Home Base: Mississippi Republicans lean on natural selection when it comes to educating its children


Zack Plair

Zack Plair



Zack Plair



My three daughters are all in bed by 8:30 every night. 


At least four nights a week, that's when my wife breaks out the laptop and various paper-stuffed folders. 


She's developing lesson plans, grading papers, laboring over essays. When she's not doing that, she's on websites like Amazon and Teachers Pay Teachers spending her own money on instructional tools for her classroom. Yes, she gets a stipend from the school district to help with some of that, but she pays at least that amount again out-of-pocket every year. 


During the week, these night pushes to keep up cap 10-hour work days at a high school campus, most of which are spent in the classroom on her feet in front of teenagers. 


Many of those teenagers have real problems at home -- food insecurity, domestic violence, other factors that cause unsafe environments -- that dilute their perception of education's value. Others are bullied on- and off-campus, and I imagine that distracts them in English or math class.  


Now, I think my wife is extraordinary as a person and an educator, but there's really nothing out of the ordinary about this lifestyle if you're a teacher. This is the life they chose, and I applaud them all for their willingness to do it. 


Teachers sign up for this lifestyle, knowing it doesn't pay the best and that there will be all the extra physical, mental and emotional and financial toll "just to keep up," which could partly explain the state's teacher shortage. 


Meanwhile, our legislators, especially Republicans, take a cavalier attitude toward the whole enterprise of public education, with our local lot -- of such distinguished gentlemen as Reps. Jeff Smith and Gary Chism -- taking every opportunity to tell those who have the audacity to suggest public education should be a higher priority to essentially shut up and color. 


On Thursday, Smith, in a statement where he openly admitted the Legislature doesn't fully fund the Mississippi Adequate Education Program -- a formula designed to determine the minimum amount necessary to properly resource the state's public schools -- he also called criticisms of that fact "B.S." Then he referenced "other" kinds of education besides K-12 that the state has to consider. But if you're looking at pre-K and post-secondary programs to find that money, good luck. So I have no idea what this man is talking about. 


Then there's Chism, who referring to pre-K programs said, "buy a lottery ticket and it will be fully funded." He invoked the name of Arkansas, which also has a lottery, in making his point. 


I'm from Arkansas, a state that started fully funding its K-12 education program in the early 2000s under Gov. Mike Huckabee and uses lottery money to fund college scholarships, not pre-K or infrastructure. So, again, we have words that sound good on the fly but don't actually match reality. 


I'm sick of listening to Mississippi Republicans talk about the public education in a circle full of red herrings, so let's just grapple with the actual root cause of why they deliberately let public schools suffer: retaliation against Brown vs. Board of Education and subsequent measures to racially integrate schools. 


For people like Smith, Chism, our good governor and his likely successor, people are split very much into two factions -- the haves and have-nots. In Mississippi, the makeup of each of these groups trends toward certain complexions, mostly by institutional design. 


The haves go home to tables of food, parents who actually get off work occasionally and have enough energy left over to ask about or help with homework. These kids are usually in pretty safe environments with easy access to their own books/internet and can see evidence all around them that education gets you places. A lot of these kids do go to public school, but if that's not for them, their parents might opt to pay for private schooling. 


On the other hand, the have-nots lack many of these options and securities, and our state leadership is not only leaving them to their fate, it's doing whatever possible to accelerate it -- just like history says has always been done here. 


To have so many conservative Christians among its ranks, the state's Republicans lean awfully hard on Charles Darwin when it comes to the question of "Who is your neighbor?" 


All the while, our Mississippi public school teachers and administrators put their own chips on the table every day "just to keep up." I'd ask our legislators to at least match their efforts with more than just hollow words for political expediency.


Zack Plair is the managing editor for The Dispatch.


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