Fifty Shades of No Way – New SBOE Member Todd Chasteen’s First Book To Challenge

Now that Todd Chasteen has now been appointed to the NC State Board of Education, I would like to go ahead and ask that he and others on the board read the latest installment of the Fifty Shades of … book for possible inclusion in schools, or at least in the dialogue of what is happening in North Carolina.

I will offer only this table of contents to the SBOE and Mr. Chasteen in deference to any delicate sensibilities toward works of literature that actually display and describe the human condition through creative use of language, strong diction, vivid imagery, incredible detail, and varying syntax.

I must admit that the other books in this series really are not that well written and have one driving motif, but I would ask that this book, Fifty Shades of No Way, be investigated as it does accurately portray the climate and terrain of the Old North State.

Here is the list of chapter titles. There are 50 –Get it? Fifty Shades of No Way. In each chapter there is deception, manipulation, vivid imagery, hurt feelings, but most of all in each one of them someone is getting screwed pretty hard and often, mainly the citizens of North Carolina.

Enjoy

  1. HB2 – Bathroom Bill
  2. HB3 – 5.5% income tax cap – TABOR
  3. Medicaid Expansion Denied
  4. Voter ID Law
  5. Gerrymandering of Districts
  6. Duke Coal Ash Ponds
  7. Fracking Industry Without Oversight
  8. Teacher Pay still at the bottom tier in the nation
  9. Removal of due-process rights for new teachers
  10. Tom Ross Replaced With Margaret Spellings
  11. Graduate Degree Pay Bumps Removed for new teachers
  12. Bad Teacher Evaluation Systems
  13. Push for Merit Pay
  14. “Average” Raises and neglecting veteran teachers
  15. Central Office Allotment Cuts
  16. Rainy Day Fund That Can’t be Accessed Unless The Apocolypse Comes
  17. Religious Freedom Bill
  18. Attacks on Teacher Advocacy Groups (NCAE)
  19. Revolving Door of Standardized Tests
  20. Less Money Spent per Pupil in Traditional Public Schools
  21. Remove Caps on Class Sizes
  22. Jeb Bush School Grading System
  23. Opportunity Grants Expansion
  24. Allowing Private and Religious Schools To Profit From Tax Payer Money
  25. Charter School Growth Without Regulation
  26. Virtual Schools Deregulation
  27. Achievement School Districts
  28. Reduction of Teacher Candidates in Colleges
  29. Elimination of Teaching Fellows Program
  30. Governor’s Inability to Defend Policies to the Press
  31. Governor’s Unwillingness to Defend Policies to the Press
  32. Attacks on Teacher Assistants
  33. Elimination of State Employees Rights to File Discrimination Suits in State Courts
  34. Pissing Off Bruce Springsteen
  35. Using God and Jesus as Political Crutches
  36. Gov. Dan Forest’s request to have Charter School Report to be Rewritten
  37. Buck Newton Keeping Our State Straight
  38. House Bill 539 – Giving Charters Money For Services They Do Not Provide
  39. Rowan-Salisbury Pepper Spray Proposal
  40. Chad Barefoot’s Appt. to Senate Education Committee Chair
  41. Teach For America Expansion Plans
  42. SB 873 – Access To Affordable College Education Act
  43. Clyde Edgerton and New Hanover County’s Superintendent
  44. What the Teacher Working Conditions Survey Really Said
  45. Arresting of Teachers Who Protested and Saying They Were At Fault
  46. McCrory’s Didaskalithedemosiophobia – Yep, That’s What I said – Look it up on my Blog
  47. SB867 – Background Checking Bill
  48. Appointing People Who Are Not Qualified to the SBOE
  49. Special Sessions of the General Assembly
  50. Surreptitious Midnight Meetings to Craft Bills That Only Benefit a Few

Some JT for JT – A Justin Timberlake Mix Tape for Sen. Jerry Tillman

I am a child of the 80’s. Mix tapes are in my genetic makeup.

This is my third mix tape for this blog. The first was a compilation of Bruce Springsteen for Gov. Pat McCrory.

https://dianeravitch.net/2016/06/27/stuart-egan-tea-party-legislature-in-north-carolina-seeks-to-lock-steep-tax-cuts-into-the-state-constitution/

The second was for all of the North Carolina General Assembly and our rocky relationship compiling the best of Taylor Swift who, as we know, is the master of relationships.

https://caffeinatedrage.com/2016/05/14/the-master-of-breakup-songs-and-ended-relationships-a-taylor-swift-mix-tape-for-elected-officials/

Now it is time for one specifically for Sen. Jerry Tillman made up of Justin Timberlake songs.

That’s right – JT for JT.

Now, you will have to use your imagination in some places for the titles and songs to make sense. In other cases, please don’t use your imagination at all. “Rock Your Body” can become a disturbing song with too much imagination.

So here goes:

  1. “Mirrors” from The 20/20 Experience

There’s the chorus – “”I don’t want to lose you now. I’m looking right at the other half of me. ”

However, when relating this song to the senator, I am wishing he would look in the mirror because then he might see what actually a main part of what is making North Carolina lose itself. Sen. Tillman’s constant blaming of the public schools for the rise of unregulated charter schools shows someone who is unwilling to look at himself and his own role in hurting public schools.

Simply put, he needs to look in a mirror.

