By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – I read with interest the post by Baldilocks about the kids in the United Kingdom who can’t tell time.  It seems difficult to believe, doesn’t it?  But, it’s true and it’s true here in America too.  I teach in an American high school and I have kids who can’t tell time on a regular clock and who can’t read cursive.

That’s not to say it’s true with all kids, but there is a large majority of them that this is the case.

Leaning toward academics, I also have students who have never read a book voluntarily.  Let that sink in. I encounter on a daily basis any number of kids who have never voluntarily picked up a book and read it.  On any subject.

Even worse? Under the Common Core curriculum that is not likely to change.  Our ELA supervisor has told us “we will probably never return to teaching or reading entire novels in English.”

I’ve been reading Kelly Gallagher’s Readicide (2009) and at every page I’m both sickened but also seeing exactly what he is saying in practice every single day.

Administrators and supervisors will say that we aren’t “teaching the test” and that if we follow the Common Core curriculum faithfully that it won’t be necessary to teach the test, but look at what we give kids to read: chunks of text.  Pages of articles culled from Common Lit or from news sources.  Non-fiction articles.  These are followed by endless graphic organizers, analysis, sticky notes, highlighting in multiple colors, and mind-numbing multiple choice questions.

Unless kids read on their own, they aren’t reading for fun anymore.

In our eleventh-grade syllabus, they read only a few chapters of The Great Gatsby, not the entire novel.  This is true across the board for novels in high school.

To me, this is criminal.

Gallagher’s thesis is that kids will never become life-long readers under this practice and he builds his case with research and data throughout his book.  Consider also that the group this most affects are those kids in poverty who start out their educational experience through American public schools in “word poverty” because there are very few, if any, books in the home and they have not been read to often enough to build a large vocabulary.  They start out at a disadvantage which we make worse by eliminating pleasure reading in class.

I went to a literacy convention one year and met a lady who said that each year at Halloween, instead of giving out candy, she gives out books.  What a cool thing to do!  She said that at first the kids were surprised and a little irritated but once she looked out her window and saw a little girl reach into her bag to see what it was, and then she sat on the curb and started paging through the book.

What a wonderful gift it is to give a child the gift of reading!

As an educator, that’s what I strive to do, despite the constraints of Common Core.  There’s a large part of me that rebels at being part of the problem.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.  Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25.

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – Can I just beat this drum one more time?

Let’s talk about the American public school system just once more, because I’m just not seeing the outrage that I would expect to see if parents really knew what was going on in classrooms with regard to curriculum.

In the first place, why do people think Common Core is gone?  I’ve seen over and over on social media that “we aren’t using Common Core” – in whatever state you’re in.  Perhaps some are not, but be very clear: even if your curriculum in your state is Louisiana Believes or Iowa Core, or whatever it is, it’s still Common Core.

What is wrong with Common Core?

A lot.

Common Core is scripted lessons.

Common Core is sterile, pre-made PowerPoint slides.

Common Core is 75% non-fiction.

Common Core is unrelenting standardized testing, some of which take three days to complete.

Common Core is stripped of teacher creativity and innovation.

Common Core is the heavy hand of Big Brother threatening to enter your classroom at any given time to ask which scripted lesson you are on and to examine your scripted teacher notes to be sure you’re reading them and that you are not altering the pre-made slides.  Woe be unto you that do these things:  you’ll get marked down on your evaluation rubric.

A spinoff of Common Core is the PLC, or Professional Learning Community, where teachers meet to discuss “data” from tests and work together to determine how to improve student learning.

Some states, like Louisiana for example, have no ELA textooks (we can’t have those kids reading fiction now, can we?) and instead work from reams and reams of copies from the curriculum department.  It’s a paper nightmare.

The result of all this?  Frustrated kids. Frustrated teachers.  Kids learning only how to take a test.

Meanwhile, we are lining the pockets of people like Pearson who distribute these tests.

Why is there a national teacher shortage?  It’s not just about low pay.  I’d venture to say that’s not it at all. Most teachers go into the profession knowing the pay is low – that’s not why we teach.  It’s been low since the beginning of time and, trust me on this, we all know that teachers will never make the kind of scratch a basketball player or a football player makes.

