Archives for category: North Carolina

Isabela Dias writes in Mother Jones about attacks on a Black social studies teacher who has been labeled a teacher of critical race theory.

In the first week of classes in August, Rodney D. Pierce, a social studies teacher at Red Oak Middle School in Battleboro, North Carolina, set the stage for his 8th graders by sharing a quote from James Baldwin: “American history is longer, larger, more various, more beautiful, and more terrible than anything anyone has ever said about it.” Pierce told the students they were going to learn about both the “beautiful and the horrifying parts” of the state and country’s past. “We need to talk about all of it,” he explained “because that is American history.”

The fight over how to teach American history to children—a long battle that has frothed into a particularly acute moral panic today—often comes back to whose history is being discussed. For Pierce, a Black teacher of many Black students, it’s impossible to avoid racism. For years, he has spoken openly about this in the concrete and the local: the town names, the monuments to Confederates, the horrific lynchings. He has gone above his mandate of teaching to the test because the test did not include the explanations of events that led to the world his students inhabit. He was rewarded by earning social studies teacher of the year in 2019 and has been tasked with helping write the new standards for the state to make sure others follow his lead.

But lately, Pierce’s “speak my truth and be upfront about it” approach has been drawing more backlash than ever before. In the past year, parents have complained to school administrators about a perceived political slant in his work. When he repeated something former President Donald Trump said verbatim, they accused him of lying. Some claim he has insisted on talking about slavery—and that this has made students disenchanted. “They’re really reaching for anything they can get on me,” Pierce says. “I started feeling like a target.”

A gregarious 42-year-old father of three and self-described history buff, Pierce was born in Maryland, and raised in the rural eastern part of North Carolina by his maternal grandmother, a descendant of enslaved people. He remembers sitting in his grandmother’s living room in Roanoke Rapids as a child with an encyclopedia, questioning the accuracy of depictions of ancient Egyptians as white. As a student, Pierce admired the work of Black poets like Paul Laurence Dunbar. He was inquisitive, interpretive, and analytical. “His favorite word was why,” says Charlene Nicholson, his former 6th grade English language teacher and longtime mentor. “He would always think deeper.”

Pierce has been teaching social studies for six years; the past two at Red Oak. Located less than 30 miles west of Princeville, one of the first incorporatedAfrican American towns in the country, the school sits in an affluent and fairly conservative area of Nash County. Although still predominately white, Nash has shifted in the past decades. The Black population has grown. It has become more Democratic. Pierce says he still sees “Trump-Pence 2020” signs outside the Dollar General store across the street from the school. But Biden won there, even if just by 120 votes. More than 50 percent of his students are Black and 10 percent are Hispanic, which informs his teaching philosophy of “inspiration and empowerment” and challenges him as an educator and historian. As a Black teacher talking about racism and slavery in a racially diverse community, Pierce is both the object of admiration and disapproval. “The last thing I want to do is alienate a kid,” he explains. But if he ignores race, what would his Black students think happened?

“It always goes back to local history to me,” he says. As part of an assignment, Pierce asks the class to research the historical origins of the names of towns in the Tri-County area of Nash, Edgecombe, and Wilson, including Battleboro, which was initially established by Joseph Battle as a settlement along the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad, the longest in the world at the time and the “lifeline of the Confederacy” during the Civil War. In another, Pierce shows students news stories about Ku Klux Klan activities in nearby Rocky Mount—from a 1966 picket line outside a dry cleaner where a Black employee refused to clean the Klan robes to a 1992 rally. In another, he talks to them about the 1970 bombing of a formerly all-Black school in reaction to imminent integration. In the fall, he plans to discuss the Black rights group Concerned Citizens of Battleboro, who led the 1994 boycott of local white-owned businesses to protest law enforcement harassment. All of it, Pierce says, is about showing students their own community is part of history and making sure they are able to see themselves within the content and the curriculum.

Unfortunately, many parents don’t want their children to be taught the truth.

Dias recounts North Carolina’s history of fighting racial equity. After the Brown decision, the strategy to keep the races segregated was school choice.

