Paris Texas Schools Help/Fail African-American Students Just Like The Rest
Last summer my cousin Tina alerted me to some protests that were going on in Paris. To her knowledge, the Black Panthers and Texas NAACP were participating in the demonstrations along with community leaders that would target the Paris Independent School District (PISD). Everything that I knew about the unrest I had read in the African American News and Issues weekly paper. We were not at the time fully aware of details surrounding Shaquanda and Creola Cotton's situation, but Tina did call her to try to get a better understanding of what was going on. We decided to try to find out more before getting involved.
"I've lived here all my life, and I don't see that. My kids went to Paris High School, and they never had one minute of a problem with the school system, the courts or the police."
Mary Ann Fisher – Paris City Council/Mayor Pro Tem
Mrs. Fisher's quote comes from Howard Witt's Chicago Tribune Article detailing the goings on in Paris. Incidentally, Mrs. Fisher's husband George is a trustee on the Paris School Board and was mayor when I lived in Paris. The Fisher's son and daughter were great students. There are many parents of former African-American students like the Fisher's, who's children have gone through the Paris Schools without incident and are having a hard time relating to the charges being leveled at the district.
And even though I believe most institutions in this country are inherently racist, I have a hard time singling out PISD above any other. Secondary schools in this country don't teach our children anything, they merely introduce concepts that students have to teach themselves. The schools then test to see if the materials that were introduced have been successfully self taught – or best case taught by their parents.
I think back to 1st grade when my teacher separated our class into three reading groups based on skill. Because of the work of my mother and grandmother, I was in the first reading group. From that first grade class into high school, those groups never changed. Kids that were in that very first reading group with me were also in my Advanced Placement classes at Paris High. Kids that were in the bottom group struggled to graduate or either dropped out. Who's to blame? The teachers? The students? The superintendent?
The fact is that those kids who went into the Paris Schools ready to learn did well. Those who went in ill-prepared, or who didn't have their lessons reinforced at home struggled. This is not different than any public school I have been in since I left Paris. And to be honest, I still keep in touch with some of my former teachers from PHS. They always seemed to be genuinely concerned about my progress.
To only highlight the failures of the school system is to disregard the accomplishments of black students who graduated from Paris High School as well as their parents. There must be some lessons to be learned from the study habits of Paris grads and Dallas County Attorneys Keith and Kevin Harris. Maybe lawyer Jason Mathis' mother could help parents struggling with their children if she were asked. How were educators Yushiqua Williams and Rosalind Samuels able to get through school without incident? Could my teachers have been against me and at the same time award me best male student in 1992?
There are folks in Paris making an effort to stand in the gap for local children. One church in town runs a mentoring program where they work with children from 1st to 6th grade trying to prepare them for the TAKS test. The church brings the children in, feeds them (isn't that what the Panthers used to do?), and helps them with their testing skills. According to one of the mentors, the students struggle with the basics concepts of reading while the test requires comprehension.
These challenges are not limited to one small East Texas town; hence America is falling further behind more and more countries in the area of education. The United States is failing its children, and has always failed black children. Though African-American men and women, boys and girls always up a disproportionate number of prison inmates, our country has made no significant effort to intervene even though education is major variable in predicting the likelihood of incarceration. So many factors are at play – educational attainment of parents, economic status, single or married caregivers – the actual school environment is more like the straw that breaks the camels back.
Though Paris High is awash in nepotism, good ol' boyism, even hints of racism; they are not the true players in the conspiracy. Nonetheless they make for an easy target. By focusing so heavily on the school, the protesters have taken away from the institution that has failed Shaquanda the most: the American (In)Justice System.