No, teachers are leaving the profession at an alarming rate because they don’t get to teach any more.  Anyone can read a script, right?  Anyone can pull up the state mandated slides and read them, right?

Why are parents putting up with this canned curriculum business?  What are their kids learning?

I’ve long been a believer and supporter of public education but if I had a child in the public school system right now, and they were under Common Core, we’d be homeschooling or I’d sell my soul to get into private school.

Can someone explain why we are still putting up with this?

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.  Follow her on Instagram at @patbecker25.

By:  Pat Austin

The Shadows on the Teche. Now owned by The National Trust.

SHREVEPORT – I was traveling last week and because of that (and in honor of Pete’s 30-year anniversary!) I didn’t post.  Where was I?

We went to New Iberia, Louisiana to attend the Books Along the Teche Literary Festival.  We were there with people from at least twelve other states in the nation including Colorado, Michigan, Iowa, and Rhode Island as well as from several other countries.  The three-day event was filled with a variety of activities, seminars, discussion panels, bus tours, swamp tours, dinners, dance lessons, film screenings, an art show, a performance theater, bourrée lessons, and an authors and artisans fair. The great southern writer Ernest Gaines was there and read from his latest book which was awesome. It wasn’t possible to do everything, but we tried.

I wrote about the festival on my own blog and there was so much I had to split it into two posts.

And that didn’t allow us much time to take advantage of the other great tourist attractions in the area like the Tabasco Factory tour (we did that), Jungle Gardens (did that), Jefferson Island, the Conrad Rice Mill tour, and branching out from that, the surrounding communities are filled with history and things to see, like St. Martinville, St. Francisville, Loreauville, etc.  And yes, New Orleans is not that far away, nor is Baton Rouge.  Those places are already well-known for their tourist attractions.

But New Iberia has stolen my heart.  We hear a lot in this part of the country (I’m in northwest Louisiana) about southern hospitality, but New Iberia takes it to a new level.  New Iberia isn’t known for being a tourist town in the way Natchitoches is, for example.  But it should be.

Why? There was one point in the evening on our last night there that I decided that if I ever lost faith in humanity, or got frustrated with life, I just need to come to New Iberia because there is such a true joie de vivre in everyone’s face it makes you happy just to be there. It’s in their daily interactions, in their lives, it restores your faith in people. Plus, it’s just beautiful country.

Bayou Teche runs 135-miles through the area; ancient live oaks hug the banks and are literally dripping with Spanish moss.  The land is often flat and you see sugar cane fields, crawfish farms, and flooded rice fields.  The air smells like salt blowing in from the Gulf and the sky turns a bruised purple in the evening when the sun begins to sink into the west. We danced under the stars to cajun fiddle players and zydeco bands; we ate alligator, catfish, boudin, maque choux, etoufee, gumbo, and shrimp. What’s not to love?

We didn’t know one soul when we arrived and when we left I felt like I have a whole new cadre of friends.  One couple we met told us that when we come back we are more than welcome to stay with them. “We have an extra bedroom!” she said.  And she meant it.

Everyone we talked to, from the shopkeepers, convenience store clerks, waitresses, residents, everyone, truly engages with you when they talk to you.  It’s not just, “Oh how are you doing, glad you’re here,” kind a thing and move on.  They look you in the eye, listen to you, ask questions, engage.  They remember.  And they dance, they laugh, they love, they share wide open.

In the end, the book festival was just lagniappe to the true treasures of New Iberia.

If you’re planning to hit the road this spring or summer, consider a trip to south Louisiana.  New Iberia is easy to get to; it’s just south of Lafayette.  I know I’ll be back many, many times.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.  Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25.

Huddie Ledbetter in Shreveport, Louisiana

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT —  Just over a year ago I noted that the slippery slope was real with regard to the movement to remove historical monuments and place names once the Confederate monuments started falling at the whim of New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu.  Landrieu, you may recall, after a conversation with musician Wynton Marsalis whose great-uncle hated the Lee Monument, decided to take four monuments down.

