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School doors are finally unlocked. It's time to unlock education, too
As N.C. public schools open today, their parents need a window into what and how they learn.
Just a few weeks into the school year, my fifth-grader was already hopelessly behind. Missing assignments. Failing tests. Unable to do his math problems and unwilling to discuss any of it.
It was the fall of 2020, and his classroom was our dining table. Every morning, he was to log on to Zoom along with the rest of his classmates and try to decipher the day's lessons and assignments. The messages simply didn't get across.
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My wife and I tried to listen in, but I was in the closing weeks of a statewide campaign, my job taking me from Waynesville and Morganton to Southport, Ayden and Mount Olive. My wife worked a full-time job as well, with her own slate of Zoom meetings and deadlines. Two other young children demanded our attention, and neither of us had the hours to spend sitting next to our 10-year-old, following along.
Before long, my wife and I huddled together in front of a laptop screen in an emergency meeting with our son's teachers and a consortium of administrators. I pleaded with them, "Can't you just give us a list of his assignments so we can make sure he gets them done?" I asked for a textbook to follow, a syllabus to read, anything that would help us keep him on track. It wasn't that simple, we were told. School didn't work that way. The modern education system was a labyrinth of YouTube videos, Google Docs and software, and if you weren't there and actively listening, it was easy to get lost. The teachers were well-meaning and willing to give our son extra time, but the system just wasn't set up for parents to follow along.
Two years later, we're sending our second child off to kindergarten; today is her first day. The doors she'll walk through this morning are no longer locked against us parents, but the education system is as impenetrable as ever. What will she learn? How will she learn it? It's difficult for a parent to get a glimpse in.
Perhaps the first education law in America was passed by the colony of Massachusetts in the year 1642. The statute required parents to ensure that their children were taught to read, to understand the tenets of their religion, and to work in a trade. Not every family was up to the task, and the beginnings of our nation's public education system sprouted to help them fulfill their responsibilities. Over the ensuing four centuries, the education field industrialized, professionalized and grew to a monstrous scale. Somewhere along the way, we as a society forgot that it's ultimately a parent's responsibility to educate his children. We sent our children into the public school system and washed our hands of the job. Educators writ large forgot their charge as well. Parents became an obstacle to overcome rather than the ultimate authority.
Though homeschooling and charter schools had been growing for years, COVID-19 was America's true wake-up call in the education arena. In Virginia, Florida and elsewhere across the country, parents have raised their voices and cast their votes to demand they have more say in their children's schooling. The media and the left have chalked this up to bigotry, a knee-jerk reaction to fears of LGBT indoctrination and critical race theory. Such concerns are not bigoted, of course, and have been proven warranted in school districts across the country.
But the reality is that America's parents have been shaken out of complacency when it comes to their children's education. We've remembered the charge that our nation laid at our feet from the very beginning. Parents are shouldering the responsibility for what and how their children learn, and are willing to shoulder bureaucratic obstacles out of the way. Trust in the public education system is at or near an all-time low. Just 28% of parents reported a "great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in public schools, according to a Gallup poll earlier this summer. It's a bipartisan issue: Less than half of Democrat parents trust the public schools to help them fulfill their educational obligations.
The N.C. General Assembly briefly took up this issue in the most recent legislative session. House Bill 755, introduced in April 2021, would have carved out an opening for parents to see into their child's education. School districts would have been required to publish curriculums, lesson plans, and instructional materials online for parents to see. No longer would parents be completely in the dark about what their children were learning and how they were learning it. They could follow along with their student, guiding them along the path. And yes, if their children were being taught something that went against their values, they'd finally be able to object.
