Malcolm’s Letter to Gov.-Elect Roy Cooper

Dear Governor-Elect Cooper,

My name is Malcolm and I am a third-grader in the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County School system. I have vibrant red-hair and blue eyes like my mom, wear cool glasses, have a wicked follow through on my jump shot, and am quite the dancer. My dad also wears glasses, but he does not dance very well nor has much hair. My sister is in high school. She is very smart and she helps me with my homework.

And I also have an extra chromosome because of a condition called Trisomy 21. You may know it as Down Syndrome. It does not define me. It just is, but I do need a little extra help in school and in learning other skills on how to be independent.

I am having my daddy write this letter for me. He is a teacher in a public high school. In fact, I spend a lot of time at his school going to games and functions. A lot of people know me there like they do at my own school. My having an extra chromosome doesn’t seem to scare them so much because in the end we are all more alike than different anyway.

But I am worried about some of the things that have happened in public schools since I have started going.

The people in what my daddy calls the General Assembly seemed to have done a lot of things to weaken public schools like not fully give money to them or give them resources so that all kids in public schools can be successful. It seems that some money went to this thing called “vouchers” and some has been used to help make other types of schools – schools that will not accept me.

When I got to ready to go to school a few years ago, one of my grandparents offered to pay tuition at any school that could help me the most, but none around here would take me because I have a certain type of developmental delay. But the public schools welcomed me with open arms. And I am learning.

Yet when people in power have taken away resources, teacher assistants and forced local school systems to make due with less money, then all students, especially students like me, are not being helped as much. And it’s not our teachers’ fault. It’s the fault of those who control what we get.

I think you will be good for students like me because I think you will fight for schools like mine and all public schools. But I will ask you to do one thing – be loud about it. Make everyone know your commitment to public school children and their teachers and the staffs at each school as many times as you can.

I can be loud. It’s easy. Just make yourself heard when you see something that is not right.

Let each member of the General Assembly know that commitment and when they say or do something that might hurt how a school can help any of its kids, you tell them that is not right. You tell them, “NO!”

I say that word at least twenty times a day. In fact, according to my daddy, it’s the first word I learned.

But the last governor did not say that word. My daddy says that a governor can say “no” by doing something called a “veto.” And the last governor rarely ever did a veto. He let the people in the General Assembly do what they wanted. And it hurt our schools.

When people say “no” it makes others think why it should not be. It makes people have to talk about it. And according to my daddy, many in the General Assembly do not like talking in public about what they do in secret like “special sessions” or “midnight meetings.”

But you can be heard. And you need to talk for a lot of us.

And if you need someone to help you say “no” or yell loudly, let my daddy know and he can bring me to Raleigh so I can help out.

I’ll be the kid with the red hair and blue eyes who just happens to have an extra chromosome and likes going to school.

Sincerely,

Malcolm Egan,
Special Normal Public School Kid

malcolm

Open Letter to the Registered Voter Who Believes in Public Schools

Note: I have combed through all of my op-eds, posts, rants, and lists and compiled from them what follows as a last posting to help get people to vote next Tuesday for pro-public education candidates.

The current General Assembly and governor are very scared of public school teachers and those who support them. Without their support in this next election cycle, many candidates for office simply cannot win. That’s why the governor and NCGA have touted so many “band-aid” style electioneering schemes to make them appear pro-public education.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

When the GOP won control of both houses in the North Carolina General Assembly in the elections of 2010, it was the first time that the Republicans had that sort of power since 1896. Add to that the election of Pat McCrory as governor in 2012, and the GOP has been able to run through multiple pieces of legislation that have literally changed a once progressive state into one of regression. From the Voter ID law to HB2 to fast tracking fracking to neglecting coal ash pools, the powers that-now-be have furthered an agenda that has simply been exclusionary, discriminatory, and narrow-minded.

And nowhere is that more evident than the treatment of public education.

Make no mistake. The GOP-led General Assembly has been using a deliberate playbook that other states have seen implemented in various ways. Look at Ohio and New Orleans and their for-profit charter school implementation. Look at New York State and the Opt-Out Movement against standardized testing.  Look at Florida and its Jeb Bush school grading system. In fact, look anywhere in the country and you will see a variety of “reform” movements that are not really meant to “reform” public schools, but rather re-form public schools in an image of a profit making enterprise that excludes the very students, teachers, and communities that rely on the public schools to help as the Rev. William Barber would say “create the public.”

North Carolina’s situation may be no different than what other states are experiencing, but how our politicians have proceeded in their attempt to dismantle public education is worth noting. The list below is not by any means complete, but it paints a clear picture.

  • Removal of due-process rights – This keeps teachers from being able to advocate for schools.
  • Graduate Degree Pay Bumps Removed – Removed a means for teachers to invest in their profession.
  • Standard 6 – Teacher evaluation protocols are arbitrary at best
  • Push for Merit Pay – Never has worked in education. Besides, all teachers assume duties outside of teaching.
  • “Average” Raises – Average and Actual do not mean the same thing.
  • Attacks on Teacher Advocacy Groups – specifically NCAE.
  • Revolving Door of Standardized Tests – And many of the tests are made and graded by for-profit entities.
  • Less Money Spent per Pupil – NC still has not approached pre-recession levels.
  • Remove Caps on Class Sizes – Teachers are teaching more students and sometimes more class sections.
  • Jeb Bush School Grading System – This actually only shows how poverty affects public education.
  • Cutting Teacher Assistants – Hurts elementary kids the most.
  • Opportunity Grants – A Voucher scheme that profits private and religious schools.
  • Unregulated growth of charter schools – No empirical data shows any improvement in student achievement with charter schools.
  • Virtual Schools – These are hemorrhaging in enrollment.
  • Achievement School Districts – Again, an idea that “profits” only those who take taxpayer money and has no successful track record no matter what state they have been established (lookout Georgia!).
  • Reduction of Teacher Candidates in Colleges – We are lacking in numbers to help supply the next generation of teachers for a growing state.
  • Elimination of Teaching Fellows Program – Another way to discourage bright students from becoming teachers.

