The Brain Drain

Welcome aboard, IHL Commissioner Glenn Boyce! In a talk at the Stennis Institute of Government, Boyce claimed that access to higher education in Mississippi is phenomenal, but that too few students are prepared to complete their undergraduate degrees. The brain drain in Mississippi doesn’t merely result from our best and brightest students leaving the state; it results from the fact that too may students from Mississippi go to college and drop out.

Commissioner Boyce, I can help you with this. Give every MSMS a free ride to a public university in Mississippi. It’ll cost you less than $400,000, and you’ll have a cohort of scholarship recipients far less likely to drop out before completing their degrees.

On a related note, a recent study determined that those planning for a career in nursing are far more likely to stay in Mississippi than those who get degrees in STEM fields. I can understand the former–the sick will always be with us–but why the latter?

Posted in Education | 10 Comments

For Readers of The Hate You Give

Following a recent class discussion of Angie Thomas’ The Hate You Give, I received an email from a student wanting to know if we could revisit a death scene in the beginning of the book from the perspective of the police officer who does the shooting. Here’s part of the email:

First off, I don’t understand why the police officer is so heavily blamed for shooting Khalil. If you were in the police officer’s shoes and if you were to tell a black man (that you were already pretty suspicious of) to not move and you were to hear his car door open, would you not panic and react a similar way? That police officer clearly told him not to move and Khalil had to have known to do everything that the police says (especially since they tend to normally act more harshly towards black people). What would you do if you tell a black man (even if he wasn’t black! a man in general) not to move while you go back to your car and then hear his car door open. Not to mention that it was clearly late at night and black people are normally more difficult to see at night. So basically you just see this shadow going into his car. You have absolutely no idea what he was doing. The police officer probably thought that Khalil was going to pull out a gun or something. And then it would’ve been the police officer dead.

The student raises valid points about what takes place in the novel. (We later find out that the officer had seen something he feared was a pistol in the victim’s car. It turned out to be the handle of a hair brush.) So here’s the question: how can police manage tense situations like these in ways that prevent them from escalating to the use of deadly force?

AN ADDENDUM:  Based on conversations I’ve eavesdropped in Hooper, I can tell that this post strikes a nerve. Please keep the necessity for civility in mind if you post on this topic. The student made the inquiry in the spirit of open-minded and genuine curiosity. It wouldn’t be fair to ostracize anyone for that. Remember this as well: if you can’t convince other people you’re right, you may as well be wrong. Civility in discourse will win the day more often than not.

Posted in National Politics, Race in Mississippi | 14 Comments

Buckle Up. The First Draft of Next Year’s Budget is In

The Clarion-Ledger has reported that the first draft of next year’s budget is in. Republican leaders are “unapologetic” about the fact that it comes in at $76 million less than last year’s budget.

House Speaker Phil Gunn has reiterated that government must ever and always appreciate the need for efficiency in spending citizens’ money. I am certain that taxpayers want their money spent wisely. However, I am not certain that the state can continue to spend less, but to expect more from its agencies. This budget essentially kicks the can down the road when it comes to improving the state’s infrastructure. There’s a 4% cut for universities, and a whopping 39% cut to the Mississippi Development Authority. The budget also institutes a 3.9% cut to general education and administration, which is one source of funding for MSMS.

I respect the fact that most taxpayers don’t want to spend more on government. However, I wonder if we have reached a tipping point when it comes to balancing efficiency and legitimate expenditures. To wit: in a global economy, where we must compete with people from around the world for jobs and scholarships and development opportunities, when will our leaders see education, infrastructure, and development as investments rather than obligations? It would appear that we would rather starve on a penny than work for a pound.

Posted in Politics | 14 Comments

And People Wonder Why I Make Jokes about Alabama

I have no idea whether Roy Moore sexually assaulted teenage girls when he was a prosecutor in his early thirties. However, the reactions of his supporters are as politically tone deaf as refusing to remove a monument of the ten commandments from the state’s judicial building, or telling probate judges to ignore the Obergefell v. Hodges ruling.

Moore sounds like a caricature of an early twentieth century Dixie demagogue, but the abuse of power by a prosecutor is no laughing matter. Nor is sexual assault. Thank goodness Moore lives on the other side of our state line.

