PERSPECTIVES: Political Chatter Won’t Put a Good Roof Over on Our Public Schools

Politicians like to talk about “hot button issues,” such as religion in public schools and the awfulness of Critical Race Theory as they avoid confronting challenges that public education faces daily.

In the mid-1990’s I was part of an administrative team that merged an all-male, independent day school with its across-town counterpart. The merger was packed with angst.

Early in the merger planning, an administrator commented about a daunting hurdle. The roof of one of the schools was in poor condition, and $250,000 was needed for its repair. “It is very difficult to get someone to give that much money for a roof,” he said.

We learned that donors would gladly give for an athletic building or field or anything that could be seen and where a plaque naming the giver could be mounted, But a roof?!

Many schools in my state (North Carolina) need similar repairs so says an article published recently in the Charlotte Observer. A professional association asked educators about the state of their buildings. A few situations they mentioned include drinking water contaminated with heavy metal concentration, a school built for 1,800 students now serving 2,300, bee and termite infestations, and an older school building with rodents, sewer flies, and rodent traps in the library.

Guilford County, the state’s third-largest district, had to close five schools because of inadequate air cooling. It seems that 1000 air conditioner work requests overflowed the maintenance staff.

The article also quotes a report earlier by the NC Department of Public Instruction that placed the price of renovating/rebuilding N.C. public schools at $12.8 billion–a 58% increase over the last five years.

Last weekend, The Salt and Light Conference, hosted by North Carolina’s Chapter of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, was held in the Temple Baptist Church of Mount Airy. Some of the invited speakers were members of the state legislature and candidates running in the upcoming U. S. Senate race. According to an article in the Charlotte Observer, State Senate leader Phil Berger warned in a video screening that “there’s never been a more critical time in America than right now.”

Well, just what did he mean? We soon got an answer.

Representative David Willis told the audience that teachers promoted Critical Race Theory while not wanting parents “to know what’s going on in the classroom.” According to the article, conference speakers expressed strong opposition to CRT, white privilege, and other “anti-biblical” teaching in our public schools. Representative Willis said, “We parents do not give them [teachers] the authority to teach our children moral values to our children….”

The contrast of the articles just cited speaks volumes to how (too many) of our elected (and election wanna-be’s) view education.

They like to talk about “hot button issues,” such as religion in public schools, or CRT, or even–as we had in N.C. during the 1960s–a “Speaker Ban.” Those at the conference spoke about biblical issues or test scores, but they did not talk to problems that we faced during our merger, things like the need for a new roof and challenges presented by mold, rodents, drinking water contamination, and other mundane matters.

No sir, it seems that elected officials want something that stirs the emotions of voters, and race, religion, and other such topics. Those subjects “rile up” the base and win votes while many public-school buildings’ rot continues.

What’s the takeaway here? The emphasis is problematic, and it represents a fundamental misunderstanding of what we need to do to ensure quality public education.

As is so often the case, the problem is not some evil lurking outside our walls, but it is one sitting in the chair next to us. As Pogo observed long ago, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

Any day of the week I’ll take a sound roof covering every building with eager learners and talented teachers inside over useless political noise.

One Response

  1. Ruth Isenberg September 30, 2021

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