About that same time, the radical group “Take ‘Em Down NOLA” released their target list for street names, buildings, monuments, hospitals, schools, etc., that are now offensive and must change which included New Orleans Touro Hospital and Tulane University.  Not content with the removal of four prominent monuments, the group is still protesting in NOLA.  Now they want the statue of New Orleans founder, Bienville, to come down and the iconic Andrew Jackson statue in Jackson Square which commemorates his victory at the 1812 Battle of New Orleans.

The lesson here is that these groups will never, ever be satisfied and there is no clear end to what they want to erase.  There’s no end plan.

Now, the craziness has spread all the way to California where in Arcata they are planning to take down a monument to President William McKinley for “directing the slaughter of Native peoples…”.  And it continues:

Other states are joining the movement. The city of Kalamazoo, Mich., said last month it would take down a park monument of a Native American in a headdress kneeling before a westward-facing pioneer. In Alcalde, N.M., and El Paso, statues of the conquistador Juan de Oñate have become subjects of renewed debate.

In Baltimore, a city councilman has vowed to replace a smashed Columbus monument with something that better reflects “current-day values.”

Where in the world does this end?

Let’s just take down all our monuments, statues, busts, everything, and start over.  Because surely we’ll all agree on what’s necessary, right?  We will all be of the same mind in who to honor in granite.

Here in Shreveport, Louisiana, we have a bronze statue of Captain Henry Miller Shreve on the riverfront; he is honored for breaking up the great log jam in the Red River and opening it back up to navigation by 1839.  But, Shreve never actually lived in Shreveport, so let’s pull him down!  Let’s put up a monument to someone who actually lived here!  (insert sarcasm).

Is that too trivial a reason to remove a monument?  Says who?  Who gets to make the rules?

In downtown Shreveport we have a bronze statue of musician Huddie Ledbetter standing on the curb in front of the library.  Why don’t we remove that one too, while we’re at it?  After all, he was imprisoned multiple times for violent offenses!  Pull him down!

I really don’t want this to happen – I love Leadbelly’s music.

The point is, at some point we have to return to reason and set aside our offended sensibilities.  What happened to all of those “Coexist” bumper stickers?  When did we stop believing that?  The message was that we need to learn to live together in peace.  I guess that’s not a priority any longer?

We can sift through all of our collective history as a nation and as people and there is no doubt we will find many things that offend us.  Our leaders, generals, presidents, all those we have memorialized in bronze, granite, acrylic, oil, marble, and in print, were not perfect people and sometimes they made poor choices in both their public and private lives but the point is that they brought us where we are today.  They were a product of their time and we can not judge them by today’s sensibilities.

By destroying these monuments or by hiding them, we learn nothing except that those who whine loudest win.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.  Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and on Twitter @paustin110.

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – In a rare partnership and an attempt to revitalize “local journalism,” the New York Times and NOLA/The Times Picayune have partnered to produce a series of excellent articles on the vanishing Louisiana coastline.  This is a subject near and dear to my heart; here in Louisiana we have been talking about the fragile coastline for decades and most of the time it seems that solutions are simply hopeless.

When talking about Louisiana’s endangered coastline, the issue quickly becomes so politically charged it is difficult to get to the straight facts and to make progress.  Through the years we have blamed both big oil, farming, civilization, hurricanes, and global warming.  The finger-pointing right now seems to be the rising sea levels due to glacial melting.

Whatever the cause, the fact is that the coastline is vanishing so fast that we may not be able to save it.

The coastline is “…like disintegrating lace…”

That’s how the series authors describe what’s left of the land and marsh that make up Louisiana’s southern parishes.

In this series we are introduced to various communities and people in south Louisiana who are watching not only their land but also their homes, their culture and their way of life disappear.

It’s heartbreaking and it doesn’t appear there are any clear answers.  No amount of money thrown at this problem will be able to solve it.

The authors point fingers at a number of culprits: rising sea levels due to climate change, a series of destructive storms, oil companies who built and widened canals but never repaired them when they left, the construction of levees to control the Mississippi which stopped natural land formation from spring floods, and even plagues of insects and rodents who destroy vegetation.