So what can be done? Actually lots. And it all starts in the ballot boxes.

Remember, North Carolina has 100 counties, each with a county public school system. According to the Labor and Economic Analysis Division of the NC Dept. of Commerce, the public schools are at least the second-largest employers in nearly 90 of them—and the largest employer, period, in over 65. That means teachers represent a base for most communities, the public school system.  And they are strong in numbers. Add to that their supporters. The numbers get bigger.

If public education matters to you at all, then please understand the damage this General Assembly and governor have done to our public schools and communities. The number of teachers leaving the state or the profession is staggering. It is has given rise to a new state slogan: “North Carolina – First in Teacher Flight.” If our communities are to recover and thrive, then this trend must stop.

Do your homework and see which candidates truly support our public schools.

Educate yourself, then please vote.

vote

Literature Assignment for the General Assembly – You Can’t Use Sparknotes to Learn About Others

In a day and age where STEM-linked educational initiatives are heavily marketed in the educational and political arenas, it is sometimes hard for this English teacher to not want to reiterate that a study of literature is just as vital. Furthermore, looking and reflecting on great works of literature is a genuine way to study our own being.

There is a reason that we read serious works of literature. And others can say why much better than I can.

  • “I cannot remember the books I’ve read any more than the meals I have eaten; even so, they have made me.”― Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • “We read to know we are not alone.”— William Nicholson
  • “A person who won’t read has no advantage over one who can’t read.“—Mark Twain
  • “Reading is a basic tool in the living of a good life. “– Mortimer Adler
  • “I cannot live without books.” – Thomas Jefferson
  • “Don’t Join the book burners. Don’t be afraid to go in your library and read every book.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower
  • “Books are the quietest and most constant of friends: they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.” Charles W. Eliot
  • “We are drowning in information but starved for knowledge.” – John Naisbitt

 

When I teach AP English Literature and Composition, I attempt to put together a syllabus that offers students exposure to a wide variety of literary styles, but also a wide variety of experiences that show students that the lives led by characters often mimic the lives and trials that real people have faced or will encounter. Think of it as an archeological dig into history where we can actually feel, experience, struggle, and rejoice in life events that shape humanity and then use others experiences to guide our own actions and choices.

And we can learn from literature as well about what can work for our society and what has not.

Therefore, I put together a syllabus for the long session of the North Carolina Assembly this summer in the hopes that those elected officials would possibly see how others see the same world through a lens that these legislators and politicians may have never considered.

Because if anything, literature has taught me that I have no monopoly on how life should be lived simply because my viewpoint is narrow.

Many of these titles I would never put on a high school reading list, but if you are an elected official, you should be mature enough to read these works knowing that carry weight, gravitas, and meaning.

Happy reading!

  • Most all of the plays of Shakespeare. I’ll just get that out of the way.
  • Moby Dick by Herman Melville – to learn how a maniacal, egotistical pursuit to something could very well lead to one’s downfall.
  • Crime and Punishment by Feodor Dostoyevsky – to learn that while some believe they are above the law of man, they are not above the law of God (or kharma).
  • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury – to learn that the fear of free thought is the fear of other people’s gifts and views of the world.
  • The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood – to learn that the role of women in society should be fashioned not by traditional standards but by their own standards.
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee – to remember a time when racial dividse ruled our land and still has its grips on our state.
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald – to learn that the American Dream is really elusive and that no matter what you do to obtain it, it is out of reach for some because so many variables are out of control.
  • Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck – to learn how many in society are relegated to stay in a socio-economic class because social mobility is harder than we really admit. Also, we should always remember that those who have developmental delays are as deserving as any other person.
  • The Lorax by Seuss – to remind ourselves that fracking is really bad for the environment.
  • Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy O’Toole – to learn that heroes come in all sizes and shapes and from all backgrounds.
  • The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer – to learn that some who align themselves with the church or the teachings of Christ do so for personal profit and social gain.
  • Ulysses by James Joyce – to learn that one day can last a very long time.
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain – to learn that people can learn about others and change their views about race and creed.
  • As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner – to see that multiple people can see the same event in so many different ways and have different versions of the truth. Oh, and Addie’s chapter is the best chapter in all of American literature according to my erudite uncle and lets us know that the dead still speak.
  • Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway – to learn that nature is more powerful than man, but that man is part of nature.
  • Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison – to gain perspective on what it is to be of a different race in this country or be brave enough to hear someone talk about it.
  • The Road by Cormac McCarthy – to see where we could be headed if we do not change our ways, and a reminder of what we would do for our children if we had to.
  • Life of Pi by Yann Martel – to realize that religion does not always define spirituality.
  • Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut – to learn that war is hell.
  • Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift – to learn that when objectively look at government we oftentimes see a true confederacy of dunces.
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon – to learn that those who seem different are not really disabled, but rather differently-abled.
  • Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides – to learn that being transgender is not about an outward appearance, but rather an inner realization.

The test for all of these is in how you conduct yourselves afterwards. Your grade will be given in the fall, probably around the late hours of November 8th.