by Timothy N. Tanner
A conspiracy theory is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a theory that explains an event or set of circumstances as the result of a secret plot by usually powerful conspirators.”
There seems to be a conspiracy theory here in the beloved stated of Mississippi. You’ve heard it and probably didn’t realize that it was in fact a conspiracy theory. I must say though some of the bits and pieces of the conspiracy theory have some truth to them. This is probably true for most conspiracy theories. As the History Channel has taught us, if you can’t understand something, then the answer is aliens–totally aliens.
All aliens aside, I’m not sure if all this talk of a conspiracy theory is as exciting as the movie Conspiracy Theory (starring Mel Gibson and, unfortunately, Julia Roberts with the always amazing Patrick Stewart as the bad guy) but it is important, I think, to talk about.
So what the hell am I talking about?
Mississippi’s public education system.
That gut-wrenching feeling you got right now with the reading of those words? I feel you. No one really likes to positively discuss the state of education in Mississippi. Plenty of us, however, love to tear it down and run it through the ringer. Hey, I’m not innocent. I was brought up in Mississippi and I went through the back woods public school system. My whole high school experience could’ve been taken in a year yet it was spread out over four for reasons I have yet to understand.
In my economics class I learned how to play spades; the teacher taught me. In my tenth grade history class my teacher had a few weeks where we watched the Indiana Jones movies. There was no supplemental material to go along with the Indy films; we just watched them because my teacher really liked those movies.
I could go on. And damn it to hell, I’m putting down my Mississippi public school experience. Shame on me.
I haven’t gotten to the conspiracy theory just yet, ladies and gents. I’m getting there.
The common thread of conversation I hear in my workplace and in the grocery stores tend to sound something like this:
“The school system’s gone to hell. The big-wigs get our tax money, take a huge cut and give a little bit to a few schools in the state. Them teachers, they don’t teach nothing. They just sit at a desk in the AC, that we’re paying for, giving kids worksheets to do. They just pass the kids no matter what test scores or how well they do. The administrators ain’t doing nothing because they just get the extra money in their pockets anyways. Kids come from the Mississippi public schools with no education and they are too dumb to care about making anything better. That’s the way the state wants it, too. That way they get them more money. But what can you do?”
Does that sound familiar? I tried to add some Southern flair in there, but you get the idea. Let us dissect the definition that was all the way at the beginning of my little rant here. Let’s I.D. the “conspirators” first from the above mock statement from the imaginary Mississippian: Big wigs (governors, city officials, important looking people with cowboy hats on, etc.), teachers, and administrators.
Now let’s I.D. the “secret plot” that these conspirators are cooking up to get the “set of circumstances” together so they can pull some strings behind the scenes and wring their hands while laughing their dastardly laughs: make the conspirators (see above) take more money off of the backs of hard working Mississippians, certain conspirators get to suck off of public funds by doing nothing (teachers, administrators, and the school board), the conspirators take money and purposely pass kids along through public education so they remain so mentally under-prepared for the world that the conspirators can easily dupe them into continuing the conspirators’ plot to suck off wealth and ease from the Mississippi masses.
Does that stretch the meaning of the conspiracy theory? Did I make it work for my argument?
Is some of this possibly true? Yeah, you bet it is! Well, does that mean we run to the private schools, make more private schools, or pull our kids into home school so that we don’t get sucked into this circus of the public school system? No! In fact, that is the opposite of problem solving. That’s pretty much the elitist way of just ignoring the problem at hand and creating a solution that only helps the few and the others that are able to follow the few—i.e., the rich and privileged kids.
For me the real conspiracy theory here is that as Mississippians, we can’t do anything to improve a very obviously broken educational system within our state. This just simply isn’t true.
Over the past five or six years I have worked in post-secondary education (college, yo) as a writing tutor, K-12 as a substitute teacher, and then as a secondary (9-12) biology teacher. During this time I have often felt like I was ice skating uphill. Even within the university (that shall not be named) I was faced with graduates of the Mississippi public school system everyday. It was sad to see older students unable to grasp the concept of writing on fundamental levels. This is one of the many reasons I went to lower education.
The reason I bring this up is because I wanted to let you, the reader, know that I’ve been in and around the school systems for what seems like my whole life! I have seen the students whose school districts got the most money and the private school kids and how they were higher achievers in secondary and post-secondary education.
I have also seen the flip side: poor schools trying to get by with almost no liberal arts or funding are loaded with students who are just waiting for people to push them, to challenge them. But if the school is an F or even a hard D (like the high school I used to work at), the students don’t seem to care. If the state and the surrounding communities label that school as “poor” or “under achievers” then the students take that mentality with them each day.
You may not be aware of this but when a student goes to a school that everyone and their momma is talking smack about, that student is not going to really care about his or her education. I’ve seen it first hand. You should try to be the only one in the classroom trying to be a cheerleader to a classroom full of students like that. It’s hard. It’s exhausting. And it sometimes feels like you are the only one trying to push the students beyond what they are idling at.
The communities around the schools in our lovely state of Mississippi can make or break a student. The attitudes they carry about a school or district resonate inside the minds of the young, impressionable kids. We think it’s fine to vent frustrations on low test scores and point the finger at the school house, but have we ever wondered just what in the hell we have done about it? We pay taxes that go to help support our local schools. That means we have an input in our schools. This conspiracy theory that we can’t do anything is complete bull you-know-what!
Concerned parents and members of the communities can hold a school together; I’ve seen it happen, even when the school doesn’t have all the funds it needs. All it takes is a group of people standing up and actually doing something to stop the negative points of view about their local school district. You don’t have to have a child in the school to take part. If you live in that area of the state and work there, you can take part in helping improving the lives of the students going to school around you.
It’s not always the teachers not doing their jobs. It’s not always the administrators (though it pains me to say this, and if you’ve ever worked in a school you know how annoying they can be) not doing the best they can. And no, teachers and administrators are not all lining their pockets with extra state funds. It could simply be that in most cases teachers and the school districts have just become complacent. That’s easy for anyone to do in any career field. But as a community, if we stand together, we can lift up our local schools.
It’s that simple: do something about it, don’t complain about it. You have no idea the damage you do when you run your mouth about a school district.
As a bonus, here’s an extra rant:
Running to the private schools or pulling your kids into home school doesn’t change anything. I hate both of those options; in fact, I wish they were illegal. Home school not so much because sometimes there are cases where students have to be home schooled. The private schools, I feel, are unfair because not everyone can go to them.
To me living in America means that we have the privilege to get an education. I feel that that education should be given to all and that funds for public education should be divided evenly among every school in that state.
But that’s just my thoughts.