The last national survey of adult literacy prior to Hurricane Katrina found 40 percent of New Orleans adults reading at or below the sixth-grade level and another 30 percent at or below the eighth-grade level. During the three years before the hurricane, New Orleanians watched as public meetings of its elected school board became models of incivility, where the politically connected struggled for control of contracts and patronage and self-appointed activists ridiculed school officials, board members, and fellow citizens who were attempting to raise the performance of the city’s public schools out of the ranks of the nation’s worst. During this same period, neither citizens nor public officials were able to address the deplorable condition of the city’s once nationally acclaimed youth recreation department, even as homicidal youth violence escalated, putting New Orleans consistently at or near the top of national per capita murder rates. In short, the adults of the city proved unable to provide adequate public education and recreation for children and young adults. Their failure resulted in violence, economic despair, and deepening racial division.



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