  1. “Drink You Away” from The 20/20 Experience – 2 0f 2

The chorus starts with “I can’t drink you away / I’ve tried Jack, I’ve tried Jim….”

But I may have found something that will help me drink Tillman away. It’s called the November Election Elixir.

  1. “Summer Love” from FutureSex/LoveSounds

This song is appropriate for not only the current summer season, but it is the senator’s favorite time to legislate bad policies like the voter ID law and charter school deregulation because it is the most active time for the NC General Assembly. How could he not love it?

“I can’t wait to fall in love with the summer session of the NCGA
The summer session of the NCGA  can’t wait to fall in love with me
This just can’t be summer love, you’ll see
This just can’t be summer love.”

I know, more words than notes. JT can make it work.

  1. “SexyBack” from FutureSex/LoveSounds

Sorry, that scared the hell out of me too.

  1. “Not a Bad Thing” from The 20/20 Experience – 2 0f 2

“I know people make promises all the time
Then they turn right around and break them, like you have done for years
And someone like you cuts their heart open with a knife, now NC’s bleeding
But the guy running against you in November could be that guy to heal it over time
And I won’t stop until you leave
Cause baby North Carolina is worth it.”

So don’t act like it’s a bad thing to actually legislate helpful bills for all public school kids.

Yep, not a bad thing to think about.

  1. “Tunnel Vision” from The 20/20 Experience

The title says everything. A limited view of the state of the State of North Carolina gives way to allowing for tunnel vision. At least he’s consistent.

  1. “Cry Me A River” from Justified

“Your bridges were burned, and now it’s your turn
To cry, cry me a river
Cry me a river-er
Cry me a river
Cry me a river-er, yea yea”

This will be the song that I sing when Sen. Jerry Tillman realizes that his obsessive love for unregulated charter schools and the diversion of tax payer money to vouchers and private schools will in the end backfire. They have not worked in the past and they wil not work now. And when he tries to place blame on someone else because he didn’t look in the “Mirror” or get rid of his “Tunnel Vision”, I will just tell him to “Cry Me a River.”

  1. “Take Back the Night” from The 20/20 Experience – 2 0f 2

I hope that we can take back our state in November.

  1. “Can’t Stop the Feeling” released 2016 as a single

I really hope I can sing this in November after we “Take Back the Night” but when I think of how we can “unelect” this group in November and help to transform our state back to a better time for all of its citizens I sing,

“I got this feeling inside my bones
It goes electric, wavey when I turn it on
All through my city, all through my home
We’re flying up, no ceiling, when we in our zone

I got that sunshine in my pocket
Got that good soul in my feet
I feel that hot blood in my body when it drops, ooh
I can’t take my eyes up off it, moving so phenomenally.”

  1. “What Goes Around / Comes Back Around” from FutureSex/LoveSounds

Damn right, it does.

Civil Disobedience in North Carolina – Read and Don’t Thoreau It Away

“If the injustice is part of the necessary friction of the machine of government, let it go, let it go; perchance it will wear smooth – certainly the machine will wear out. If the injustice has a spring, or a pulley, or a rope, or a crank, exclusively for itself, then perhaps you may consider whether the remedy will not be worse than the evil; but if it is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then, I say, break the law. Let your life be a counter friction to stop the machine.”

– Henry David Thoreau in “Civil Disobedience”

When Henry David Thoreau wrote his essay “Civil Disobedience”, our country was led by a government that allowed slavery as an institution and waged war on Mexico. Not long after, we had the Civil War.

Thoreau, an American Transcendentalist, declared in his treatise that men (and women) should follow the convictions of their own conscience over unfair laws that are in place created by those in power to benefit those in power. In other words, if the laws of the land were unjust, one should “wash his hands of it, and, if he gives it no thought longer, not to give it practically his support.”

Thoreau was not a nihilist by any stretch of the imagination. His diction, imagery, detail, language, and syntax are of an age where people read to get their news and information. His use of figurative comparisons harken to the Industrial Revolution. His words are a product of the time. But his message is timeless and has been a catalyst for many these past 150-plus years.

I don’t believe Thoreau was anti-government. I believe he was anti-bad government. And he certainly didn’t hurt people or use arms against others or take over a nature refuge in Oregon to practice his civil disobedience. He just simply refused to comply and politely disobeyed to bring light to an existing injustice.

Civil disobedience is a refusal to support laws seen as unmerited. People like Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr. practiced civil disobedience. Look in the history books and read up on the Salt March in India or look at the sit-ins and marches during the Civil Rights Movement. Look at Rosa Park’s refusal to give up her seat. These non-violent acts of civil disobedience became the foundations for positive change that helped change unjust laws into just ones.

And there are still unjust laws and unfair policies. There are laws that could be strengthened and more that could be made that could better help our citizens.

Take for instance gun control. A large majority of Americans favor stricter gun control measures like background checks and gun show regulations. However, even in the wake of the largest mass shooting in U.S. history, Congress did nothing because a strong NRA lobby has pretty much “bought” the necessary votes. Let’s call it for what it is.

Thoreau would have called this unjust. And there is civil disobedience in the form of a sit-in led by John Lewis, a representative from my home state of Georgia. He should know something about civil disobedience. He was a  leader with MLK during the 60’s and the Civil Rights Movement. He and other democrats are literally sitting on the House floor. Rep. Paul Ryan has called it a ploy and even banned television from video casting. Republicans on Capitol Hill are pretending it is not happening.

