Mark Johnson’s Version of the “American Dream” Always Neglected the American Reality For Many of Our Students

If you are an educator in the public schools of North Carolina, you might have received this missive from the state superintendent yesterday:


Today, I had the pleasure of dropping my daughter off at school for the first time since the pandemic closed all classrooms. Her excitement, and the joy of other students, to be back at school cannot be expressed in words.

Thank you for everything you are doing for students. Thank you for your support of your communities during these trying times – whether your students are with you in the classroom or you are helping them remotely.

Despite all the challenges of this year, we still live in a country that has a dream named after it. Every student, no matter their background, should be able to work hard and reach their American Dream.

Education is one of our greatest tools to help every child succeed. Please know how much North Carolina appreciates our hard-working educators.

Mark R. Johnson

Mark Johnson
NC Superintendent of Public Instruction

There’s a feeling that Johnson always seemed more like a politician trying to win a race rather than becoming the statewide instructional leader NC needed.

It’s that blind, vague reference to the “American Dream” he ends this feel-good letter with that reminds me of the total disconnect that he had with what was and still is really happening with our students.

While running for office in 2016, Johnson penned an op-ed entitled “Our American Dream” in which he talked about this rather nebulous concept of the “American Dream.”

One excerpt states,

“We are blessed beyond measure to be citizens of the United States, the only nation ever to have a dream named after it. No matter who you are, your background, your neighborhood, or your race; you should be able to go to school, work hard, and reach your American Dream.”

Yet, I never heard how Johnson planned on confronting the poverty that afflicts so many in our state when he championed a school performance grading system that literally shows the effects of poverty on student outcomes. Over %20 of our children in NC live in poverty.

I never heard any dialogue on the advancement of wrap around services in schools to help students who struggled to get essential services and resources to prepare them for school.

I never heard of any advocacy on Johnson’s part to extend Medicaid to help keep students healthy when health costs are so high.

I never heard or saw Johnson fight for higher per-pupil expenditures.

I never saw Johnson confront the NC General Assembly on funding issues for DPI that helped low-income districts get the professional development they could very much have used to help teach students who face socioeconomic stresses.

I never heard anything about increased mental-health services in schools from Johnson.

I never heard Johnson defend the students who are “Dreamers” or who have been affected by the increased actions of ICE within North Carolina.

And the list goes on.

When I talk to students from various backgrounds, their concept of what the  “American Dream” is to them is far different than the rose-colored version Johnson amorphously purports. That’s because for many of our students, the idea of someone else’s version of the “American Dream” never aligns with the actuality of their “American Reality.”

That’s the deliberate disconnect that Johnson had with the students in this state.