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

Oh Brother, Where Art Thou Reform? I Mean Re-Form?

In October of 2014 toward the end of the contentious and expensive Senate Race between Kay Hagan and Thom Tillis, I wrote a piece that Chad Nance and the Camel City Dispatch kindly posted entitled “Oh Thom Tillis, Where Art Thou?” It explored the use of the crossroads motif in the film Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? and how the movie was a metaphorical depiction of making a Faustian deal in order to gain earthly power.

I began the piece with the following:

Film and literature have that wonderful quality of not only imitating life and giving us a clearer picture of human nature, but they can instruct us on how to better our lives and make wise choices.

I love the Coen brothers’ movie “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” This cinematic tale loosely based on “The Odyssey” is an entertaining, yet intellectually stimulating work of art. I have heard many teachers using it as a tool for class because they see how students could revisit many of the concepts learned American history and American literature.

Currently, I am showing part of this film to my AP English Language and Composition classes to take a look at concepts local color, allusion, colloquial rhetoric, and overall cultural value. And while Thom Tillis is not running against Kay Hagan in this election cycle there is a lot of perspective one can gain from this film for the current 2016 election, especially when it comes to the use of one word: reform.

Just look at the word closely.

Reform

Homer Stokes plays a populist (and racist) gubernatorial candidate who is running a grass-roots campaign against the incumbent Menalaus “Pappy” O’Daniel, a flour magnate. Making stump speeches and kissing children along the way he makes a claim that is one of the better lines in the movie. He says,

“We’re gonna take the broom of reform and sweep this state clean!”

 

It is as if the word “reform” automatically garners votes. When the word is stated, many people hearing it are conditioned to believe that what we have had before is not acceptable. And the person who states the word gets to claim the title of “reformer”, thus placing a spun, yet positive, image on himself.

The people in the state of Mississippi seem so enraptured by the “reform” message of Homer Stokes that even Pappy O’Daniel’s farcical political brain trust thinks of trying to use some of that “reform” as well which is humorous because they are the incumbants. There is a great scene when the governor and his son, Junior, have a comical exchange about the word “reform”.

PAPPY
Languishing! God*** campaign is
languishing! We need a shot inna
arm!  Hear me, boys? Inna god****
ARM!  Election held tomorra, that
Sonofab**** Stokes would win it in a
walk!
JUNIOR
Well he’s the reform candidate, Daddy.
Pappy narrows his eyes at him, wondering what he’s getting at.
PAPPY
…Yeah?
JUNIOR
Well people like that reform. Maybe
we should get us some.
Pappy whips off his hat and slaps at Junior with it.
PAPPY
I’ll reform you, you soft-headed
Sonofab****! How we gonna run reform
when we’re the damn incumbent!

 

They really have no idea of what “reform” they may use; they just know that it is a conditioned buzzword used by many to create concern and instill fear.

Ironically, that same use of “reform” has been used by many in office or seeking office here in North Carolina. These people have used the anthem of reform to re-form law to help propel their own political ambitions when what was being reformed really did not need reforming but maybe needed more resources and attention.

Look at the word carefully again.

Reform

Now look at it this way.

Re-Form

Same sounds to make both words, but they have different meanings. “Reform” seems to want to improve something. “Re-form” connotes that something is taken apart and then rebuilt to suit someone’s needs, even if the original form was viable.

People said that we needed to “reform” voting registration, so the law was “re-formed” into the new Voter ID law. Something that didn’t need reforming was re-formed along with other provisions to ensure that a few certain people benefitted.

Another example is public schooling here in North Carolina. GOP powers in the General Assembly used the mantle of “reform” to “re-form” the public school system into a shadow of its former self. Just look at what has been used to “reform” public schools within the last three to four years.

  • Frozen teacher pay
  • Removal of Graduate pay
  • Removal of Due-Process rights
  • Standard 6 and ASW
  • Testing measures
  • School Grades
  • ASD districts
  • Opportunity Grants
  • Removal of class size caps
  • Less money per pupil
  • Charter School Growth
  • And the list goes on and on.

That’s not reform. That’s “re-form”!

Homer Stokes does not get elected in the movie. He is found to be a racist and an unforgiving man by our heroes, three of whom are “reformed” through the penal system while the other is a black man who sold his soul to the devil. (I guess that would be religious freedom).

Reform does not always have to be a bad word, not if it is done with noble intentions transparently and without special interest. But right now, I would say we certainly need a lot of repealing (HB2) and restoration (respect for teachers and public schools) in order to recapture what used to make us great.