Public schools aren’t the problem

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 9, 2009

There’s been a lot of talk about the public schools. There isn’t as much now as there was, say, two years ago, but it’s still going on, and it’s usually negative.

I know of parents all across town who have threatened the public schools as punishment for poor performance or as a response to their kids’ complaints about their respective schools. Threats like “Well, if that’s how you feel, I’ll just send you to Natchez High and see how you like that.”

Granted, these are mostly baseless threats, but they are founded in a legitimized attitude that’s shared by more than just a few people in this town.

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Based on my own experience, the Natchez public schools have a top-notch administration and teaching staff. Teachers and administrators from kindergarten on up put immense care into making sure their students do well in their classes and have the tools to continue to do well in their academic career.

But, like every other school, there are people who fall behind, and that’s where our problem comes in. Somewhere along the line, their careers as students become less about making the grade and more about having a good time, or not going to school at all.

This could happen as a result of a lack of faith in themselves after a bad grade comes in, trouble at home, trouble with friends, whatever. However, I think the problem is rooted more in our society then it is in their academic career.

There’s a vicious circle going on in this town — poverty is breeding ignorance, and ignorance is breeding more poverty.

By ignorance, I don’t mean incompetence. Poverty doesn’t produce idiot children. If a child is born in poverty, that’s all they know, and there’s a feeling of disillusionment there.

You hear talk all your life about the typical “American dream,” but you’re surrounded by people just like you — people that have never reached that dream. It would be easy to lose hope in a situation like that, if you had any to begin with.

And before I go on, I want to stress that this isn’t just my speculation; this is what is happening in this town. There is still a kind of segregation going on this town — a separation of the fortunate and the unfortunate.

Besides me, when was the last time you saw a public school kid in the Pageant? Those who are better off have created a society that has no place for those who are below it. Maybe not on purpose, but because it’s tradition — the way it’s always been. I’ve heard before “But that’s where they want to live,” or “That was their choice.” Those of you who are defending this as tradition, go back and read Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery.” We all know how that turned out.

The biggest problem with our public schools doesn’t lie within the school system. When it comes right down to it, the biggest problem with our public schools is that the public is treating them like they’re not their problem. I’ve got friends who thought I was in mortal danger every day I was there, because that’s the propaganda that this town has perpetuated about these schools.

What I’m calling for is an initiative to get the rest of the town more involved in the local public schools. There are mentoring programs at the schools that anyone can become involved in. Your business could also participate in the Adopt-a-School program.

Whatever you do, I ask that you become actively involved in something that could help the public schools.

We could do so much in this town if we just changed our attitude about the public schools. As a town, we can make these schools great. We can make these students great. And most importantly, we can make this town great.

You with me?

Guy Wimberly is a graduate of Natchez High School and is currently Mississippi State University Honors student.