Even now, the state is trying to censor discussion of the past, because it might make some students (and their families and elected officials) feel guilt and discomfort. They don’t want to revisit the past.

Dias writes:

In May, the North Carolina House voted along partisan lines to move to the Senate the “Ensuring Dignity & Nondiscrimination/Schools” bill prohibiting public schools from promoting concepts such as that an individual should feel “discomfort, guilt, anguish” or bear responsibility for actions from the past based on their race or sex; and opposing the characterization that the belief that the United States is a meritocracy is “inherently racist or sexist.” In support of the legislation, the Republican State Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt vouched to eradicate CRT from classrooms, saying, “There is no room for divisive rhetoric that condones preferential treatment of any one group over another.” Democratic Rep. James Gailliard of Nash County called it a “don’t-hurt-my-feelings bill” that reproduces “discrimination, fanaticism, bigotry….”

There is no more glaring example of North Carolina’s ability to deliberately bury its history than the education of the Wilmington Coup. In November 1898, a mob of heavily armed white supremacists overthrew the Fusionist city government, burned down the local Black newspaper’s office, and killed and banished dozens of people. The port city, before then, was a symbol of Black achievement and hope. For years, the coup has been considered “lost history,” despite its importance in cementing “white rule for another century” in North Carolina. The current social studies standards, which outline learning goals for K-12 students, do not include it. Instead, it is ultimately up to school districts to determine what goes in the curriculum and to educators like Pierce, who wasn’t introduced to it until he was in college, to teach it.

“That kind of history is important particularly for African Americans because it lets us know there was a time when racial and domestic terror were waged on us and the state didn’t want us to know about it,” he says, pointing to a special commission established in the mid-2000s to finally set the record straight.

But please don’t tell the students.

The North Carolina General Assembly is considering legislation that ostensibly bans discrimination in the state’s classrooms. But the real purpose of the statute is to ban discussions of racism. Among other things, it prohibits teaching anything that might cause students to feel “discomfort,” and it prohibits diversity training.

The bill begins:

A BILL TO BE ENTITLED
AN ACT TO DEMONSTRATE THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY’S INTENT THAT STUDENTS,
TEACHERS, ADMINISTRATORS, AND OTHER SCHOOL EMPLOYEES RECOGNIZE THE EQUALITY AND RIGHTS OF ALL PERSONS AND TO PROHIBIT PUBLIC SCHOOL UNITS FROM PROMOTING CERTAIN CONCEPTS THAT ARE CONTRARY TO THAT INTENT.

Public school units shall not promote that:
(1) One race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex.
(2) An individual, solely by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist,
sexist, or oppressive.
(3) An individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment
solely or partly because of his or her race or sex.
(4) An individual’s moral character is necessarily determined by his or her race or
sex.
(5) An individual, solely by virtue of his or her race or sex, bears responsibility
for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex.
(6) Any individual, solely by virtue of his or her race or sex, should feel
discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress.
(7) A meritocracy is inherently racist or sexist.
H324-CSBE-35
(8) The United States was created by members of a particular race or sex for the purpose of oppressing members of another race or sex.
(9) The United States government should be violently overthrown.
(10) Particular character traits, values, moral or ethical codes, privileges, or beliefs should be ascribed to a race or sex, or to an individual because of the
individual’s race or sex.
(11) The rule of law does not exist, but instead is a series of power relationships
and struggles among racial or other groups.
(12) All Americans are not created equal and are not endowed by their Creator with
certain unalienable rights, including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. (13) Governments should deny to any person within the government’s jurisdiction
the equal protection of the law.
Public school units shall (i) notify the De

Justin Parmenter was curious about the hundreds of letters that parents wrote to the Lieutenant Governor about the need for this legislation, and he filed an open records request to gain access to them. Many were avowedly racist.

Many of the 506 complaints to Robinson’s task force come from North Carolinians who appear deeply concerned about what they perceive as a move away from a white Christian-centered system of public education.

