Wednesday, October 24, 2007


Earlier tonight, as usual, and as seems to be the norm in post-Katrina New Orleans, I was at a meeting. This one was put on by the Neighborhoods Partnership Network, and it focused on community and parental involvement in public education. I was on the panel, representing the Mid-City Neighborhood Organization, talking about our attempts to have great schools in our community. I was burnt out before the meeting started.

I'm busy. Of course, I have my job teaching Theology at Xavier, and that is time consuming, as are the many committees that go along with being a faculty member at a university. I have a big role also in the many professional organizations to which I belong, including the American Schools of Oriental Research, where I am co-VP of Program (along with Morag) and the regional secretary. I'm also working with Bobby Duke to implement a Service Learning section to the national meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature. Plus I have many publication deadlines on the horizon and overdue. I could also be a better teacher at Xavier if I had more time.

Most of today, as usual, was spent on issues of rebuilding our house. My contractor and insurance agent are feuding, and our new foundation is almost ready to be poured. We are taking out a construction to mortgage loan, and we close on Monday, and that has taken an incredible amount of work. There were big questions that needed answers about termites, plastic, concrete, and footings.

But in doing all of this other stuff to save the world and fix our house, I've neglected my family. My son Gilgamesh has been ill with bronchitis, something that I suffered with every time this year growing up. And Kalypso's grades have been slipping. There was a conference tonight that Therese attended while I was at the meeting. Therese is very busy as a teacher, and usually she gets home at 6:30 PM and is in bed by 8. This is the time that I spend at meetings, and though I wish she would stay up a bit later so we could chat, this doesn't seem too likely. So I feel like I'm spending more time with people interested in education in New Orleans than I do with my family, and that probably isn't a healthy thing.

Tonight I heard several of the pro-charter school lobby on the board talk about how charter schools are better than "traditional" schools in New Orleans. This bothered me on many levels, because there are no traditional schools left. Traditional schools to me means neighborhood schools, where teachers have been there for years, and the same students are enrolled where their older brothers and sisters attended. After Katrina, the New Orleans School Board fired all of the teachers, and no public school in New Orleans has even remotely the same student body as before the storm. Also I don't understand why students at public charters get anywhere from $1000 to $1500 more tax dollars per student than non-charter public schools. Well actually I do understand, as the powers that be want to make charters succeed to get government out of public education, but it's not fair. I'm not anti-charter schools, at least in my opinion, but when I hear so much about how charters are the answer to all of our educational problems, I feel the need to give a voice to the other side. I would honestly bring up the positive aspects of charters if I was surrounded by those adamantly against them. But it was the way that so many charters were forced upon New Orleans without community and parental consultation to which I object. I feel like I'm spinning my wheels, and I could make more of a contribution to the world by going back to what I'm an expert at, biblical studies, instead of trying to fix public education in New Orleans. With all my efforts over the past two years addressing public education in New Orleans, there really hasn't been any tangible improvements that you could say were directly due to my work. With Bobby Jindal as governor, and with the sentiment I sensed at this and other meetings, for-profit charters and school vouchers are in the cards for New Orleans for a very long time. I hope someone pays attention to the students who don't attend charters, that's all.

At times like right now, I miss my pre-Katrina life, in which I spent more time with my family, and I spent the rest in my office writing books and articles about ancient Israel and the ancient Near East.

I am overextended. I am doing many many things, but I am not doing any of them well at the moment.


LisaPal said...

Man, oh, man, do I know what you mean.

I don't think a day goes by that I don't long for my Pre-Storm Life. Even at its most complicated, it was simple compared to this. Hard as I try to have it be otherwise, my children and my students are affected to some degree and I still haven't figured out how to do it all.

Karen said...

You are probably doing a number of things well, it's just that "things" in general are not going well.

Kalypsos dip in grades may have more to do with her age than your over extended status. You have given your kids a great deal in the example you set of attempting to do the right thing.

Don't sell yourself too short.

Anonymous said...

I can't even remotely understand what you've been through, but I can say this: That still little voice inside you is telling you something.

While I agree with Karen's observations, I also think if you're feeling the way you are there's something to it. I think we all have our own little internalized warning systems, and Michael, yours is going off.

Trying to "save the world" is noble, but if it comes at the cost of losing your family, what have you accomplished? I'm sure you can still have some input into public education, but on a much lesser level.

Maybe give yourself a period of time - let's say a year - where you just focus on your family and your job. Focus on your wife during part of that hour and half she's awake each weekday and give your children the needed attention. Before you know it your children will be grown and then, well...there's no do-overs in raising children. (One of my favorite memories growing up is when my dad would just take me for a walk and talk to me.) Let your family know you're there for them - ya know just get back to basics - the *important* things.

At the end of the year (or whatever time period you've chosen), re-assess things and decide if there's time (AND energy) to take on more. If you decide to take on more at some point, I'd take a more gradual approach as opposed to jumping back in all gangbusters.

You seem like an amazing person, someone whom I have gained much respect for from just reading your blog, but please don't let all your great effort come at the cost of anything that is near and dear to you.

Wishing you the best.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, Michael. It does sound difficult. I have no wisdom to offer, although I don't really think you need that. This post is full of it. With or without answers, you're asking the right questions. Peace, darlin'.

Anonymous said...

I'm the "anon" above.

Re-reading my post, perhaps I gave too much "advice". But I meant well and still stand behind my words. My whole point was that we only get one chance to get it right. :-)