This article about the community of Jean Lafitte, located just south of New Orleans, chronicles the efforts of the long time mayor, Timmy Kerner, who has adopted the strategy of improving his community to the point that it would be more economically feasible to save it from erosion than to let it go:

His strategy was to secure so much public investment for Jean Lafitte that it would eventually become too valuable to abandon. In a decade, he had built a 1,300-seat auditorium, a library, a wetlands museum, a civic center and a baseball park. Jean Lafitte did not have a stoplight, but it had a senior center, a medical clinic, an art gallery, a boxing club, a nature trail and a visitor center where animatronic puppets acted out the story of its privateer namesake.

Some of the facilities had been used sparingly, and many at the grand opening questioned whether the seafood pavilion would be much different. To the mayor that was largely beside the point. What mattered was that the structure existed, that its poured concrete and steel beams made Lafitte that much more permanent. “Do we lose that investment, or do we protect it?” Kerner asked…

The authors, Kevin Sack and John Schwartz, point out that a fourth of our wetlands are already gone and in fifty years 2,000 square miles could also go.  In human terms:

The Gulf Restoration Network, a nonprofit conservation group, calculates that there are 358,000 people and 116,000 houses in Louisiana census tracts that would be swamped in the surge of a catastrophic hurricane by 2062. The Geological Survey predicts that in 200 years the state’s wetlands could be gone altogether.

As Sack and Schwartz report it, the community of Jean Lafitte and everything else south of that New Orleans levee has basically been abandoned to the elements, “left to the tides,”  with the Corps of Engineers advocating relocation of the people.  But that’s not to say that nobody is trying to solve the problem. There are lots of committees, levee boards, ecologists, politicians, environmentalists, and other experts working to find and agree on solutions.  And then there is the ever present problem of funding.

There are so many factors at play in this issue.

After you read about the community of Jean Lafitte, be sure you read this article about the Leeville community on Bayou Lafourche and the cemeteries that are washing out to sea.  It’s heartbreaking:

As Talbot explores the shore line, he finds a stone beneath the water, Thursday, August 24, 2017, and traces his fingers deeper into the mud for an inscription. “There’s definitely something here,” he says. After several serious tugs the stone pivots enough to break the surface, then fully erect, covered in a thick, brown sludge. Water streaks paths down the face of the stone. A moment of awe envelopes him. Talbot splashes handfuls of bayou water against the stone and slowly history is resurrected. “FRANCOIS GUILBEAU – Decedee 24 Janvier 1901 – age de 99 ans.” Over time, the Lefort Cemetery in Leeville, Louisiana has born the brunt of the worst that man and nature can bestow upon a coastal environment.

While there are plenty of problems in Louisiana and we’ve long been known for our notorious politicians and various aspects of corruption, (and tell me where, please, will you NOT find that?) this is one issue on which we should all be united.  Whether you believe in global warming or climate change or not, whether you believe this land loss is due to greedy oil companies and their negligence, or whether you believe it’s just a natural course of events, this just can’t be allowed to happen.

There are few places more beautiful in my mind than south Louisiana. The swamps, the bayous, the people and their way of life, is unlike anywhere else.  It is unique.

There has got to be a way to restore and preserve our coastline and our state.

The photography and the writing in this series is top notch and should be required reading. If you have a good source or recommendation for further reading on this, please share with me in the comments!

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.  Follow her on Instagram at patbecker25.

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – Textbook? Or not textbook?  With apologies to William Shakespeare, that is the question in public education.

Some school districts are ditching textbooks; case in point, consider the Life Sciences Secondary School in Manhattan who threw away copies of math, science, and ELA texts as well as copies of Romeo and Juliet and A Streetcar Named Desire in favor of new technology and digital learning.

It is a scene right out of Fahrenheit 451:

The rejects include stacks of “Campbell Biology” — a college-level text which sells for $150 new — formerly used by kids in Advanced Placement biology. Now the AP class has a cart of laptops, and students watch videos online.

Swanson and Premo, who took the helm of the 616-student joint middle and high school in 2015, sent aides from classroom to classroom in November to collect the books. Workers also emptied book storage closets. Hundreds of tomes were tossed over the Thanksgiving break.

“They made an announcement that they were getting rid of the books because they were antiquated and outdated, and we should be using new technology,” a teacher said. “I hid some of my books to prevent them being taken.”

