Writing Without Any Moral Authority: State Supt. Johnson’s Recent Letter

I am white.

I am male.

I grew up in a small rural Southern town in the !970’s and 1980’s.

I come from an upper middle class family who had the resources to send me to school.

And the older I become, the more I understand that I don’t understand. 

I think that has made me a better teacher over my career. That lack of true understanding of what many others have lived through, that knowing that my experiences are far different from other people’s experiences, and that need to listen to other perspectives authentically – they all remind me that there are uncomfortable conversations that need to be had.

Every year, I am in front of hundreds of students whose lives are filled with events and stressors that I cannot fathom. That means I need to listen to them and validate that they are experts of themselves. In that respect, I need to become the student and learn what have sometimes been uncomfortable lessons. Good teachers are good students.

But there are some things that I firmly feel I have an understanding of. I know what the State Superintendent shared today in a public statement concerning his letter to a State School Board Member might be one of the best examples of an echo chamber built with false moral authority I have ever witnessed.

I know it was callous. 

And I know that Mark Johnson needs to be called out for it.

Before even looking at the letter that Johnson sent to James Ford, it was already established that Johnson’s actions in his brief tenure as a state official have helped to create some of the very conditions that Ford has been fighting against on behalf of students and families who desperately need his voice.

Mark Johnson has been a very vocal proponent of school choice, especially charter schools when overwhelming evidence shows that charter schools here in North Carolina are helping student bodies to segregate themselves.

Mark Johnson has been a champion of the School Performance Grading system and school report cards even as the very school performance grades they produce stigmatize schools based on their poverty and lack of resources.

Mark Johnson has never shown any desire to pressure the state legislature to address and act on the Leandro decision. That very court decision was about equity in public education funding.

Mark Johnson has done nothing but rubber stamp the ideas and policies of the people who not  have only enabled his office but also passed legislation that redrew districts along racial lines and enacted a bathroom bill as a way to subvert transgender citizens. 

Mark Johnson as the highest ranking official of the state’s public school system has shown that actions and lack of action sometimes speak much louder than words.

What Johnson sent out today in a press release was a letter to James Ford asking him to resign from a position within the State Board of Education based on his interpretation of a tweet Ford sent out on his personal social media account.

It is below.

According to sources, he sent that letter to all DPI employees.

And he even made a press release based on it.

There is no question that Mark Johnson used his time as State Superintendent as a stepping stone to higher office. His political ambitions literally ooze out of his pores with his talk of the “Deep State” and “elite insiders.” He takes his cues from others and never really investigated what Ford was actually saying.

Johnson’s letter to Ford has the same tenor and narrow-minded viewpoint as a recent post from the Carolina Journal.

The Carolina Journal is a publication from the libertarian think tank John Locke Foundation funded by Art Pope.

Ford’s tweet makes direct reference to “Letter From Birmingham Jail” by Martin Luther King, Jr.

Just read it or re-read it. When MLK, Jr. was fighting for equal rights, much of what he confronted was dealing with those people who talked a “good game” while cloaked in “holy robes” but whose actions said otherwise.

Interesting how many politicians still put Jesus on the ballot and use it as a resume builder.

I don’t understand what Martin Luther King, Jr. went through or the depth of his struggle. I have to listen to his words. I have to learn from him.

I don’t know all of James Ford’s story, but he has taken the time to talk with me in the most civil of ways. He is that consummate teacher.

Truth be told, I probably would relate more to Mark Johnson’s background than James Ford, yet I feel that Ford would do more to try and bridge any differences we had by finding common ground.

It’s blatantly apparent that Johnson’s publicity stunt was just that – a stunt especially after yesterday’s bluster over the need to have “blunt” conversations with software vendors.

When making a decision to listen to someone who uses the words that come from divisive politicians or someone who is using the words of a man who sought equality for all of God’s children, then that decision is easy.

James Ford was the NC Teacher of the Year in 2015. He then expanded his “classroom” beyond the walls of a single school building speaking truth and helping to build bridges over the widest of chasms. His words are not burdened with double-speak and spin.

Mark Johnson barely spent two school years in a profession he still “brags” about being a part of. But instead of expanding his “classroom,” he has ignored his “students.”

James Ford is a teacher we desperately need.

Mark Johnson is a man who thankfully has been voted out.