As of 12:10 AM on Thursday, they are still there. And video is still getting out. The press is covering it. Why? Because civil disobedience works.

Now, go to the teachers who were arrested last week in Raleigh for protesting. They did not get audience with a governor who could have given them time and they held a sit-in – on Hillsborough Street – in Raleigh – at 5 PM. That was civil disobedience.

Did they break a law? Yes. Were they arrested and charged? Yes. Did their actions speak volumes? Hell, yes!

The first thing people may wonder is why these teachers did what they did. And they will tell you it had to do with kids getting what they deserve like more resources in schools and Medicaid expansion. They will tell you that public officials did not do the job they were elected to do in protecting and nurturing kids. They will tell you that West Jones Street has not done a good job of carrying out its duties for the populace.

  • A populace in which over 20% of kids live in poverty.
  • A populace whose schools are receiving less money per pupil than before the GOP took over the governor’s mansion and both parts of the General Assembly.
  • A populace that cannot even legally know what chemicals are being used in fracking on land they may live near.
  • A populace that has one of the strictest Voter ID laws in place which discourages many minorities from voting.
  • A populace that has to watch as HB2 casts a shadow over the state for all to see.
  • A populace where many have had drinking water contaminated by unregulated coal ash ponds.
  • A populace that is governed by many who look at greed and bigotry as foundations for policy.

And these teachers are being heard on camera, on video, in newspapers, in social media, and on this blog for the few who read it.

Thoreau would have seen an unjust government here working for a few but punishing the majority. He would have done the same thing the teachers did.

Actually, he may have lain down on Hillsborough Street.

Dammit Charlotte! You Made People Treat Sen. Apodaca Poorly – The Conspiracy Theory of a Slippery Slope

“I’ve never tried to help people in my life and be treated so poorly.” – Sen. Tom Apodaca, June 1st, 2016 in reference to SB 837.

And it is all the fault of Charlotte, NC.

Seriously. The Slip-n-Slide, slippery slope logic used in the past by Sen. Apodaca makes this easy to explain.

Charlotte passes an ordinance that protects the civil rights of the LGBT community. The General Assembly under a call from people like Apodaca is “forced” to fight that scourge of local government and convene a special session, secretly constructing HB2. Publicly saying that Charlotte “brought it on themselves,” Sen. Apodaca and other GOP members withstand a national backlash and even bring a lawsuit against the federal government to allow them to keep HB2 on the books.

But that’s when Bruce Springsteen, Maroon 5, and Cirque du Soleil started cancelling shows. Even England talked about us, as well as many governors and large city mayors.

Sensing that the negative image was hurting the reputation of the NC GOP, Sen. Apodaca, Sen. Berger, and Gov. McCrory begin crafting “feel-good” legislation trying to satiate those who have been hurt most by their lawmaking. This leads to empty teacher raises and the Access to Affordable College Education Act.

So, none of this would have happened if Charlotte had not done what it did.

Dammit, Charlotte! You made Adam Levine and The Boss force Apodaca to create SB 873 and then get his feelings hurt.

But, on a pseudo-serious note, I am sure that Sen. Apodaca does feel somewhat unappreciated after the backlash that occurred over Senate Bill 873, his attempt to “help” people get a college education while actually bankrupting some flagship HBCU’s and the largest public college campus in the western part of the state.

In what is becoming a rather intense swansong of his political career as a state legislator, Sen. Apodaca seems more intent on acting as if his heart is being worn on his sleeve.

John Hinton in his front page article on the June 2nd edition of the Winston-Salem Journal (“Apodaca to remove HBCU’s from tuition bill”) reported that Apodaca “said he was hurt by Tuesday’s comments by the Rev. William Barber II, the president of the North Carolina NAACP, who called the bill’s supporters ‘extremists’ and described the bill as an attack on the state’s historically black colleges and universities.”

Wow! That’s rich. If having someone tell you that you are wrong will get you to drop the bill, then many should have spoken out before on previous bills.

But they have, which makes Apodaca’s “excuse” childish and not genuine.

Rev. Barber has made many comments about some of the legislative actions of Sen. Apodaca. Look at reactions to HB2 or the Voter ID Bill, both of which have the senator’s fingerprints all over them. Look at the Moral Monday Movement. That’s more than a statement; that’s a moral revolution.

I wonder if the senator realized he may have hurt the feelings of the very people he hoped to “help” when he, as the “the second most effective legislator the past two sessions” according to the Henderson Lightning, led contentious votes along party lines.

Maybe it’s just kharma that his own feelings got hurt, but more than likely it’s just a lame excuse.

Sen. Apodaca was also quoted on June 1st as saying, “I’ve never had such a hard time trying to give away $70 million.” But he wasn’t trying to give it away. He was trying to create a diversion with strings attached. By allocating that $70 million for the first year the bill would be implemented, Apodaca never relayed how it would continue to be allocated after that to help the affected schools recoup revenue losses.

Just imagine if he was giving it away with good intentions.  I can’t. The timing smells of electioneering.

He seemed to be saving face in the eye of his record on public education and LGBT rights. He was wearing a crown of good intentions alongside his heart on his sleeve. And as the British Romantic poet William Blake once said, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

Ironically, the senator could “give away” much more money. The almost one billion dollars allotted for the Opportunity Grants over the next ten years would really be put to better use if given to the public school system. Giving back item deductions to working citizens would help. Expanding Medicaid would help.

