Just When You Thought New Orleans Schools Were Improving…

…you see something like this piece in the Huffington Post and you lose all your optimism.

It’s an article about a group of left-wing propagandists hard at work in the public schools in Orleans Parish who are using the middle-schoolers in their charge as fodder to spread sheer insanity. And of course, the adults responsible for managing those schools think it’s actually a good idea.

But when these 12- to 14-year-old judges delivered their verdict, the party they held chiefly responsible was the American people. And as members of a student-based school reform group called the Rethinkers, these young people now have a recommendation for New Orleans schools: Move toward becoming oil-free by 2015, the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

“If we want to prevent another oil spill, we need to start weaning ourselves off this product and begin searching for new ideas,” says ninth-grader Danny Do, whose father is a shrimper. “Now is the perfect time to get moving, and schools are a great place to start!”

This may sound about as plausible as “the dog ate my homework,” and the Rethinkers acknowledge that their vision is an ambitious one. But they have both the track record and the supporters to suggest that they are not a bunch of naïve kids who can be easily dismissed.

The press conference they held last week to announce this and other recommendations for school reform in New Orleans attracted The Times-Picayune, ABC News, and other media outlets as well as community and education leaders–notably, Paul Vallas, whose work as CEO of Chicago Public Schools was praised by President Clinton and is now superintendent of the Louisiana Recovery School District, which is focused on transforming underperforming schools into successful ones.

“Paul is obsessed with the Rethinkers and wants Rethinkers clubs in all schools,” says Siona LaFrance, Vallas’s chief of staff. “He likes that the kids are thinking and challenging authority, and that all of their suggestions are based on a lot of consideration. And he likes that this is a continuing effort.”

The article goes on to describe a withering array of psychobabble and lunacy being foisted on Orleans school kids by these “Rethinkers,” including a campaign to do away with sporks in school cafeterias, replacing metal detectors with “mood detectors,” namely, student hall monitors who assess kids as they come to school to see if they’re dangerous and getting more toilet paper into schools (as though kids can’t come up with all kinds of uses for toilet paper beyond what schools buy it for).

There’s even a quote from the founder of this movement which might cause an aneurism among our more susceptible readers…

“I say to the kids, ‘You live in a country where people don’t respect kids. If we’re trying to give dignity to your voice, we have to give you something to talk about where you are the stone-cold expert. There is no one on Earth who can say you’re not an expert on schools.'”

So it’s hardly a surprise when one of these child abusers, who learned her craft at Middlebury College in Vermont and describes herself as a “community organizer,” decides to leverage the oil spill into an assault on the industry in South Louisiana which offers perhaps the most lucrative employment opportunities available to kids in Orleans schools. Meet Mallory Falk…

“We know “oil-free schools” sounds easy to dismiss because it’s such a big vision,” notes Mallory Falk, a recent Middlebury College graduate and community organizer who came to New Orleans to work with the Rethinkers. “That is why our focus over the coming year is to come up with realistic, practical ways for schools to move toward being oil-free.”

This year, for example, they have offered four simple suggestions: Start measuring energy waste (including air conditioners set too high and lights left on unnecessarily), form student green teams to identify ways to reduce waste and convince other kids to get with the program, eliminate the use of incandescent light bulbs, and recycle.

A simple beginning, but stay tuned. The Rethinkers plan to meet throughout the new school year to develop more specifics. And they have already received a grant from the U.S. Green Building Council to film a documentary about their experience.

It’s bad enough that these people are sinking their hooks into school kids in the first place. What’s worse – unforgiveably so – is that the brains they’re poisoning with the ridiculous and poisonous ideas they’re pushing are Orleans public school kids. These are overwhelmingly at-risk students; Orleans is beginning to see a renaissance in education thanks to the advent of school choice and competition since Katrina, but dropout rates are still high and test scores are still low. And Orleans public school kids are still very economically disadvantaged, still in desperate need of marketable skills and still disproportionately lacking in strong parental guidance.

In other words, while it would be bad enough if kids in Montgomery County, Maryland or Beverly Hills were subjected to left-wing pablum like the Rethinkers push, they’re doing this to some of the most vulnerable children in America.

These kids are 12, 13 and 14 years old. Before attempting to turn them into environmentalist freaks, has this cabal insured that they read at grade level? Can they certify their charges in basic math? Can these kids find Omaha on a map? Do they know the difference between a federalist and an anti-federalist?

Didn’t think so.

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