These submissions include recommendations to cancel Black History Month, pleas to stop making white students feel guilty by teaching so much about slavery–which one individual remarked “is getting old”–and suggestions to end hiring practices aimed at increasing diversity of school staff.

They provide a helpful lens to understand the real motivation behind moves across the country to restrict classroom discussions on race and various types of oppression under the false pretense of fighting the boogeyman “critical race theory.”

While the outward tactics and messaging of this movement may be a bit more subtle than in years past, its underlying sentiment feels very familiar.

Paul Butler is a professor at the Georgetown University School of Law.

In the Washington Post, where he is a contributing columnist, he writes that the disparate treatment of Nikole Hannah-Jones illustrates critical race theory. At the heart of CRT is the belief that systemic racism persists, despite legislative and judicial actions to banish it.

According to some leading critical race theorists, integration — thetraditional progressive route to racial justice — does not actually work for minorities. In this view, white supremacy is so embedded in most American institutions that people of color will never be accepted as equals — even when they are formally Reade entry.

UNC demonstrated that point after its journalism school offered Hannah-Jones, an investigative journalist for the New York Times, a prestigious professorship. The MacArthur “genius” learned that her initial appointment would be without tenure. She said she knew of no “legitimate reason” why “someone who has worked in the field as long as I have, who has the credentials, the awards, or the status that I have, should be treated different than every other white professor who came before me.” After a threatened lawsuit and huge public outcry, the university’s Board of Trustees voted 9 to 4 to extend tenure to Hannah-Jones….

Hannah-Jones’s rejection of a majority-White institution whose leaders clearly did not value her worth — and her embrace of a Black institution that did — embodied critical race theory’s foundational principles….

In a classic article published in 1976, Harvard professor Derrick Bell argued that during the Jim Crow era, Black students might have been better off if they had sought more resources for segregated schools rather than access to White schools. Bell’s premise was that actual integration would never happen, even if it were legally mandated, because of “massive white hostility.”

Critical race theorists described the heavy toll of desegregation efforts, including placing Blacks in hostile environments, in a way that resonates with Hannah-Jones’s explanation for her decision: “At some point when you have proven yourself and fought your way into institutions that were not built for you . . . you have to decide that you are done forcing yourself in….”

I have no beef with Hannah-Jones for declining a job at a journalism school that is literally named after the White man who, as he so delicately put it, “expressed my concerns” about her hiring. But, for now, I am okay with working at a university that in its early years was financed by the sale of enslaved people. I love my students and respect my colleagues, and have been part of the community’s efforts, still incomplete, to make reparations for that travesty. Sometimes, helping majority-White spaces be less racist and more inclusive feels transformative. Other times, it feels like an intellectual version of my great-grandfather’s job; he cleaned outhouses — i.e., shoveling White people’s excrement.

Much respect to Hannah-Jones for providing another example. Much respect to critical race theorists for keeping us focused on the crucial question: whether any approach can achieve racial justice in our flawed and divided country.

Justin Parmenter, NBCT teacher in North Carolina writes here about the resolution passed by a local school board that bans teaching anything that might cause students to feel stress, anxiety, or discomfort. Well, that pretty much eliminates teaching about world wars, genocide, racism, sexism, and everything bad that ever happened in history. It denies the uncomfortable facts of history, like the existence of racism, the denial of women’s rights, the internment of Japanese-Americans in camps during the Second World War, the brutality of the Holocaust, the forced relocation of Native Americans, and on and on. It also requires the suppression of many novels; only happy, pleasant stories may be read, in which no one dies, no one is betrayed, no one is cheated or harmed.

Obviously, it’s a back door attempt to ban teaching about racism, which is the crusade of the moment for the Republican Party..

Is it possible to prepare young people to live in this world if they are shielded from uncomfortable realities?

Parmenter writes:

At its Monday meeting, the Cabarrus Board of Education unanimously adopted a “Resolution to Ensure Dignity and Nondiscrimination in Schools.”