Did you catch that last line?  “I hid some of my books to prevent them from being taken.”  I have done the exact same thing.

This is not an extreme situation or a weird charter school going rogue.  This is happening all over the country and if it hasn’t hit your district yet, it will.  It happened in mine.

I teach in a public high school in which we aren’t allowed to use literature textbooks.  They are no longer considered top tier materials.  Instead, students are given handouts and worksheets which are duplicated en masse in our districts resource department.

It’s all part of Common Core.

Some school districts are relying on iPads, Chromebooks, and computers to fill the void, but schools without that sort of technology just use copies.

Common Core advocates sing the praises of this:

Fortunately, teaching without a traditional text has had unintended benefits. It has forced teachers to unpack standards and think deliberately about what strategies can be used to teach both content and practice standards. A sophomore teacher who once taught ratios and proportions “by the book” was pushed to think about the progression of the standards and even used the SAP Coherence Map to research how they are first introduced in sixth grade. During a recent meeting, a teacher remarked, “Writing my own questions has made me understand what the kids really need to know. Seeing structure in expressions is so much bigger than I thought.”

Moreover, we may think all of the chapters of a textbook are Common Core-aligned, but there are often topics that don’t attend to the Major Work of each grade. By ditching the textbook, we have effectively let go of non-aligned topics and opened up more time to focus in-depth on the standards.

Current studies show that students learn better from the printed, rather than digital, word.  Granted, the current generation in schools have never known a non-digital life.  They’ve had digital technology since they were born, but there still is something to be said for quiet study with a text – one you can annotate, highlight, think about, refer back to.  This just doesn’t happen with a digital text which is so temporary in nature.

And the printed copies, well, they’re just “handouts.”  That’s how the student see them: worksheets.

There is so much wrong with all of this that there isn’t enough space here to get into it all, from the psychology of the temporary text to the manipulation of big government into my classroom.  What about the costs?  Is it cheaper to keep making copies every term for every student?  Or is it more expensive? How fast does the technology get outdated and have to be updated? Upgraded?  Maintained?  What about technology interruptions? There is an entire field of science about how technology has changed the hard-wiring of our brains.

This line from the aforementioned article bothers me:

“It has forced teachers to unpack standards and think deliberately about what strategies can be used to teach both content and practice standards.”

Get past the lingo: “unpack the standards” and what you have is sort of insulting.  We’re going to take away your textbooks which you rely too heavily on and force you to think about your job.

Am I being too defensive?  Perhaps.  But as twenty-three year teaching veteran I can tell you that these fads come and go every five years or so.  This is the current new thing.  Soon we will see the value in textbooks again.  We will discover that reading only two chapters of The Great Gatsby rather than the entire novel has been a tragic mistake.  We will understand that kids need the printed word in their hand, in a book to take home, to properly learn and synthesize material.

Wishful thinking.

All I know for sure right now is that public education is in a dire, dangerous place.  How we got to this point is no longer as important as figuring out how to get back to solid ground.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport. Follow her on Instagram at @patbecker25.

By: Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT — New Orleans Mayor Landrieu is publicizing his new book which is out March 20 and as the mayor blusters and pontificates all over the media, one can’t help but consider how he relished the monument drama as fuel for future book sales.

Last week he spoke to the press about his plans for the sites in New Orleans that previously held Confederate monuments.  It’s been about a year since Landrieu had four monuments removed: the monument at Liberty Place was taken in the dead of night. In the following days and weeks Landrieu also removed those of  Jefferson Davis, P.G.T. Beauregard, and Robert E. Lee, leaving blighted public areas and empty pedestals in their place.

During Mardi Gras, he placed a ring of porta-potties around Lee Circle.

The whole issue still makes me angry when I think about it.  My position has always been that these monuments represent history and to destroy public art does not change that history or make it disappear.  Landrieu never engaged the opposing side in any of his plans, an effort that certainly would have been better for the city and reduced tension.  But that wouldn’t have sold as many books.

At these sites, Mayor Landrieu plans to place an American flag where the Jefferson Davis monument stood.  As for Lee Circle, he’s deferring that to others to decide.  At the Beauregard site, the City Park Improvement Association will landscape and clean up the area and the pedestal will be removed.  Nothing will go where the Liberty Place monument was.

