Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Louisiana is Different

They say the South is different, and I've lived in the South, and they're right. Of course, the people who say that ("They") don't live in the South, and when they say "different," what they really mean is "weird," if not "backward." They're just trying to be what passes for polite among Yankees. And they're half-right about that, too. The South is weird--especially once you get outside the cities that have been infiltrated for decades by Yankees looking to escape the winter, and get out into the real country. As for "backward," well...I've seen some behavior on New York City subways that defies the laws of natural selection--forget about mere civilization.

But Louisiana is a whole different kind of different...and weird. As evidence, I offer these Honest To God Real Things That Were Said To Me Today:

"Everybody hunts. I mean, you never seen so much camoflauge in your life. Everybody hunts. We've even got a day in spring called "report card day," which is just the start of squirrel season, is what it is. But we call it "report card day" because no one's showing up to school that day anyway, so we just made it a day off. And we've had kids expelled from school for bringing in guns, because they been out hunting in the morning before school, and forgot they still had their guns in the back of their trucks."

"I had to marry off two daughters, and the first thing you gotta do if you're planning a wedding is, first you gotta check the LSU schedule to see when there's a game. That's first. Then you gotta check to make sure it's not the opening of any hunting season. That's second. And then...well, honestly, what you ought to do is just say: Hey, y'all, first rainy weekend in March, that's when we're having it."

"People come here, and all they want to see is alligators. They think we got alligators crawling all over the place here, like I got an alligator in my back yard, which I don't. Course, my neighbor does, but I think that's cause she must have fed it once, and it just keeps on coming back. Speaking of which, look over there, off the side of the road--there's one right there! I can see his eyes!"

"I think you're doing a wonderful job and this session is great, but could you not use the GD word? Please? If you don't mind?"

This last was said to me twice--by a man and a woman. I don't think I said "goddamned" in the presentation, which was my first guess at what "GD" was. I think it must just have been the word "God," as used thusly: "We don't want our kids to look at the test and say, 'Oh, my God, how am I ever going to finish this?'" I was, of course, humble and repentent, and tried to watch my heathenish tongue thereafter.

The school leadership is struggling with low performance and a non-academic culture, very similar to what I encountered (and blogged about earlier) in Hawaii:

"You know what they say about things here: Laissez les bon temps roullez. And it's true. Lot of people, all they want to do is drink beer, watch the game, hunt...and you don't have to work hard to manage that, most of the time. They say, 'I'm just gonna work on my daddy's farm--who cares if I can read Shakespeare?' Or they go down to the coast and work the fishing boats. And they can make a lot of money there--a lot of money. And that's fine when they're in their 20s, 30s, maybe up to 40. But what are they gonna do then? Or what if they break a leg and can't work the boats anymore? They've got no options, and we're not raising them to have any options."

The woman who said the piece above also told me that there's a real fear of college and academic achievement among some parents, because they worry that they're going to lose their children. The kids will go off to school, acquire different ideas and different tastes, move to the city somewhere, and be utterly lost to them forever. So they don't push them academically, and they adopt a "this is good enough" attitude. Which for some kids is fine--what they have here is good enough to satisfy them (while it lasts). But the kids aren't being given the chance to have any other dreams. Their parents have dreamed their dreams for them, and no other dreams are necessary.

Whatever happend to, "I spent my whole life working at the _____ (insert back-breaking manual job) so you wouldn't have to"? Have we really replaced that with "If it was good enough for me, it's good enough for you"?

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