The resolution notes that the board “recognizes the importance of diversity of backgrounds, opinions, and expression as foundational to providing students with the opportunity to receive a sound basic education” before stating that student learning should not result in any “discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress.”

The board’s action comes after North Carolina’s State Board of Education adopted new, more inclusive social studies standards which teach history from more diverse perspectives. Some language in the standards documents has resulted in charges that the standards teach that the United States is a racist nation and that news could be distressing for some of our children…

As a teacher I feel it’s important to add that learning and growing as an individual involves discomfort. That’s an inherent part of the learning process.

This resolution isn’t really about ensuring that all students are treated with dignity in schools at all. It’s about ensuring that white students don’t learn that their country has a long history of systemic oppression towards people of color and a whole host of other traditionally marginalized groups.

Journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones issued a statement explaining her decision not to accept the belated decision of the UNC board to offer her a tenured position and chair at the university’s school of journalism, whose faculty supported her. She instead accepted a tenured chair at Howard University. Hannah-Jones was represented by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

Her essay is powerful. Please read it.

To those who say that racism is dead and gone, read it and think again.

The Hussman School of Journalism and Media at the University of North Carolina recently offered the prestigious Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism to Nikole Hannah-Jones. Hannah-Jones is an alumna of the Hussman School who has received many honors for her writing. She recently won a Pulitzer Prize for “The 1619 Project,” which she organized and for which she wrote the lead essay, recasting the role of Blacks in American history.

But there was one hitch: Unlike previous winners of the Knight Chair, she would not receive tenure. This decision was made not by the faculty of the Hussman School, but by the trustees of the University. Mega donor Walter Hussman—for whom the journalism school is named— conveyed his disappointment to Board members and university officials about Hannah-Jones’ appointment. Hannah-Jones said she would not accept the offer unless it included tenure.

Black students and faculty were furious and saw the treatment of Hannah-Jones as evidence of systemic racism at UNC. The faculty of the Hussman School was outraged that the university board overrode their decision.

Yesterday the University board of trustees reversed their decision and agreed to offer tenure to Hannah-Jones. The vote was 9-4. They had to choose whether it would be more dangerous to offend the state’s Republican legislators or to offend their Black faculty and students and the faculty of the journalism school.

They chose.

NCBT Teacher Justin Parmenter writes here about the reaction of the Republican-controlled Legislature to their rampant fear that teachers might try to indoctrinate students into radical views of American history and society, like discussing shameful episodes in the past. The legislators want patriotic history that makes students proud to be Americans.

First they passed a law requiring teachers to make public their lesson plans to prove that they are not “indoctrinating” students.

Parmenter begins:

Last month the NC House of Representatives passed a law entitled “An Act to Ensure Academic Transparency” which would require teachers to post their lesson plans and details about all instructional materials online for public review. 

In defense of their support for the new legislation, which passed almost entirely along partisan lines, some Republican legislators cited the need to prevent indoctrination of North Carolina students.  

Iredell County Representative Jeffrey McNeely said, “Hopefully we’re just gonna teach the kids. We’re not gonna try to indoctrinate ’em or teach ’em in a certain way to make ’em believe something other than the facts.”

At its meeting today, the North Carolina State Board of Education reviewed glossaries and unpacking documents related to new state social studies standards which will be implemented in school year 2021-22. (Unpacking documents are overarching documents intended to help teachers understand how the standards should be taught).

During the discussion, board member Amy White expressed her view that the standards unpacking documents needed to ensure North Carolina teachers are teaching their students that America is a great nation.

Is that true? Is it indoctrination?

The editorial board of the News & Observer, the state’s largest newspaper sharply criticized the Republicans in the General Assembly for rushing to expand the state’s voucher program. They plan to raise the income requirement so that many more families are eligible, and they expect to increase the size of the voucher.

Senate leader Phil Berger peddles the same lie that Betsy DeVos so often spewed: that the voucher program would give poor families the same educational opportunities as affluent families.

The current size of the voucher is $4,200. Even if that is increased by $1,650, as proposed, it will still be far less than the tuition at a first-rate private school.

