changed and those charter people came, they had to go. And that was the only school that I went to where I learned the Black National Anthem.* (The school was George Washington Carver, now it’s Carver Collegiate.)

Schools and the entire city really just use us to pass off statistics to the rest of the world to say that the city is doing better. It’s like if we’re getting higher scores on tests than New Orleans must be moving forward…but it’s not.

One student talked in-depth about how the posters forced them to reflect on their place as youth in New Orleans. *After seeing the different posters at my school, it really made me think about how black youth don’t really matter to this image2city, or that we do matter but only for the use of others. Schools and the entire city really just use us to pass off statistics to the rest of the world to say that the city is doing better. It’s like if we’re getting higher scores on tests than New Orleans must be moving forward…but it’s not.*

Maybe the point of these posters is to raise questions about where the city really is 10 years after hurricane Katrina. A high school senior from New Orleans East seems to have summed up the feelings of their peers and families regarding the cruel irony of the anniversary festivities. *Our city’s leaders are celebrating the anniversary of Katrina, and saying that if not for a terrible storm that killed so many people and hurt so many families we wouldn’t have been able to move forward. Which implies that the way the city was before, and the things that happened before Katrina were wrong. All without acknowledging the damage that some of these ‘positive’ changes have caused our city.*

-written by New Orleans Youth




  1. Wondering whether the posters were removed by those in charge or allowed to remain?

  2. I was thinking the same thing—how long did the Charter RheeFormers let those posters stay up before they removed them? If the RheeFormers identified the students who made them and put them up, what happened to them?

    >Were they suspended?
    >Were they expelled?
    >Were they arrested and taken away in handcuffs by the police?
    >Will the RheeFormers drag them into court as an example of what happens when you dare to speak truth to about an authoritarian regime mired in fraud and lies?
    >Have they been placed on a blacklist when it comes to College recommendations?

  3. Curious, EduShyster, but do you know the responsible parties for this wonderful act of rebellion and you are simply protecting them? Or are you as mystified as we are? Whoever did it, I’m in awe. More, please.

    1. The reason they are keeping themselves to themselves is that student organizers haven’t fared well in NOLA’s decentralized system. When high schoolers walked out a few years ago, the leaders faced recriminations from their *autonomous school leaders,* and even highly placed RSD officials. But look for more actions coming up, and lots of story telling. I’m looking forward to sharing!

  4. All of these signs were taken down before kids got to school and no kids actually responded (all of the reaponses above are faked). Also, the adhesive used on the signs has peeled off paint from the outside of schools. This is the weakest, lamest attempt at disparaging schools. And it is all manufactured and fake.

    1. I had nothing to do with the students’ action. They contacted me and asked if I’d run their op-ed. I thought it was great, especially as these students have been collecting stories from their peers, something I’m a huge fan of and have been involved w/ in Boston. I can tell you that these students have not done anything public in New Orleans before, and that they attend schools all across the city. I’m looking forward to sharing their writing regularly and am hoping that at some point they choose to drop their anonymity. I’m interested in what you think of the substance of the issues they raise, though. Neither they, nor the students they interviewed, seem to view these issues as “manufactured and fake”… It’s going to be a busy year. I’d suggest that you figure out some way to respond to legitimate criticism besides the thin-skinned bluster that representatives of NOLA, Inc are known for.

        1. Not sure I understand your question. The students contacted me (and other bloggers/journalists) and asked if I would run the op-ed they wrote. The “data” is being collected by the students themselves in the form of student stories, which they’ll be sharing once a month. Unfortunately they have to remain anonymous for now because, as one student explained: “The discipline policies are really harsh for things like this.” Based on the reaction this post has received, I’d say the students were right. Nothing makes adults madder than when students disrupt their narrative of success!

    1. Perhaps problems with early morning Rem functions have had a deleterious effect on your reasoning and judgement..
      Sorry for you, Yaboy. …. Bad dreams are scary , but mostly not factual.

      1. Taping signs up in schools is vandalism, now? Only if speech is destruction of property.

        The problem with neoliberal solutions is that authorities makes all the rules and by authorities I mean the CEO. And as is the ethos, without consultation with those who must abide.

        That is a very different construct from democratically organized institutions where leaders encourage members to respond constructively with dissent, as part of the learning process, and consider their request as idea of value.

  5. I wrote this right after Katrina but before the death toll was revealed to be around 2,000 and thousands more became refugees. Refugees in America!!!??? After Katrina, the Disaster Capitalism crowd took advantage of the catastrophe for which they should never be forgotten nor forgiven. Bush, “Brownie,” Blackwater, Vallas, ad nauseam… I was angry after we witnessed the results of the cataclysm and bitter when these Disaster Capitalism vultures did their dirty work. I tossed my cookies when I saw a clip of Bush dancing during the “commemoration” of New Orleans’ ” so-called “rebirth.” There seemed to be no display of outrage. What kind of a country have we become?

    16. New Orleans
    New Orleans, the most unique in the South,
    Which sits upon the Mississippi’s mouth,
    A city with charm and Creole flair,
    A city all so free of care…

    Until that awful, fateful day,
    When nature’s rage just swept it away,
    This jewel of a city called New Orleans,
    Died amid its people’s screams,

    America discovered an uncomfortable fact,
    Most of the poor in New Orleans were black,
    Why not play golf? Don’t waste my time!
    Letting them drown? Is that really a crime?

    People and much could have been spared,
    If one in the highest place had cared,
    Someone delayed, then someone blundered,
    The death toll amounted to just eight hundred,

    Thank God, it was just a mere eight hundred,
    Though someone had very clearly blundered,
    A thousand or more would have been bad,
    A photo op we couldn’t have had,

    Only eight hundred dead as of last count,
    Will they ever reveal the true amount?
    At least eight hundred souls so wretchedly died,
    Could not escape the deadly tide,.

    All could have been spared, but don’t lay blame,
    Let’s not play the finger-pointing game,
    But lack of leadership caused lack of aid,
    Iron-clad case for incompetence can be made

    With one huge surge, nature’s powerful stroke,
    Like matchsticks, the old levees broke,
    Money for levees in Iraq was spent,
    The National Guard to Iraq was sent

    Incompetence, confusion loomed so large
    A horse’s ass was clearly in charge,
    “Brownie, yer doin’ a heck of a job!”
    Praise which came from a wastrel slob.

    “We don’t want to play the blame game.”
    Old excuses, always so lame…
    It’s too late to help poor New Orleans,
    It died amid its people’s screams.

    Karl-Heinz Gabbey

Comments are closed.