Civil Discourse in Public Education “Reform” Cannot Happen If You Refuse to Involve Teachers – Even If There Is Coffee Involved

civil discourse

Over the past couple of days, much has been said about the need for civility and constructive dialogue.

The lead article for this morning asked an interesting question.


Teachers know about relationships and how to build them. Can’t very much become an effective teacher or one who stays in the profession without building relationships.

But in that article was this:

Civil debate. And “civil discourse.” Coffee, Relationships.

In North Carolina politics.

It’s a great message. And not many more people love coffee more than I do.

But it’s hard to be in a “relationship” with someone who doesn’t want to be in a relationship with you. Wasn’t it Berger who called for special sessions that excluded debate and amendments and passed a state budget through committee instead of a floor vote?

How the hell can you have coffee with him when his words and actions often do not match?

And civil discourse would be fantastic especially when discussing that most hot-button of topics: public education.

I am reminded of a Nov. 2017 John Hood op-ed in entitled “Carolina needs civil, curious leaders.” It begins,

If you are involved in politics and public policy in North Carolina, I have some unwelcome news: lots of North Carolinians are dissatisfied with the quality of our political discourse and leadership.”

I am usually not in agreement with Hood on many things, but I do agree with this statement. He made a good point then and it still rings solidly.

Speaking about that need for “civil discourse” and coffee, Brenda Berg from BEST NC responded to a “tweet” concerning Rash’s article this morning.

Ironically, not long before Hood’s op-ed in 2017, Brenda Berg from BEST NC wrote a perspective also on’s website about that need for “civil discourse.”

(Not) Taking Sides: Civil Discourse with Michelle Rhee and George Parker” appeared as an open missive from the CEO of BEST NC that attempted to invite all as stakeholders in public education into a conversation to build understanding and possible common ground.

But as with with Hood’s op-ed, it seemed to neglect what had happened before the need to ask for “civil discourse.”

Yes, it is a little ironic that the subject of coffee with civil discourse be the central topic on a post by someone who named his blog Caffeinated Rage. When you write a blog, you can control the dialogue. If someone makes a comment on a post who does not agree with what is said, it can be dismissed and never posted, but I do not make disagreement a reason for not posting a comment (although cursing and profanity are not published as well as threats to a person).

The issue that this teacher takes is that in order for civil discourse to happen, all parties need to be at least invited to the conversation. And there are a lot of people who have been deliberately not invited to the table, namely teachers.

Mr. Hood has written extensively about the educational reforms that have happened in North Carolina, mostly in praise of what the North Carolina General Assembly has done in the past eight years. He published one article for the Carolina Journal concerning the appointment of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education where he glossed about the need to have some civil discourse about her appointment lest people give up the “higher ground.” He stated,

Conservatives like DeVos who believe that applying conservative principles to education policy would benefit students and the public at large could certainly be mistaken. But we have good reasons for advocating the reforms we do. Those reasons stem from personal experience, empirical evidence, and basic insights about why organizations succeed or fail. In our view, those who question our motives are implicitly granting that they can’t refute our arguments. They are surrendering the high ground, not fighting for it.”

It makes a veteran teacher like me try and remember when teachers were actually part of the civil discourse concerning the very reforms that Hood and others in the conservative movement have championed which have done more to hurt public education than help it. Consider:

  • Opportunity Grants
  • Unregulated charter school growth
  • Push for merit pay
  • Removal of due-process rights
  • Removal of graduate degree pay
  • Principal pay restructuring
  • Change in standardized tests
  • Changes in how schools are graded
  • Changed in teacher recruitment
  • Teacher pay unevenly restructured
  • School funding debated in a hurried fashion
  • State Board suing the State Superintendent over unconstitutional transfer of power
  • An Innovative School District that has little public support

And that’s just a small sampling of “reforms” by a General Assembly that has had more laws overturned in court than they had special sessions to come up with those laws. That’s the same General Assembly that tried to force a Voter ID law in gerrymandered districts.

Where was the civil discourse in those actions? That is not a rhetorical question. Where was the civil discourse there? Or the coffee?

Back to Berg’s op-ed.

What probably precipitated her op-ed was a very publicized backlash from public school advocates about the invitation to have Michelle Rhee and George Parker speak at a closed-door legislative meeting that did not allow the media or teacher advocate groups to attend.

Michelle Rhee doesn’t have a history of drinking coffee and participating in civil discourse with public school educators.

That alone showed the very disconnect that BEST NC still has with public education because in this whole conversation the one group that affects the most positive force in public education was not engaged: teachers.

Berg’s perspective used a copious amount of collective pronouns as a way of creating some sort of common ground and common purpose. The “we’s” and the “our’s” along with loaded rhetorical questions throughout the op-ed almost felt like a commercial with a slow playing piano. But when considering the history of “reform” here in North Carolina in public schools, there really has been no invitation to teachers and groups that truly represent teachers from BEST NC except a small amount of teacher representatives who are invited to small gatherings and “workshops.”

As Hood stated in the originally referenced op-ed,

“I believe in the value of structured, face-to-face programs. But they can’t scale up large enough to solve the problem on their own. Everyone has a role to play.

We can start by making concerted efforts to avoid politicizing all our personal and professional relationships, or thinking we can always know why “they” disagree with us. Why not ask them?”


That actually means everybody.

Hard to be “face-to-face” and have “civil discourse” over “coffee” when you aren’t allowed in the room. And yes, everyone has a “role to play,” but when a few are constantly redefining the very roles that others are playing, then it is already an uncivil situation.

And veteran teachers are not being “asked” about why they disagree with these “reforms.”

Because someone claims to have taken the “high ground” does not dismiss the fact that many have been thrown out of the conversation. Because someone claims to have taken the “high ground” does not dismiss that there is no empirical evidence that what North Carolina has done as far as “reforms” are concerned has actually helped the public education system. Because someone claims to have taken the “high ground” does not dismiss the fact that someone who is highly financed tends to be able to command at least a sizable reading audience.

But those claims do not make that someone “more correct” or their coffee better.

It means that public school advocates are having to speak up more frequently and with more volume to at least be heard with the hopes of being listened to. And many of those advocates are the very teachers who civilly discourse with hundreds of students, parents, and public school stakeholders on daily basis without politicizing the very issues that bring them all together.

That is why some of us drink a lot of coffee and write a blog.