Born into the Wrong Demographic | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Born into the Wrong Demographic

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Adria Walker

I don't have a television in my dorm room, and I went to bed on election night before I found out the results. I was hopeful. I trusted that this state would not fail the public-education system.

When I awoke the next morning for my early class, I set my phone and laptop to charge while I took a shower, still blissfully unaware. Once I saw that my computer had enough battery, I powered it up; within two minutes, I felt as if I had been punched in the gut.

Initiative 42 had failed.

What hurts the most was politicians' deliberate deception to stop initiative 42 from passing. They, essentially, set up three ways to vote against Initiative 42 and only one way to vote for it. And it's particularly discouraging to think about how one misleading political slogan causes Mississippians, once again, to turn their backs on our children's needs.

I attended JPS schools from age 4, when I enrolled in the Montessori program at Boyd Elementary that would eventually relocate to McWillie, until May of this year, when I graduated from Murrah High School. I was in the Academic Performing Arts Program, or APAC, from fourth grade until graduation, and I went to schools that were not simply considered the best of JPS, but were among the best in the state.

Still, we lacked.

Last year, all but one of my classes were AP. However, most of my classes had at least 20 students. I was fortunate that, even in these large classes, my teachers found ways to attempt to meet the individual needs of each student. However, when one person is responsible for teaching approximately 200 children, many of whom are taking state standardized tests, some students inevitably will fall between the cracks.

Last year, Mrs. Schneider, who taught creative writing my freshman year, instructed students taking the English II standardized exams, taught English IV and sponsored the school's newspaper, which is a class in itself.

When we traveled to Oxford to attend Mississippi Scholastic Press Association's annual awards, we competed against students who had journalism teachers with the sole job of teaching journalism.

One of my former teachers, Mr. Everson, teaches Latin I, Latin II, AP Latin and Debate, and is the sponsor for both the speech-and-debate and quiz-bowl teams.

While I applaud this dedication to students, with proper funding great teachers would not have to singlehandedly raise funds for extracurricular organizations, or at least, their pay would reflect their efforts.

My dad graduated from Lanier High School in 1967. When I was accepted to APAC in fourth grade, I remember him telling me that it would have been impossible for him to attend APAC, as the school was, at that time, only for white kids. Instead, he told me, the smartest kids in his all-black school were put into a special homeroom in which they were taught even more rigorously than the rest of the students.

My mother grew up in Columbia, Miss. Her education was different from my father's in that she didn't realize that her school was poor. While her textbooks were years out of date, too, her teachers supplemented by teaching beyond the span of her books.

My mother recalls having a client tell her, shortly after she graduated from Ole Miss Law School and began private practice, that she didn't know what she was talking about because she was black. The client continued, saying that, at one point, my mother had been taught by black teachers who didn't know what they were talking about—because they hadn't been taught anything.

I've heard more times than I can remember from children educated at local private schools that they were surprised I went to Murrah. On my first day at Millsaps College, I met another Jackson native. I was excited, at first, because no one else in my group was from here. The student had attended a local private high school, where she had pretty much taken the same classes I took at Murrah. I don't recall exactly how the topic came up, but I distinctly recall her saying, "You were probably really glad to be in AP." I agreed. I had valued the smaller class size and opportunity for one-on-one time with my teachers.

Then, she said, "Yeah, but you probably liked it because there weren't all those welfare kids who don't care." How she determined that (a) every non-AP child at Murrah comes from an underprivileged family and (b) coming from such a family equates to apathy about one's education is beyond my understanding.

Recently, while sitting in the judge's lounge at a debate tournament in Hattiesburg, I overheard a conversation between two adults who—it became clear—sent their children to private schools. They said things along the lines of: "I went to public schools, so clearly I don't have a problem with them. But would I send (my son) to one? Definitely not. Those schools don't pay teachers anything, and the kids are too poor to care."

Initiative 42 failed because our state still has a race and a class problem.

I heard frequently that people campaigned or were voting against Initiative 42 because they didn't want a judge in Hinds County (more specifically, a judge in majority-black Jackson), deciding how funds would be allocated. It's safe to say that most Mississippians understand the connotation that comes with such a phrase. If not, they would have just stopped with "a judge."

Taking it further, though, was an argument against Initiative 42 on a College Republican page: "The judge could decide that high-performing districts, or those with a solid local tax base, are getting too much money from the state and that money should be transferred to low-performing districts."

While I never envisioned this happening, had 42 passed and presented the possibility, I still can't imagine how that transfer would be a bad thing. Oak Grove High School received $3 million of state funds to build an auditorium, but there are Mississippi schools in which one teacher is forced to teach both history and math, due to underfunding and a teacher shortage.

How anyone thinks it is more important for a school that wants a nicer auditorium to receive funding than it is for a school that shows a legitimate need for the basics completely baffles me. As I wrote in a Facebook status after finding out that Mississippi, once again, failed our children: It was not President Obama or Democrats or Socialists or even that mysterious "judge in Jackson" that was hurt. The failure of Initiative 42 directly affected the lives of 500,000 children who were waiting, hoping for an equal shot at an education. Children cannot decide to whom they are born, and they cannot decide their race or socioeconomic status.

Failing to pass Initiative 42 punished Mississippi's children simply because they were born into the wrong demographic.

Adria Walker, a Millsaps freshman, is an editorial assistant at the Jackson Free Press.

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