Landrieu says that those companies who didn’t make their equipment available to him to remove the statues were practicing “industrial racism” and he continues to insult the ancestors of a great number of southerners:

“Really what these monuments were, were a lie,” Landrieu told Cooper on “60 Minutes. “Robert E. Lee was used as an example to send a message to the rest of the country, and to all the people that lived here, that the Confederacy was a noble cause. And that’s just not true.”

It’s difficult to know what to say to people who refuse to see both sides of history.  And I’m a little embarrassed for him for being so blind and uninformed.

The entire monument removal fiasco was questionable on many levels and many questioned various legal aspects of the project, including who paid for the removal, why city workers were used to remove the monuments, and who was behind the foundation that funded part of the removal.

He said the monuments belong in museums but a year later they are still crated up in some city warehouse.

That Landrieu is kicking the can down the road with regard to the placement of the monuments themselves should surprise no one.  As Mike Bayham points out, Landrieu wants to go on his book tour as the guy who removed the monuments, “not rearranged them.”

But you can rest assured that whenever (or if ever) Davis, et al leave the city warehouse, Landrieu will be basking in the klieg lights of the media to criticize wherever they go, because that’s his racket and sole source of relevancy in the national media.

Instead of transferring the statues to an appropriate historic venue that would secure and maintain them, New Orleans is going to be treated to a new round of acrimonious bickering in shouting matches euphemistically labeled “listening sessions”, with the fringes of both sides being prominently featured by the media. Dragging things out benefits Landrieu’s national stature, though not the incoming New Orleans government, which should be focused on the quality of life matters that will be left festering on their doorstep.

While New Orleans is one of the most historic, vibrant, and beautiful cities in the South, it has suffered greatly under Landrieu’s tenure.  Crime has been out of control and the mayor has made little effort to do anything about that.  He is now a lame duck as he prepares to step aside for the new mayor elect, LaToya Cantrell, a Democrat who won the election with 60.4% of the vote.

One hopes that the incoming administration will deal with this issue with more finesse than Landrieu has done.

Here is the 60-Minutes transcript if you missed it.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport; follow her on Instagram at @patbecker25 and Twitter at paustin110.

 By:  Pat Austin

Louisiana State Capital

SHREVEPORT – Louisiana is facing a $994 million fiscal gap if the legislature can’t break gridlock in the current special session which ends Wednesday.

Expiring sales tax laws are primarily the culprit for the shortfall but many contend that years of Bobby Jindal’s shell games are also partly to blame.

Whatever the cause, everything is now on the table for cuts: hospitals, law enforcement, higher education, college scholarships, you name it.

Republicans have a majority in both the House and the Senate, but votes are needed from both sides to pass any kind of legislation at this point that will break the gridlock that has crippled this session.

So far, little has been agreed upon but by the end of last week momentum began to pick up and the following bills were agreed upon by the House and moved to the Senate:

HB 3 by Rep. Frank Hoffmann, which would require able-bodied Medicaid recipients work or volunteer to keep their eligibility, although there is some wiggle room in terms of how strongly it would be enforced.

HB 2 by Rep. Tony Bacala, which aims to combat Medicaid fraud by allowing the legislative auditor access to recipient tax returns.

HB 27 by Rep. Pat Smith, which would implement a 60-cent-per-year tax for accessibility programs for the deaf.

HB 10 by Rep. Ted James, which would increase federal income tax liability by the amount someone’s federal income tax was lowered during 2016 or 2017 after claiming the federal standard or itemized deduction for certain net disaster losses. It’s supposed to help flood victims from the 2016 March and August floods.

It seems certain that the shortfall can not be resolved without higher taxes which has been the cause of much grumbling and discontent at the water cooler and there has been discussion on who would be paying those taxes.

For the second year in a row Louisiana is at the bottom of the list of states with sound fiscal stability.