Over the following year, the bill morphed into a "Parent's Bill of Rights," with prohibitions of age-inappropriate gender theory in grades K-3, and eliminating a school's ability to keep a child's medical or academic information from his or her parents. While these are valuable, all of the academic transparency requirements in the early versions of the bill were lost. Regardless, the bill got lost in a House committee after passing the Senate with a significant margin. House Bill 755 certainly would have been vetoed by Democrat Gov. Roy Cooper, but passing it would have at least given parents the ability to make it an issue in this November's elections. A veto-proof majority is on the table, and the onset of the school year will make education a renewed priority for a powerful voting contingent.
For the first time in more than two years, as North Carolina children return to public schools today, their parents will be allowed in, too. Now that the schoolhouse doors are unlocked to parents, it's time to unlock education, as well. The General Assembly shouldn't forget that parents have the ultimate responsibility to educate their children, not the state — and give parents the tools to fulfill this duty. Pass an academic transparency bill, and let us get to work.
3 Things of Note
AG Josh Stein fights for a right to lie. I can’t help but be fascinated by the ongoing legal battle between Attorney General Josh Stein and Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman. Both are Democrats, and constitute arguably the two top law enforcement officers in the state. At issue is a campaign ad Stein ran in his recent, narrow re-election campaign. Stein claimed that his opponent, Republican Jim O’Neill, sat on 1,500 untested rape kits as Forsyth County’s district attorney. In reality, district attorneys have no control over rape kits, something Stein would obviously know. Freeman’s office launched an investigation of the ad, which is allegedly illegal under a 1930s-era state law that makes it a misdemeanor to publish “derogatory reports with reference to any candidate in any primary or election, knowing such report to be false or in reckless disregard of its truth or falsity.” A federal court ultimately issued an injunction preventing Stein from being indicted, an action which seemed imminent.
There’s so much that’s interesting here. For one, it certainly seems that Freeman is looking to “jump the line,” so to speak. If all were to take their turn, Stein would run for governor in 2024, and Freeman would run for attorney general. Then, 10 years from now, it would be Freeman’s turn to run for governor. Freeman is only in her early 50s, but a decade is a long time. The Democrats also likely smell a victory in the 2024 governor’s race, where the nominee would presumably run against Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, who will struggle to appeal to moderates and independents. There’s no telling who Republicans would nominate in 2032.
Second, it’s also becoming a habit for Democrat attorneys general to lie in campaign ads. After the 2000 election, Roy Cooper was sued for an ad he ran against his Republican opponent, ultimately settled with a $75,000 payment and an apology. The now-governor is lucky he wasn’t indicted.
Finally, Stein’s legal team is arguing his case purely on constitutional grounds. While not admitting that his ad was false, he’s arguing that candidates have a right to lie in their campaign advertisements. So much for being against the spread of misinformation.
Mark Robinson tries a softer tone. This summer, the lieutenant governor has been hit again and again for fiery, impassioned comments he’s made to conservative audiences. In a recent podcast interview, he seemed to recognize that he’s going to have to fight against his image in a gubernatorial election.
“I certainly understand that,” he told Spectrum News’ Tim Boyum, when asked (gently) about whether gay people are right to feel nervous if he becomes governor. “I don’t begrudge those folks for believing that. Because I can certainly see, if I was on the other side, I would probably believe that as well. But I can tell you this: Since I’ve been in office, I have not championed any legislation that would violate anyone’s constitutional rights. I’ve never been a proponent of violating anyone’s constitutional rights. There are some heavy hitters, some high-ranking politicians in this state that cannot say that. They have abandoned their duty because of their political beliefs, because of their social beliefs. That can’t be said for me.”
Any sort of pivot to the middle will be difficult for Robinson. He’s loved on the right because of his unapologetic conservative stances, and he’s at his best when he speaks impassionately from the heart. A watered-down Robinson doesn’t stand a chance. Perhaps a full-throated one doesn’t either.
Yes, Longleaf Politics is back. It’s been almost exactly one year since I last published a newsletter. My life hasn’t gotten any less hectic, but I hope to make this a weekly thing once again. I want to make this state a better place, and I still have the bug for state politics. I hope you’ll come back on board for the ride.
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