But for someone who has shown ardent support of fracking, abortion restrictions, and election reform that is still being challenged in court, yet claims to be hurt by one person’s comments is placing false blame.

That’s because it’s still Charlotte’s fault.

 

Can I Get a Confirmation from the Congregation? – How Governor McCrory Has Brought Me Closer To God

Governor McCrory, you have brought me closer to God.

Simply put, I have never conversed so much and so passionately with my creator than these past three years. And I must testify this fact – because so many things have happened to North Carolinians that only divine intervention and an election could ever relieve.

With your defiant refusal to extend Medicare coverage for many in the state, I have been asking God to keep those who now do not have health insurance healthy enough until something good happens. As we continue to pay federal taxes that actually finance Medicaid in other states, I ask God for to enable you to place principles before political ideologies.

Environmentally, we have suffered at the hands of Duke Power’s coal ash spill. The public slap on the wrist and the showboating of concern on your part seem sanctimoniously empty to me. Granted, having a private relationship with the country’s largest power company all those years would seem hard to navigate publically, but we need a governor to take a strong stand for the welfare of the state. We are very much like stakeholders in a very large company much larger than Duke Power, except our company is the state North Carolina and you are the appointed CEO. Our welfare and health is our dividend, and if those are not positive, well, we appoint someone else. I pray that God gives you the courage to act accordingly.

Speaking of the environment, the news that the fracking industry would not have to disclose the chemicals needed to “help” boost our energy reserves with natural shale gas is a bit disturbing. If election contributions must be transparently recorded, if ingredients for all food stuffs must be listed on the package, and if all facets of curriculum combed through to the tiniest fraction for our schools, then should we not at least be able to know what is being pumped into our lands for someone else’s profit? If we are in the Bible Belt, then should we not know what is being put into the gut of God’s country?

Fiscally speaking, as a teacher, I am constantly in conversation with the Almighty as to how I can make ends meet and still plan for the future of my family considering my monetary situation. I pray that God helps my wife keep the job that pays much more than mine as I still feel called to help educate the next generations.

Also, I am unsure how you can say that we have a budget surplus when budgets in homes and schools seem unbalanced. The money allocated to social services has been slashed in the name fiscal balance, but it seems more like a drive to privatize everything and claim that the market will take care of the economy. We still need the government to intervene on behalf of those who pay their fair share of taxes. I also pray that you realize that “decreasing” taxes were more than offset by eliminating tax deductions for working families and putting more sales taxes on items like auto repairs. Many families are actually paying more to the state now than before you were elected.

I have also prayed to God that the voice of every citizen can be heard, even in the government buildings where the current short session has “revisited” sanctions about people congregating and airing concerns to elected officials. Even though you and your cabinet wish to silence others through “voter ID” legislation and the reinterpretation of the freedom of speech, I know God hears every person’s voice. Do you hear the ones who come to Raleigh on Moral Mondays to exclusively tell you what they need?

And finally, I pray that the public schools get the resources and funding they so deserve. North Carolina’s constitution does state that every citizen will have access to a good education. The very foundation of that “good” education system is the student/teacher relationship. If there are no good, experienced teachers left, then how “good” will that education promised in the state’s constitution be? It is a cruel irony that one of the best public university systems in the country is quickly losing the strong public K-12 system that has been feeding it.

Oh, I forgot. That very same university system is actually under attack. The fact that Margaret Spellings, the architect of No Child Left Behind, is now the president of the UNC system shows a strong disconnect in what our public universities really needed. Instead of removing obstacles, one was placed in its way.

But spiritually, I feel great. I have never felt closer God.

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.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Aren’t Dead! They Live in Eden – An Open Letter to People Who Will Vote in Sen. Berger’s District

Dear Rockinghamcrantz and Guilfordstern (A Shakespearean way of saying “Citizens of Rockingham and Guilford Counties),

If Shakespeare has taught us anything about human nature and our lives (actually he has taught us much), then we would certainly know that the state of the king’s palace usually dictates the state of the kingdom. Just review perhaps his most famous play, Hamlet, where the greed of one man for power (Claudius) causes a chain of events that literally bring down a kingdom, takes innocent lives, and even makes the dead come back.

Consequently, the state of the General Assembly and the actions of its players has direct effects on the state of North Carolina as a whole. But one of these players has had the leading role for a while in Raleigh, Sen. Phil Berger.

In this drama of an election year, it is worth beseeching our fellow North Carolinians who live in Rockingham and Guilford counties who also have Sen. Phil Berger as their state senator to seriously contemplate his actions as a legislator and the effects they have had on the rest of the state. Why? Because…

“Something is rotten in the state of Denmark” (Marcellus, I,iv).

 

Something is rotten in the state of North Carolina. The list of offending actions causing this state of decay is long and well-documented. And Sen. Berger has been the chief architect in most all of them.

There was the religious freedom bill. There was the Voter ID law. There was HB2. There were the countless attacks on public education. There was the tax “reform” that has placed more burden on the middle class of the state. There was the marriage amendment. There was a reduction of benefits for the unemployed. There was the refusal of Medicaid expansion.

All of it has been poison poured into the ears of North Carolinians. It adds to the madness of North Carolina.

“Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t” (Polonius, II,ii). 

