“The Soft Bigotry Of Low Expectations” – Phil Berger’s Comments On Read To Achieve

“Administrative resistance to ‘embarrassing’ students, and the education bureaucracy’s refusal to explain why a child is unable to read, has been allowed to trump providing children with the basic skill necessary for success. It’s nothing short of malpractice and another example of the ‘soft bigotry of low expectations.’” – Sen. Phil Berger, January 8th, 2020 in an emailed statement to the State Board of Education.

Phil Berger’s words in defense of Mark Johnson’s allegations that tens of thousands of North Carolinian third graders were improperly promoted under the Read to Achieve mandate are nothing short of being tone-deaf, ignorant, and tinged with racial connotations.

Yes, racial connotations. In a rather panicked defense of his act of an “emergency purchase” of iStation after a recent hearing did not go his way, Mark Johnson offered a shallow accusation that the Read to Achieve initiative has been intentionally sabotaged. From T. Keung Hui:

Johnson said “rogue” former staff with the state Department of Public Instruction have “gutted” the Read To Achieve program to allow social promotions to continue. He made the same accusations in a December memo. _____________________________________________________________________________________ Senate leader Phil Berger of Eden, who was the main backer of the Read To Achieve program, echoed Johnson’s concerns on Thursday. Promoting a child to fourth grade who cannot properly read is one of the most harmful and cruel actions the education bureaucracy can take, Berger charged.

What Berger said echoes a phrase that was  used by former President George H.W. Bush in 2000 while addressing te NAACP about his landmark education bill No Child Left Behind.

But it’s really hard not to look at that word “bigotry” and not see its discriminatory connotations based on race – especially coming from Phil Berger who while in office as the leader of the Senate, has overseen the passing of so many pieces of legislation that blatantly involve the manipulation of racial disparities for political gain.

Just look at the Voter ID law that was recently placed on hold.

Just look at the racial gerrymandering of districts within North Carolina.

Just look at the incessant denial of expanding Medicaid in NC.

Just look at the privatization of public education and its polarizing effects.

Just look at the fact that income inequality still rampantly exists in a state that is sitting on an incredibly large surplus that could be invested in taxpayers, pre-k programs, and public schools but is used to “validate” more corporate tax breaks.

Oh, and since Berger has been power, North Carolina still has a per-pupil expenditure that is lower than 2008 levels when adjusted for inflation.

So, in using a term like “soft bigotry” to create some sort of cherry-picked interpretation in hopes that it is the right red herring to throw out for everybody to chase, Phil Berger actually casts a light on himself.

Because it’s too hard to hear “soft bigotry” and not feel someone is referring to race.