Keep an eye on education politics

Published 4:57 pm Friday, January 27, 2023

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I’ve written here several times in the past about supporting education and the importance of learning. Education is the key to opening so many doors in life, and everyone deserves to learn as much as they possibly can.

This is why it’s so disheartening these days to check the national news and see stories about school shootings, book bans, underpaid teachers, “indoctrination” claims, and more. All of these things disrupt education (and lives) in different ways. How can our students learn how to function in our world today when they have to worry about their safety when they attend? Or when they’re not allowed to read about different viewpoints? Or when their teachers are too stretched thin to provide adequate instruction?

But what caught my attention in particular this week was an NPR news article about Florida’s Department of Education deciding to reject an African American studies course. Their claim was that it indoctrinated students to “a political agenda.”

The course in question is an Advanced Placement (AP) course on African American history that has been in development for almost a decade, and is currently in a pilot phase before it is more widely offered.

Florida’s Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. said in a tweet that they rejected the course because it was “filled with Critical Race Theory and other obvious violations of Florida law” and added, “we do not accept woke indoctrination masquerading as education.”

But I question Mr. Diaz Jr’s inflammatory accusations of “obvious violations.” According to his tweet, the department’s concerns with the course included topics of intersectionality and activism, Black queer studies, movements for Black Lives, Black feminist literary thoughts, reparations, and Black struggle in the 21st century.

I do not understand why he would take issue with a HISTORY course about African Americans discussing the topic of activism, for example. Wasn’t the Civil Rights movement an important piece of African American history?

And I do not understand why he would take issue with discussions about queer issues or feminism. Does Mr. Diaz Jr. want to pretend that Black women and queer people don’t exist and that they never played any roles in African American history?

The department’s concerns pointed to specific readings included in the course curriculum, but again, I question the concern here. Because I know it’s been a while since I took an AP-level class, but I seem to remember that a part of learning is considering a variety of viewpoints to see the topic from all angles.

I’m sorry that it apparently bothers officials at the Florida Department of Education to consider viewpoints that differ from their own.

Learning history is not solely about memorizing dates and names, but understanding the reason why things happened and figuring out how the consequences of past actions make an impact on current ones.

I’d be curious to know what would be acceptable to the Florida Department of Education. But I doubt they have their own curriculum ideas planned out to offer suggestions.

According to the NPR article, those involved in creating the course shot down claims of “indoctrination” and explained that the course focuses on the experiences and contributions of African Americans, including a comprehensive view of culture, literature, historical development, political movements, and social movements.

That sounds like what you would expect from any high school class designed to get students ready for college. One that is, if I may add, not even required for students to take if they don’t want to.

I just wanted to share this example as one of many I’ve read about recently where politicians keep trying to jump in and control education in a way that seems extremely excessive. This is the same problem I had with book bans sweeping across the nation. How can you support learning if you keep trying to shut down any viewpoint that varies from the one you prefer?

Here in North Carolina, it seems like we don’t have to worry about these kinds of silly arguments yet. Though Republicans in the state’s General Assembly did try to pass a sort of “anti-CRT” bill in 2021 that ultimately didn’t pan out.

The General Assembly is back in session this month with many newly-elected representatives starting their terms in office. I think it’s important to keep tabs on how they choose to support education within our state, and I will be keeping up with what they’re doing through different news outlets. Education NC, however, is one of the most comprehensive news sources for what’s going on with the state legislature, the state Board of Education, or the state Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI).

A recent EdNC article gave a comprehensive overview of things the General Assembly may be working on for the next few months. Here are a few of those topics:

Teacher pay: Despite consistent raises in past years, some argue that it’s still not enough. Apparently, a good chunk of the state’s $11 billion K-12 education budget is already allotted for teacher pay and benefits in the amount of approximately $7.2 billion.

Accountability: NCDPI gives out performance “grades” to schools each year (except during the pandemic) and recently, more and more people have spoken up about how the metrics aren’t as accurate as they could be, since they’re based mostly on test scores. I’ve reported yearly on the local performance grades, which are often abysmal. But I know those letter grades don’t always reflect the successful parts of our local school systems. NCDPI has been talking about changing to a different model, but it’ll be up to the legislature to allow those changes.

School facilities: the legislature has used the Needs-Based Public School Capital Fund (NBPSCF) to distribute lottery money to districts across the state who need to upgrade their buildings. In the past, the Hertford County and Gates County districts have benefited from these funds, and most recently, Northampton County has received funds too. This has helped spare local taxpayers from shouldering most of the burden for construction costs. The legislature may choose to add more money to the NBPSCF in the future.

Mental health: many organizations are pushing the legislature for more mental health support in schools, including more funding for school nurses and social workers. They argue that extra support can help reduce the issue of gun violence, particularly in schools.

Leandro: this long-running court case continues to be a sticking point between state legislators and the public school system. The original case ruled that every student should have access to a sound, basic education. The suggested solution to ensure that was an increase in funding. Some lawmakers have contested that decision, which continues to bounce around in court. Maybe they’ll come to an agreement this year. (But don’t hold your breath!)

With all that in mind, I’ll be watching to see how we continue to support education in North Carolina. It’s vital to everyone’s future.

Holly Taylor is a Staff Writer for Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact her at or 252-332-7206.