 

While many of our constituents may debate the merits of who should go into what bathroom or who should be able to marry whom, there have been deliberate, calculated attempts at consolidating power on a state level by this man at the expense of others. Sen. Berger has thrown out so many red herrings to take attention away from what has really happened in legislative sessions that many are convinced it is madness to go against his policies.

But there is a method to it. The thought that some would want grown men to go into girls’ locker rooms at a public school is madness. But that is the deception – a method to extend power over local municipalities about how people can sue in state courts or how local municipalities can contract work.

“One may smile, and smile, and be a villain” (Hamlet, I, v). 

 

Shakespeare was often very wary of how villains presented themselves. Iago was “two-faced” showing a public side to hide private motives. Edmund people-pleased in order to destroy them. Richard III smiled constantly in the very faces of people he eliminated.

The public facade can often be a mask for other motives. Rather than focus on the smiling visage of a politician, listen to his words, read his explanations, and then compare them to his actions. And why? Because…

“The Devil hath power
To assume a pleasing shape” (Hamlet, II,ii).

 

No, Sen. Berger is not the Devil. But I do think he will have a lot to answer for when he greets his maker as he is asked what he did for those who needed the most help. So, I beseech you to…

“Listen to many, speak to a few” (Polonius, I,iii). 

 

Yes, he is an incumbent for your district. He supposedly represents your ideals. But consider that his actions have had deleterious effects on all North Carolinians. In his efforts at gerrymandering districts, he has shown us all his conscious efforts at squashing voices who disagree with him.

Ask any public school teacher outside of your district and nine times out of ten, that teacher will be able to directly name Sen. Berger as an adversarial presence in public education.

Ask any person in the LBGT community who has faced discrimination.

Ask any parent who needs Medicaid to help with healthcare coverage for his/her child.

Ask any of the almost one in four kids in our state who live in poverty.

Ask any small municipality (even Hamlet, NC) about having Raleigh overrule their own local ordinances.

 “This above all: to thine own self be true” (Polonius, I,iii).  

 

The operative words here are “true” and “truth”. Don’t allow political double-speak and platitudes to cover up what is the truth. And the truth is what affects lives. Sen. Berger has affected a lot of lives – negatively.

“To be, or not to be: that is the question” (Hamlet, III,i).

 

Maybe the question should be, “To vote, or not to vote.” The answer is yes, you should. But please consider who you vote for, because if life is a stage, then the rest of the state and even the country is watching the play.

Don’t let this end tragically. Don’t let us be haunted by ghosts of actions past. We can have a new script.

 

Sincerely,

The Groundlings of North Carolina.

“License Plates For Lawmakers” or “Why I Live at the DMV”

 

As in most states, North Carolina’s Department of Motor Vehicles allows car owners to purchase a customized license plate and personalize it with individual text and numbers – as long as it is not already taken by another motorist or it is too inappropriate. Monies collected go to the state with a donation made to the entity honored with the plate.

License plates can reflect so much of the owner’s personality, allegiance to college/pro teams or causes, and hobbies. Simply look at the DMV’s site and begin to imagine the possibilities (https://edmv.ncdot.gov/VehicleRegistration/SpecialPlate#term=Standard).

However, with all of the different plates available, I did not see one that honors educators and public schools. Odd that my childhood state of Georgia does this as well as other states, but the fact that my home state North Carolina does not is a little disheartening.

Teachingspeaksvolumes.com I think has a great template for a license plate that clearly embodies the state legislature’s sentiments on public education.

first in flight

Appropriate, right? Maybe a special session of the General Assembly could make this a reality.

But for right now, I just want to concentrate on the two basic plates that the state offers – the classic FIRST in FLIGHT and the newer FIRST in FREEDOM.

Imagine if you had the ability to “test” drive license plates for those people who would be best reflected by the personalization. The irony would not only be humorous, but actually sadistic as well.

So, I present to you LICENSE PLATES FOR LAWMAKERS.

Enjoy.

Note: If the plate is green, then it actually is available in the system.

#1

LGBT

Don’t think so. FIRST in FREEDOM and LGBT are not allowed in the same sentence in NC. But it would be a great tag when HB2 gets repealed.

#2

bathroom

Again, don’t think so. That HB2 thing.

#3

nohb2

I like this one. I can imagine many in the state who would gladly have this adorn their vehicle.

#4

h8hb2

Interestingly, this one would not be allowed. Sounds like Big Brother already has taken this one away.

#5

novoteid

This is available. A great tag to have with the upcoming elections coming up.

#6

commonsense

FIRST in FLIGHT and “Common Sense”. Yep, it sure has flown out of NC. Maybe the governor could have this one.

#7

sanity

FIRST in FLIGHT and SANITY. Dammit, someone’s gotten it!

#8

bullshit

I went middle school on this one. But the fact that it is green is hilarious since it means that it passes the filters.

#9

exptlgbt

FIRST in FREEDOM and EXCEPT LGBT. No truer words said.

 

#10

midlclass

This one wins the award for irony.

#11

hedupass

I can think of a few on West Jones Street this might be appropriate for.

#12

narrowmind

Again, I can think of a few on West Jones Street this might be appropriate for.

 

#13

luvcharters

This one is for the champions of the for-profit charter school industry. Say Sen. Jerry Tillman?

#14

intolrate

Perfect for those who want to revert back to a time when Jim Crow laws were prevalent in NC.