Posted in Gender Issues, National Politics, Politics | 24 Comments

I Wish This Were Sci-Fi

Regardless of whether you believe climate change is natural or caused by humans, it appears that a new, worldwide health crisis looms: as layers of permafrost get warmer, microbes that had been trapped in twenty-degree chunks of earth and water may come oozing to the surface. Already, a peculiar ear infection that eats holes through the eardrums of its hosts has struck children in a specific part of Greenland. One scientist, Jean-Michel Claverie, fears even more insidious possibilities, according to a recent piece in theatlantic.com: “‘No one really understands why Neanderthals went extinct,’ Claverie said. Sometimes, he catches himself when talking about these possible permafrost-locked diseases—they may have threatened humans or human relatives in the past, he’ll say. Then, he’ll change tense, emphasizing that they could do so again.”

In a way, then, it doesn’t matter where we lay the blame for climate change. What matters is having the political fortitude to try to do something about it.

Posted in National Politics, Science | 18 Comments

Making the Grade

While perusing the Mississippi Department of Education’s budget presentation for the 2019 Fiscal Year, I noticed several items that will make citizens proud. Our graduation rate has never been higher, and statewide assessments indicate two consecutive years of better scores. Yet we must acknowledge that our state’s school systems still face significant challenges. Mississippi’s eleventh graders averaged a meager 18 composite on the ACT, and we have far too many districts that do not prepare their students for success in college, or equip them with the skills needed to work immediately after high school. (I’m also somewhat disheartened that the document lists full MAEP formula funding as a legislative goal. I’d love for that to happen, obviously, but it’s simply not a political reality, and putting it in the presentation highlights the disconnect between MDE and the legislature.)

Clearly, your adult leaders could serve you more capably. I’d like to invite you to consider Mississippi’s problems with education as legislators prepare for the opening of the next session. After all, you’ve seen those systems from the inside out. How do we fix broken school systems? How should we deal with districts that repeatedly underserve their students? What do we want schools to teach students?

Posted in Education, Politics | 18 Comments

Pop the Bubble

As most of you know, I am a recovering journalist who deeply appreciates the old adage that if you’re not rocking the boat, you’re not doing your job. When journalists don’t ask difficult questions, they don’t just fail their readers, they fail democracy.

This philosophy also informs the way I teach. Although I insist on civil discussions, I assign material that can confront pleasant sensibilities. The classroom can be an ideal place to learn how to disagree with peers and authority figures in a respectful manner–which is why the Biloxi School District’s decision to pull To Kill A Mockingbird from its middle school curriculum perplexes me. Does the district bubble wrap students during recess? Are they afraid that being challenged is the same thing as being scorned? Do they give high school diplomas, or school participation trophies? Without learning how to confront adversaries in a civil manner–that is, without learning to behave as Atticus Finch behaves–no education is complete.

Harper Lee’s book, of course, is racially charged.

So is everything else in Mississippi.

Discussing either the novel or the state’s affairs requires all sorts of discretion and empathy, which are skills that good teachers model, and that good school districts encourage.

Update: The school district reversed itself and decided to include To Kill a Mockingbird in its curriculum. Good for them.

Posted in Books, Education, Race in Mississippi | 23 Comments

“Borrowing” a Few Moments of Somebody Else’s Time

Help me understand. How can people who have cell phones that cost hundreds of dollars claim that they’re too broke to pay for the films they watch on those devices? How can people at any level of income justify watching pirated material?

My friend Michael Williams, an independent filmmaker based in Mississippi, is watching sales of his work suffer because pirates have put it on streaming sites. Michael is young, talented, and infectiously creative. Why is the electronic world so ambivalent about his well-being?

Posted in Arts, Pop Culture | 24 Comments

When Will the Pendulum Swing to the Middle?

I’ve been trying to make sense of Roy Moore’s victory in the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Jeff Sessions. Moore, in case you didn’t know, is a former Alabama judge who was censured for having a display of the ten commandments in his courtroom. He also believes that homosexuality should be illegal, that Muslims should not be allowed to hold public office, and the September 11 attacks were God’s punishment for an America that has strayed too far from a righteous path.

What do voters find appealing about such ideas? Nobody can articulate it. A Republican strategist claims that “the activist, angry wing of the GOP … doesn’t care about progress or making America great again. It lives and breathes on anger and resentment. That’s a difficult movement to direct and control.” If that’s accurate, the long-term consequences for the two-party system–and for the tax code, the entitlement system, health care, and the national defense–will be life changing.

With the pending announcement of Mississippi’s Chris McDaniels to run for statewide or national office, understanding how Moore won the primary is paramount.

Posted in National Politics | 13 Comments

The A Words

Just curious: should we consider appropriation and assimilation dirty words? Could we make just as compelling a case that they constitute forms of flattery?

Posted in Pop Culture, Race in Mississippi | 33 Comments