The editorial board writes:

Senate leader Phil Berger has long described the school voucher program he pushed through in 2013 as a way to enable poor families to afford private school tuition. Now that claim is being dropped in favor of offering vouchers to families earning well over the state’s median income.

At a 2019 news conference, Berger, an Eden Republican, said, “In 2013 we created the Opportunity Scholarships program to provide low-income families an amount up to $4,200 per year to access the education pathway best suited for their kids.” Last year at another news conference he cited his concern about a single mother who could not afford the best school for her child without state help. “School choice should not be a privilege only for those who can afford it,” he said.

What was true then, isn’t true now. Problem is it was never true. The low-income kids were props for launching a program to expand school choice overall…

The Senate bill’s rising eligibility level speaks to what has been going on all along and the reason why this Editorial Board has opposed vouchers from the start. The idea isn’t to give children a chance to escape a high-poverty public school. That was a pretext. The real idea is to eventually give parents of all incomes a chance to send their children to private schools at the public’s expense…

That approach undermines public schools. But that’s the point. Those who would privatize K-12 education first have to break confidence in public schools. The worse the public schools become, the greater the need for a private option.

Many, probably most of the children who use vouchers are attending church-run schools that are exempt from standards and accountability. They are not getting a better education than what’s available in public schools. They may be getting a decidedly worse education.

Journalist Jeff Bryant writes that the motivation behind the much-discussed attacks on teaching “critical race theory” is not solely about teaching the history of racism. The goal of rightwing politicians is to silence the teaching of all subjects they don’t like. Despite the Republicans’ frequent complaints about “cancel culture,” they have embarked on a national crusade to cancel uncomfortable facts about science and history.

In this article, he describes what happened to NBCT certified teacher Justin Parmenter.

David Berliner, a distinguished scholar of American education, is writing a long essay about the dangers of public funding for religious schools. Currently numerous red states are considering proposal to expand vouchers and transfer more public funds to religious schools, typically without accountability. Their actions will overturn the historic tradition of separation of church and state. As the Pastors for Texas Children often say, that separation guarantees religious Liberty.

Berliner writes:

Public dollars for support of religious schools costs citizens billions of dollars annually, and ends up supporting some horrible things. A contemporary example of this is the criteria for entrance to the Fayetteville Christian School (FCS) in North Carolina. 

The Fayetteville Christian School is recipient, in a recent school year, of $495,966 of public money. They got this in the form of school vouchers that are used by students and their families to pay for the students religious schooling. The entrance requirements for this school, and other religious schools like it, frighten me, though they are clearly acceptable to North Carolinians. From their website, in 2020:1

“The student and at least one parent with whom the student resides must be in agreement with (our) Statement of Faith and have received Jesus Christ as their Savior. In addition, the parent and student must regularly (go to) a local church. (We) will not admit families that belong to or express faith in religions that deny the absolute Deity/Trinity of Jesus Christ as the one and only Savior and path to salvation. …. FCS will not admit families that engage in behaviors that Scripture defines as deviate and sin (illicit drug use, sexual promiscuity, homosexuality (LGBT), etc.)

Once admitted, if the student or parent/guardian with whom the student resides becomes involved in lifestyles contradictory to Biblical beliefs, we may choose to dis-enroll the student/family from the school.” 

[Retrieved February 8, 2021, from https://www.fayettevillechristian.com/copy-of-criteria-1

So, despite the receipt of public money, the Fayetteville Christian School is really notopen to the public at all! This school says, up front and clearly, that it doesn’t want and will not accept Jews, Muslims, Hindu’s, and many others. Further, although supported by public money, it will expel students for their family’s alleged “sins”. Is papa smoking pot? Expelled! Does your sibling have a homosexual relationship? Out! Has mama filed for divorce? You are gone! The admissions and dismissal policies of this school–receiving about a half million dollars of public funds per year–are scandalous. I’d not give them a penny! North Carolina legislators, and the public who elects them should all be embarrassed to ever say they are upholders of American democracy. They are not.