#15

kpncstr8

For Sen. Buck Newton. Also, I heard he never have turns the steering wheel left. He would rather make three rights.

 

#16

ih8tchers

Actually saw this one on Sen. Phil Berger’s car.

 

#17

iluvasd

Rep. Rob Bryan has claim to this one.

 

#18

dpi

I made this one for our current LT. Governor, Dan Forest.

 

#19

fracking

The governor can put this one on his car that still runs on leaded gasoline and gets three miles to the gallon.

 

#20

coalash

Do you think that the governor has a third vehicle?

With the possibilities, you can bet there will be more made for a later date.

Governor McCrory, You are No “Eisenhower Republican”

Dear Governor,

I have heard many national GOP candidates make mention of their affinity for President Reagan when addressing audiences. Simply channeling “The Gipper” has become almost a necessity to make a good impression especially on those who remember the two-term president from California. His calm voice, his presence, his speech on the Berlin Wall, and his being the last POTUS to survive an assassination attempt are forever etched in my memory.

And I am not even a registered republican.

Governor, you have invoked the spirit of another beloved republican U.S. President when you began to define yourself as an “Eisenhower Republican” early in your term. And just like people such as Sarah Palin and Ted Cruz when they summon the ghost of Reagan, you are donning yourself in borrowed robes.

Why? Because you are nothing like Eisenhower.

Eisenhower built roads. Literally built roads. He oversaw the creation of the interstate highway system that linked communities and cities together. While you claim to want to create a similar infrastructure, it is odd that there are many metaphorical roads that you have allowed to erode. With supporting a Voter ID law, HB2, and tax breaks for the wealthy, you are actually enabling the burning of social bridges that is further dividing people in our state.

President Eisenhower expanded the New Deal programs started by FDR. He created the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW) to implement programs to help needy individuals. “HEW” eventually gave rise to two mainstays in federal government: the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services, two federal agencies that you seem to shun.

Oddly enough, your administration has enabled privatization efforts in public education with Opportunity Grants and rampant growth of for-profit charter schools. Furthermore, your decision to reject Medicaid expansion for people in your own state shows a glaring disconnect to the spirit of Eisenhower especially when almost one in four children here in NC live in poverty. Your policies have even led to reduction in unemployment benefits for many who needed them.

The former president also was known for his many press conferences. He held more of them than any president up until his tenure. He had no fear of talking to the media or reaching out to the people of the country through the press. You will not even answer questions from the media concerning HB2 and other matters that directly affect our citizens.

The late president was once quoted as saying, “I have just one purpose … and that is to build up a strong progressive Republican Party in this country. If the right wing wants a fight, they are going to get it … before I end up, either this Republican Party will reflect progressivism or I won’t be with them anymore.” He made that statement in response to a growing faction in his party of ultra-conservative, Tea-Party like politicians who wanted to drive the Republican Party further to the right.

President Eisenhower stood up to people in his own political party for the sake of principle rather than bowing to personality. But I do not see that same type of character in you, Governor. You rarely issue a veto, and you regularly kowtow to GOP cogs such as Sen. Phil Berger and Rep. Tim Moore. You seem more of the enabler than the leader when compared to the ultra-right-wing faction in North Carolina.

President Eisenhower helped to defeat the scourge of Nazism. He faced a growing threat of communism and the Cold War with stern principles, yet still maintained peace. He helped in desegregation, believing that there were “no second class citizens of this country.”

He was a man of action, not of empty words.

So, how can you truly call yourself an “Eisenhower Republican?”

North Carolina’s Playbook to Dismantle Public Education

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 exploring.

Specifically, the last five year period in North Carolina has been a calculated attempt at undermining public schools with over twenty different actions that have been deliberately crafted and executed along three different fronts: actions against teachers, actions against public schools, and actions to deceive the public.

Actions Against Teachers

  1. Teacher Pay – A recent WRAL report and documentary highlighted that in NC, teacher pay has dropped 13% in the past 15 years when adjusted for inflation (http://www.wral.com/after-inflation-nc-teacher-pay-has-dropped-13-in-past-15-years/15624302/). That is astounding when one considers that we are supposedly rebounding from the Great Recession. Yes, this 15 year period started with democrats in place, but it has been exacerbated by GOP control. Salary schedules were frozen and then revamped to isolate raises to increments of five+ years. As surrounding states have continued to increase pay for teachers, NC has stagnated into the bottom tier in regards to teacher pay.
  2. Removal of due-process rights – One of the first items that the GOP controlled General Assembly attempted to pass was the removal of due-process right for all teachers. Thanks to NCAE, the courts decided that it would be a breach of contract for veteran teachers who had already obtained career-status. But that did not cover newer teachers who will not have the chance to gain career status and receive due process rights.

What gets lost in the conversation with the public is that due-process rights are a protective measure for students and schools. Teachers need to know that they can speak up against harsh conditions or bad policies without repercussions. Teachers who are not protected by due-process will not be as willing to speak out because of fear.