Whatever the final outcome, the lasting impression of this special session has been one of sniping, finger-pointing, and impasse.  A typical day at the office for the legislature.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport; follow her on Instagram at patbecker25

 

By:  Pat Austin

Shadows on the Teche plantation, New Iberia

SHREVEPORT —   As Zilla noted, the Boss is at CPAC and is covering all things politics, so I’m going to veer away from politics today. Living in Louisiana with a special legislative session underway, there is no shortage of political topics here, but while our legislators wreck our budget and cut funding to higher education and the other likely targets, I’m going to digress and talk about one of the positive reasons to live in Louisiana.

We have a lot of festivals!  We love to eat and to have fun!  Louisiana is absolutely beautiful in the spring!  Put all that together and we have the Books Along the Teche Literary Festival in April!  Books and literary festivals are right up my alley: I love them!  I love book bazaars, book festivals, book fairs, the whole thing.

How perfect is this event?!  It will be in New Iberia in the spring which is in south Louisiana, below Lafayette. The festival is named for local son James Lee Burke who set his Dave Robicheaux series in New Iberia.  I’ve been a fan of his Dave Robicheaux character for years.  In fact, that’s one of the things that drew me to Michael Henry’s books; his Willie Mitchell character reminded me a lot of Dave Robicheaux.

Nearly every event at Books Along the Teche looks enticing.  On Friday, April 6, the festival starts at 9 a.m. with a food tasting and everyone knows Louisiana food is fantastic and Louisiana cooks reign.  In the afternoon there is lunch at Dave Robicheaux’s favorite cafeteria and then a tour of Iberia parish featuring Dave’s “haunts and jaunts.”

Louisiana author Ernest Gaines will be the featured guest this year and on Saturday afternoon he will lead a reading and then host a question and answer session.  Gaines is the author of A Lesson Before Dying and The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, among many other works.  The film adaptation of Miss Jane Pittman will be featured in a free screening Friday afternoon.  Now, how cool would it be to meet Ernest Gaines!

What is also at the top of my list is the Jazz it Up opening reception Friday night featuring a Cochon de Lait and a jazz band but best of all it will be held at Shadows on the Teche, the plantation home of Weeks Hall who was a friend of Lyle Saxon and a fascinating character!  A visit to this plantation is on my bucket list.

Shadows-on-the-Teche was the home of the Weeks family. Construction began in 1831 and was completed 1834 for David Weeks and his wife, Mary Clara Conrad Weeks.  According to Richard Lewis, curator of visual arts at the Louisiana State Museum in New Orleans, the land was granted to Weeks’s father, William,  in 1792 through a Spanish land grant.  William continued to purchase property throughout the area and eventually accumulated over 2,000 acres.

David Weeks and his father grew some cotton but focused primarily on sugar cane in the early 1820s. William retained carpenter James Bedell and mason Jeremiah Clark to build the Shadows but he died before the house was completed. When his widow remarried, she kept her property separate from that of her second husband. When she died the plantation passed to her son, William F. Weeks who died in 1895; then it passed to his daughters, one of whom was Lily Weeks Hall.  She died in 1918 and her son, William Weeks Hall returned to the plantation from Paris.  He acquired all family shares and at the age of 25 became the sole owner of the plantation.

Weeks Hall spent the rest of his life restoring the plantation to its original grandeur.  He used family papers and a complete set of construction records to achieve this, according to Richard Lewis in his book, Robert W. Tebbs: Photographer to Architects.  Architects Richard Koch (1889-1971) and Charles R. Armstrong (d. 1947) were retained to restore the home “to its 1830s appearance.”  When Weeks Hall died in 1959 he bequeathed the home to the National Trust for Historic Preservation.  Koch and Samuel Wilson, Jr. did restoration work for the National Trust in 1961 and since then the gardens have also been restored.

The festival will also feature an Academic Symposium in which Professor of English at University of Lafayette, Dr. Mary Ann Wilson will present Ode to a Lost World: James Lee Burke’s Tin Roof Blowdown. She says “the title works on many levels as will my presentation pointing out the deeply moral vision of Burke as he confronts the trauma and tragedy of environmental and human disasters like Katrina all the while telling a crackerjack detective story.”

If I’m feeling brave I might even join in on the Bouree lessons, but I know from experience that playing Bouree with a bunch of Cajuns can be a risky proposition!

But seriously, If I were dreaming up the perfect festival, this would be it.

