Success depends on commitment to education

Published 11:38 pm Thursday, September 13, 2007

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

If you watch a lot of movies, you might recognize this quote from one of last summer’s popular films, “Akeelah and the Bee.”

It is story about a young girl growing up in South Central Los Angeles who discovers a love for spelling. Unfortunately she lives in a neighborhood that looks down upon the “brainiacs.” So Akeelah hides her smarts with her use of slang words and her attitude.

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It isn’t until forced by her principal as a punishment, that Akeelah attends the school spelling bee and wins.

With the help of a retired professor and former spelling champion, Akeelah goes on to win many other contests.

As she progresses to each competition, she suddenly begins to think that maybe a poor kid from South Central Los Angeles has no place competing — something that she has heard from her neighbors, schoolmates and family.

That is when the professor shows Akeelah the quote in an effort to bolster her self-confidence.

The scene came back to me Thursday morning as Natchez-Adams School District officials announced that three schools in the district have dropped to Level 2-low performing.

To put this in perspective, there are 842 public schools in the state of Mississippi. Of those schools 107 were considered either low performing or under-performing. Three are in Natchez.

It is a sobering statistic — three of our schools find themselves in the bottom 13 percent of all of the schools in the state.

So why would I be thinking about our potential to be “powerful beyond measure” when our schools sit at the bottom of the state list?

Because like Akeelah we as a community have to make a choice.

We can decide that we can’t compete or decide that we can excel.

I prefer to think we can excel.

But it will take the entire community — not just the teachers and students of the public schools.

As school officials pointed out Thursday, students can be taught how to read. But it is using those reading skills which makes learning accessible.

In Adams County one in three adults cannot read. Southwest Mississippi has one of the highest illiteracy rates in the country.

If students do not see the importance of applying reading skills in their families and community, then they will fail to learn.

It is the difference between learning to read and reading to learn.

Interestingly enough, as Web Editor for the newspaper, I am amazed by statistics that show how little interest our online readers have in stories about education.

It may be that most of our online readers do not have children in school, do not think that education stories are interesting or that such stories are applicable in their daily lives.

Certainly education stories do not attract the same readership as stories about jobs and new industry. Yet, they should. Because education is about our future — yours and mine, whether we have children or not.

In “Akeelah and the Bee,” the neighborhood begins to rally around Akeelah and help her learn words for the National Spelling Bee.

It’s a happy Hollywood ending to be sure. But doesn’t it point out the importance of community to learning?

Natchez already has many events from the Natchez Literary and Cinema Celebration to the Richard Wright book readings that could be a starting point for excellence in reading and education in our community.

The responsibility our city and county leaders have for education goes far beyond nominating school board members.

In the end, the entire community must be committed to education in order to succeed.

If we want to make Southwest Mississippi a better place, we have no other choice.

Ben Hillyer is the web editor at the Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3540 or