  1. Graduate Degree Pay Bumps Removed – Because advanced degree pay is abolished, many potential teachers will never enter the field because that is the only way to receive a sizable salary increase to help raise a family or afford to stay in the profession. It also cripples graduate programs in the state university system because obtaining a graduate degree for new teachers would place not only more debt on teachers, but there is no monetary reward to actually getting it.
  2. The Top 25% to receive bonus – One measure that was eventually taken off the table was that each district was to choose 25% of its teachers to be eligible to receive a bonus if they were willing to give up their career status which is commonly known as tenure. Simply put, it was hush money to keep veteran teachers from speaking out when schools and students needed it. To remove “tenure” is to remove the ability for a teacher to fight wrongful termination. In a Right-To-Work state, due process rights are the only protection against wrongful termination when teachers advocate for schools, like the teacher who is writing this very piece.
  3. Standard 6 – In North Carolina, we have a teacher evaluation system that has an unproven record of accurately measuring a teacher’s effectiveness. The amorphous Standard 6 for many teachers includes a VAM called Assessment of Student Work.

I personally teach multiple sections of AP English Language and Composition and am subject to the Assessment of Student Work (ASW). I go through a process in which I submit student samples that must prove whether those students are showing ample growth.

In June of 2015, I uploaded my documents in the state’s system and had to wait until November to get results. The less than specific comments from the unknown assessor(s) were contradictory at best. They included:

Alignment

Al 1 The evidence does not align to the chosen objective.

Al 4 All of the Timelapse Artifacts in this Evidence Collection align to the chosen objectives.

Growth

Gr 1 Student growth is apparent in all Timelapse Artifacts.

Gr 2 Student growth is apparent between two points in time.

Gr 3 Student growth is not apparent between two points in time.

Gr 4 Student growth samples show achievement but not growth.

Gr 9 Evidence is clear/easily accessible

Gr 10 Evidence is not clear/not easily accessible

Narrative Context

NC 1 Narrative Context addresses all of the key questions and supports understanding of the evidence.

NC 4 Narrative Context does not address one or more of the key questions.

 

And these comments did not correspond to any specific part of my submission. In fact, I am more confused about the process than ever before. It took over five months for someone who may not have one-fifth of my experience in the classroom to communicate this to me. If this is supposed to supply me with the tools to help guide my future teaching, then I would have to say that this would be highly insufficient, maybe even “unbest.”

  1. Push for Merit Pay – The bottom line is that merit pay destroys collaboration and promotes competition. That is antithetical to the premise of public education. Not only does it force teachers to work against each other, it fosters an atmosphere of exclusivity and disrespect. What could be more detrimental to our students?

Those legislators who push for merit pay do not see effective public schools as collaborative communities, but as buildings full of contractors who are determined to outperform others for the sake of money. And when teachers are forced to focus on the results of test scores, teaching ceases from being a dynamic relationship between student and teacher, but becomes a transaction driven by a carrot on an extended stick.

  1. “Average” Raises – In the long session of 2014, the NC General Assembly raised salaries for teachers in certain experience brackets that allowed them to say that an “average” salary for teachers was increased by over 7%. They called it a “historic raise.” However, if you divided the amount of money used in these “historic” raises by the number of teachers who “received” them, it would probably amount to about $270 per teacher.

That historic raise was funded in part by eliminating teachers’ longevity pay. Similar to an annual bonus, this is something that all state employees in North Carolina — except, now, for teachers — gain as a reward for continued service. The budget rolled that money into teachers’ salaries and labeled it as a raise. That’s like me stealing money out of your wallet and then presenting it to you as a gift.

  1. Health Insurance and Benefits – Simply put, health benefits are requiring more out-of-pocket expenditures, higher deductibles, and fewer benefits. There is also talk of pushing legislation that will take away retirement health benefits for those who enter the profession now.

 

 

  1. Attacks on Teacher Advocacy Groups (NCAE) – Seen as a union and therefore must be destroyed, the North Carolina Association of Educators has been incredibly instrumental in bringing unconstitutional legislation to light and carrying out legal battles to help public schools. In the last few years, the automatic deduction of paychecks to pay dues to NCAE was disallowed by the General Assembly, creating a logistical hurdle for people and the NCAE to properly transfer funds for membership.
  2. Revolving Door of Standardized Tests – Like other states, we have too many. In my years as a North Carolina teacher (1997-1999, 2005-2015), I have endured the Standard Course of Study, the NC ABC’s, AYP’s, and Common Core. Each initiative has been replaced by a supposedly better curricular path that allegedly makes all previous curriculum standards inferior and obsolete. And with each of these initiatives comes new tests that are graded differently than previous ones and are “converted” into data points to rank student achievement and teacher effectiveness. Such a revolving door makes the ability to measure data historically absolutely ridiculous.

Actions Against Schools

  1. Less Money Spent per Pupil – The argument that Gov. McCrory and the GOP-led General Assembly have made repeatedly is that they are spending more on public education now than ever before. And they are correct. We do spend more total money now than before the recession hit. But that is a simplified and spun claim because North Carolina has had a tremendous population increase and the need to educate more students.

Let me use an analogy. Say in 2008, a school district had 1000 students in its school system and spent 10 million dollars in its budget to educate them. That’s a 10,000 per pupil expenditure. Now in 2015, that same district has 1500 students and the school system is spending 11.5 million to educate them. According to Raleigh’s claims, that district is spending more total dollars now than in 2008 on education, but the per-pupil expenditure has gone down significantly to over 2300 dollars per student or 23percent.

  1. Remove Caps on Class Sizes – There is a suggested formula in allotting teachers to schools based on the number of students per class, but that cap was removed. House Bill 112 allowed the state to remove class size requirements while still allowing monies from the state to be allocated based on the suggested formula.

