by Patrick O’Hannigan
North Carolina’s General Assembly reconvenes on May 16. Not coincidentally, May 16 is also an “optional teacher work day” in Durham, Wake, and a score of other districts where public schools will be closed so that teachers can rally at the state capital to demand better pay and working conditions.
The closures that school boards in Durham and other counties approved hurt students. Some exams must be rescheduled. Children on school nutrition programs will have to fend for themselves at breakfast and lunch, as they’re more accustomed to doing over the summer, even though several organizations hope to fill the gap by expanding daycare that day. Parents will have to scramble their schedules and finances to find childcare that day.
Impetus for the walkout was first generated by the Durham Association of Educators (DAE). It’s not the first of its kind, or the only local attempt to turn May 16 into an “advocacy day.” To its credit, however, DAE is honest about its aims. In a fit of sincerity reminiscent of the “Think big” advice in “The Art of the Deal,” Durham educators say that what they want for our children is “everything” – and they don’t appear to be kidding.
The essay on the DAE website demanding everything is a mix of idealism and snark, guaran-damn-teed to torch any straw man who questions budget allocations that are ostensibly “for the children.” The piece is unsigned, but almost certainly written by DAE president Bryan (“There are powerful forces aligned to steal our joy and snatch our students’ futures”) Proffitt; it has his earnest and unforgiving style.
The key passage in the essay reads as follows: “North Carolina’s educators, you see, believe in this radical idea that [all of our kids], every last one, should have:
- Nutritious food, clean air, and poison-free water
- Homes and neighborhoods filled with love and respite
- Physical and emotional health and the resources and knowledge they need to care for their bodies
- Emotional and physical safety
- Boundless opportunities to laugh and learn and grow with their elders and their peers
- Challenges that push them to test their limits while offering safety and grace when they inevitably fail along the way
- Meaningful work and joyful play
- Computers, books, clothes, balls, dolls…everything”
Helluva list, isn’t it? Note the lack of reference to critical thinking, or what used to be called “reading, [w]riting, and ‘rithmetic,” in a statement of belief ascribed to teachers rather than, for example, chimney sweeps. Instead, there are condescending assumptions and lies of omission (Might kids who have “everything” think they’re entitled to it? Who decides what children need to know about their bodies, and when? Would “meaningful work” in this context violate child labor laws? Can Homeowners’ Association rules offer “respite” from the cares of the world?)
If upgrading computers and playgrounds and training for counselors means jacking property taxes high enough to fund everything in this manifesto, then we’re knee-deep into a transaction that swaps freedom for feckless appeals to security.
As with all progressive wish-casting — e.g., “it doesn’t matter what I say, as long as I sing with inflection” – the details of how to provide good things for our children matter. For example, fans of House Bill 514, “An Act to Permit Certain Towns to Operate Charter Schools” won’t persuade educrats that charter schools are “challenges that push students to test their limits.” Professional educators have no patience for homeschoolers, either. Cynics might think that some teacher protests have more to do with protecting subsidized turf than providing effective tools for learning.
It’s not that DAE rejects personal growth; it’s that educators want personal growth on their own terms, and parental freedom to choose what seems best for their children is not one of those terms. Example: Durham School Superintendent Pascal Mubenga’s proposed budget for FY 2018-2019 blames charter school growth for declining enrollment in public schools. “Out of 115 school districts in the state, only 6 have a higher proportion of students attending charter schools,” it sniffs.
Teacher pay aggravates, also. You can argue that teachers deserve more than they make (an average of $51,214 annually), but first responders and prison guards make the same argument.
Meanwhile, reporting ignores context for budgeting questions, such as the fact that links between larger budgets and improved student performance are tenuous at best. There are star teachers like Jaime “Stand and Deliver” Escalante, who was so successful at teaching calculus to inner-city children that the union of which he was part hounded him out of his job. There are also reporters who think every teacher is another Escalante. They won’t tell you that the most common non-education job held by education majors is “administrative assistant,” according to what Census Bureau data says.
The National Education Association (NEA) ranks North Carolina 37th in the nation for teacher pay, but it ignored data about teacher benefits and experience. We’re actually a more respectable 29th when you account for the cost of living, as the John Locke Institute pointed out.
I’m not saying that teaching is easy, or that the education budget is ideal. But teachers and reporters should highlight trade-offs. Instead, they’re appealing to the kind of “fairness” that always seems to raise a hind leg over the flowers of freedom.
Patrick O’Hannigan is a Civitas contributor, a father of two and works as a technical writer and editor in North Carolina.