New Iberia is beautiful all of the time but especially so in the spring.  This could not be a more perfect trip and a perfect escape from winter.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport. Follow on Instagram @patbecker25.

By:  Pat Austin

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SHREVEPORT —  As a high school educator I have spent the last several years of my career lamenting the distraction that is social media in the classroom.  When I started teaching twenty-two years ago I didn’t own a cell phone.  Not many of my students did either and at that time I taught in a school with a fairly affluent student body.

Things have changed.

Schools have struggled with the rapid advancement of this technology, too.  Initially, the devices were banned from school, then banned from the classroom, then banned from being visible (“we know you have a phone, just keep it in your purse or backpack so it’s not a distraction”), and eventually we’ve ended up where classrooms are embracing cell phone technology.

There are many ways the phones can be used in the classroom and thousands of educational apps that kids can use either independently or as a class activity.

There is always some district policy on phones, then it filters to the school level, then to the classroom and at that point there is a wide diversity of how teachers deal with them.  Some have very strict “no phones!” rules, some have “cell phone jail” systems, and some just don’t care, defeated, and will turn a blind eye to it.

Social media is a big deal: there are 800 million monthly users on Instagram as of September 2017 and half of these users are between 19 and 29 years of age.  For marketing your brand, Instagram is huge, and getting bigger:

Due to the apps visual nature and high user engagement rate, Instagram is also a valuable social media marketing tool. As of March 2016, 98 percent of fashion brands had an Instagram profile. As of December 2016, average number of image brand posts on Instagram was 27.9 posts per month.

This is not your Snapchat teenager group.  As of January 2017, there were 300 million Snapchat users.  Forty-five percent of Snapchat users are between 18-24 years old.

As for Facebook, research shows that people use Facebook primarily for keeping up with family and friends. With two billion monthly active users, Facebook is still alive and well.

Twitter is still huge with over 300 million active monthly users, but Twitter’s growth has stalled.  Twitter is still very popular for news sharing and for celebrity stalking.  With American presidents using Twitter to broadcast policy these days, it’s impossible to deny Twitter’s viability, but there are some troubling signs:

Despite a steady revenue growth – the company’s 2016 revenue amounted to 2.5 billion U.S. dollars, up from 2.2 billion in the preceding fiscal year – Twitter has yet to report a positive net income. In 2016, it’s annual net loss amounted to almost 457 million U.S. dollars.

These are all very big numbers and it’s clear that social media is the new frontier for pushing your brand.  I’ve spent some time researching Instagram over the past few days and experimenting with my own feed.  I started an Instagram account several years ago only to keep up with photos of my new grandson who lives in another state.  I never posted to it and had about thirty followers.  I just enjoyed looking at everyone else’s photos. Now I’m engaging with the platform more and the followers are coming fast. (In the Instagram world I’m barely a blip on the radar when it comes to followers.)

It’s easy to see why Instagram is such an engaging platform.  Everyone has their own niche and the big brands and celebrities are there as well.  Currently, National Geographic has over 86 million followers.  Nike is right behind them.  Celebrities with huge followings include Selena Gomez with 133 million followers and Beyonce with 111 million followers.

On a more real level, people are using Instagram more than ever to promote their brand.  Consider Hilary Rushford, New York stylist and former Radio City Rockette, who decided a day job cubicle wasn’t for her and formed the Dean Street Society which is a motivational company helping people develop the best of themselves, whether it’s personal style, entrepreneurship, defining a business model, or marketing. She has 167 thousand followers and is growing fast.

So back to the classroom: how does this all tie in?  The kids in my classroom have never known a life without digital technology.  They are totally connected and invested in their phones.  Teachers today must find a way to make that work for you instead of against you.  It’s hard to engage a kid in the merits of Macbeth when they’re more interested in the latest cat video on YouTube or taking a selfie with a cute Snapchat filter.  The reality is there.  As educators we have to embrace it and work with it,  otherwise you are doomed to one semester after another of frustration.  There are many ideas out there to help figure out ways to engage students through social media.

Social media is here to stay, and it’s growing.  Make it work for you, whether you’re in the classroom or promoting your brand, blog, or posting a cat video.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.  Follow her at instagram.com/patbecker25