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Letters to the Editor 

Fahrenholtz Responds

If one follows the news, you know that I have never pulled punches in criticism of our school system's shortcomings. I will continue to speak my mind.

We have made progress, and we now have an innovative, dedicated superintendent in Tony Amato, whose agenda for change I unequivocally support.

However, to clarify a statement attributed to me in the press (Bouquets and Brickbats, Feb. 10), I do believe that teachers have every right to complain when their tax forms and paychecks are screwed up. As I explained to the many teachers who have called me, sometimes things are not as they appear. Those teachers understood that my remarks were part of a larger conversation aimed at a small contingent of United Teachers of New Orleans zealots and entrenched bureaucrats dedicated to subverting real change, who often provide incomplete, inaccurate information to board members and key administrators in order to stymie reform.

I spoke of those who, for example, single-handedly scuttled the most promising education initiative in years, the management of failing schools by the University of New Orleans. They did our children harm when that initiative was destroyed. They fear change more than they welcome hope.

There are many within the system fighting to preserve the status quo, forces that will do anything to subvert reform, virtually untouchable and protected by seniority, pre-negotiated contracts and political friends. They can't issue paychecks and tax documents on time, although that is the job they are paid to perform. They miss funding deadlines, then try to obscure their incompetence, hoping to retain or enhance their own fiefdoms. They must be dealt with immediately.

My words were never directed towards the thousands of dedicated teachers who endure what our flawed bureaucracy often affords them. Our teachers deserve better, and so do our children.

And as for recent initiatives proposed by Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and my friend Mayor Ray Nagin's offer to help, I say, welcome! Our children need all the friends they can get.

--Jimmy Fahrenholtz
Orleans Parish School Board

Southern Rep Responds

I am frankly staggered at Dalt Wonk's lack of scholarship in his review of The Fever and Yellowman in the most recent issue of Gambit Weekly ("Toned Down," Feb. 3). He searches for a literary reference on which to rest his review of The Fever and comes up with "a stunning moment in one of the Gospels," the story of the rich man who confronts Jesus with his failure to find God. It is a wonderful story -- and known to every one over the age of 7. He views Southern Rep's production of Yellowman and finds "the production confusing." Apparently, the skin colors of the two main characters were not far enough apart for him to understand what all the fuss was about. Last year, he revealed in his review of Southern Rep's In Walks Ed ("Mixed Bag of Tricks," Feb. 4, 2003) that he didn't get the play because he had never seen a blaxploitation film.

Where shall I begin? If a critic seeks to review anything, it can only be done in context. This requires a certain amount of homework so that the playwright's intention is not lost on the reviewer. In the case of In Walks Ed, the source material could have started with Shaft, Cotton Comes to Harlem and almost any Pam Grier movie from the 1970s and could have finished with Yojimbo or A Fistful of Dollars. Does Wonk get the connection here? A stranger comes to town, an outsider returns to his roots, conflicts arise, people without other recourse take the law into their own hands. Without any understanding of the context in which the play was written and performed, of course it wouldn't have the intended impact. It would be like going to the Pontchatoula Strawberry Festival without knowing what fruit was.

In the case of Yellowman, Wonk couldn't get past the observation that the dark-skinned Alma wasn't very dark and the light-skinned Eugene wasn't "passé blanc." He even says that the two principals "are close enough in skin tone that they both seem to be on the light side of the great divide." Look, I'm a middle-class kid from California, and even I got the point. For homework, maybe Mr. Wonk could have chased down Porgy and Bess, Imitation of Life, Showboat, The Color Purple or even Dr. Strangelove. Granted, that last is a bit of a stretch, but the point is that the differences used to divide us will be passed on to the next generation if we are not very careful. What could be more clear? What could be more universal? How could it have been more eloquently presented?

I'm not a theater critic, and I am not a playwright, but I'll close with a very simple plea: Mr. Wonk -- what you do is provide a vital service to the theater-going public. You don't have to like the writing, an actor, the theater staff or anything else about a performance, but you really should make the effort to understand the context. Please, do your homework, understand the medium and -- above all -- do it like you mean it.

--Bruce A. Gordon
Executive VP of Southern Rep

Look to the Cemeteries

Lili LeGardeur's article "Monumental Journey" (Feb. 3) about Jim Carrier's book A Traveler's Guide to the Civil Rights Movement makes the very valid point that New Orleans lacks historic markers commemorating civil rights figures. A particularly conspicuous absence is a marker at NOCCA Riverfront School for the site of the station where Homer Plessy boarded the train.

However, Carrier's book ignores some significant historic markers in the city's cemeteries. Friends of New Orleans Cemeteries has unveiled bronze plaques on the graves of such civil rights notables as Plessy, Marie Couvent, Oscar James Dunn and Jordan Noble.

Beyond such recently cast memorials, I would point out that the city's cemeteries contain numerous markers, in the form of headstones, commemorating civil rights figures. The gravemarkers of Father Adrienne Roquette, Arsitide Mary and A.P. Tureaud are found in St. Louis #3, while Dutch Morial's adorns his tomb in St. Louis #1. Then, there is the motherlode found in St. Louis #2 Square #3, a site historian Joe Logsdon called "the greatest collection of memorials to African-American achievement in the world." In Square #3, civil rights-minded travelers can observe the inscription tablets of Henriette Delile, Juliette Gaudin, Josephine Charles, Rodolphe Desdundes, Arthur Esteves, Jean Baptiste Roudanez and several others.

--Robert Florence


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