Some districts have taken to move away from the 6/7 period day to block scheduling. Take my own district for example, the Winston-Salem / Forsyth County Schools. When I started ten years ago, I taught five classes with a cap of 30 students. With the block system in place, I now teach six classes in a school year with no cap. The math is simple: more students per teacher.

  1. Amorphous Terms – North Carolina uses a lot of amorphous terms like “student test scores”, “student achievement”, and “graduation rates”, all of which are amongf the most nebulous terms in public education today.

When speaking of “test scores”, we need to agree about which test scores we are referring to and if they have relevance to the actual curriculum. Since the early 2000’s we have endured No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top initiatives that have flooded our public schools with mandatory testing that never really precisely showed how “students achieved.” It almost boggles the mind to see how much instructional time is lost just administering local tests to see how students may perform on state tests that may be declared invalid with new education initiatives. Even as I write, most states are debating on how they may or may not leave behind the Common Core Standards and replace them with their own. Know what that means? Yep. More tests.

“Graduation rate” might be one of the most constantly redefined terms in public schools. Does it mean how many students graduate in four years? Five years? At least finish a GED program or a diploma in a community college? Actually, it depends on whom you ask and when you ask. But with the NC State Board of Education’s decision to go to a ten-point grading scale in all high schools instead of the seven-point scale used in many districts, the odds of students passing courses dramatically increased because the bar to pass was set lower.

  1. Jeb Bush School Grading System – This letter grading system used by the state literally shows how poverty in our state affects student achievement. What the state proved with this grading system is that it is ignoring the very students who need the most help — not just in the classroom, but with basic needs such as early childhood programs and health-care accessibility. These performance grades also show that schools with smaller class sizes and more individualized instruction are more successful, a fact that lawmakers willfully ignore when it comes to funding our schools to avoid overcrowding.
  2. Cutting Teacher Assistants – Sen. Tom Apodaca said when this legislation was introduced, “We always believe that having a classroom teacher in a classroom is the most important thing we can do. Reducing class sizes, we feel, will give us better results for the students.” The irony in this statement is glaring. Fewer teacher assistants for early grades especially limit what can be accomplished when teachers are facing more cuts in resources and more students in each classroom.

 

Actions To Deceive The Public

  1. Opportunity Grants – Opportunity Grant legislation is like the trophy in the case for the GOP establishment in Raleigh. It is a symbol of “their” commitment to school choice for low-income families. But that claim is nothing but a red-herring.

Simply put, it is a voucher system that actually leaves low-income families without many choices because most private schools which have good track records have too-high tuition rates and do not bus students. Furthermore, the number of private schools receiving monies from the Opportunity Grants who identify themselves as religiously affiliated is well over 80 percent according to the NC State Educational Assistance Authority. Those religious schools are not tested the way public schools are and do not have the oversight that public schools have. Furthermore, it allows tax dollars to go to entities that already receive monetary benefits because they are tax free churches.

  1. Charter Schools – Charter school growth in North Carolina has been aided by the fact that many of the legislators who have created a favorable environment for charter benefit somehow, someway from them. Many charters abuse the lack of oversight and financial cloudiness and simply do not benefit students.

Especially in rural areas, uncontrolled charter school growth has been detrimental to local public schools. When small school districts lose numbers of students to charter schools, they also lose the ability to petition for adequate funds in the system that NC uses to finance schools ; the financial impact can be overwhelming. In Haywood County, Central Elementary School was closed because of enrollment loss to a charter school that is now on a list to be recommended for closing.

  1. Virtual Schools – There are two virtual academies in NC. Both are run by for-profit entities based out of state. While this approach may work for some students who need such avenues, the withdrawal rates of students in privately-run virtual schools in NC are staggering according to the Department of Public Instruction.
  2. Achievement School Districts – Teach For America Alumnus Rep. Rob Bryan has crafted a piece of legislation that has been rammed through the General Assembly which will create ASD’s in NC. Most egregious is that it was crafted secretly. Rather than having a public debate about how to best help our “failing” schools with our own proven resources, Rep. Bryan chose to surreptitiously strategize and plan a takeover of schools. ASD’s have not worked in Tennessee. They will not work in North Carolina except for those who make money from them.
  3. Reduction of Teacher Candidates in Colleges – At last report, teaching candidate percentages in undergraduate programs in the UNC system has fallen by over 30% in the last five years. This is just an indication of the damage done to secure a future generation of teachers here in North Carolina.
  4. Elimination of Teaching Fellows Program – Once regarded as a model to recruit the best and brightest to become teachers and stay in North Carolina was abolished because of “cost”.

Overall, this has been North Carolina’s playbook. And those in power in Raleigh have used it effectively. However, there are some outcomes that do bode well for public school advocates for now and the future.

  • Teachers are beginning to “stay and fight” rather than find other employment.
  • NCAE has been able to win many decisions in the court system.
  • North Carolina is in the middle of a huge election year and teachers as well as public school advocates will surely vote.
  • The national spotlight placed on North Carolina in response to the voter-ID laws and HB2 are only adding pressure to the powers that be to reconsider what they have done.
  • Veteran teachers who still have due-process rights are using them to advocate for schools.

I only hope that the game changes so that a playbook for returning our public schools back to the public will be implemented.

 

Stuart Egan, NBCT
West Forsyth High School