On Public Education…

Thomas Jefferson- Champion of Public Education

I have indeed two great measures at heart, without which no republic can maintain itself in strength: 1. That of general education, to enable every man to judge for himself what will secure or endanger his freedom. 2. To divide every county into hundreds, of such size that all the children of each will be within reach of a central school in it.”  (A letter from me to John Tyler, 1810)

The purpose of this article is to initiate a dialogue on our local system and institutions dedicated to public education.  I believe this dialogue to be long overdue.

First, let me say to the citizens of Lee County there is no more important task set before our local government than to educate our population, one and all.  Upon this principle rest our tax policy, our hiring practices, even our daily routines.  Our very livelihoods depend on us being an educated people, capable of competing favorably in the local, national, and international markets, and sufficiently well informed to govern ourselves into the future.

This morning I read a synopsis of the speech our esteemed Lieutenant Governor made at the Committee of 100 luncheon on Tuesday.  I was unpleasantly surprised to learn he was so eager to re-engineer our established system of education, referring to it as a “graveyard method of teaching.”  He advocated instead more creative forums like the Temple Theater, the Sanford Pottery Festival, and the Heart of Carolina Jazz Festival  as appropriate modes for educating our young in an age where information is being created faster than we can absorb it. 

Frankly, this is just the kind of attitude I have seen emerging among 21st Century liberal idealogues who are much too cavalier in socially engineering our schools, abandoning the first principles of education that made us a great nation.   I’m sure our Lieutenant Governor is a fine man, but perhaps he needs to expend more effort in pursuit of the lifelong learning he claims to favor, and less time suggesting we un-do what my fellow founding fathers and I struggled to put in place some 200 years ago.

I shall not attempt to address all the many points I wish to make on public education in this initial posting.  I will instead identify a few cogent ones to evoke some comments from our readers, then follow up in subsequent posts to address what I think are the enduring strengths and emerging weaknesses  of public education in Lee County.  I pray many of you will comment on these thoughts and provide an excellent discourse in response.  Please note: while most subsequent discussion pertains to public schools in grades K-12 and Lee Early College, some of the content will also be applicable to the county’s two private Christian schools, and to a lesser degree our homeschooling system.  

Lee County public schools are blessed to have several strong pillars supporting our system of education, perhaps the strongest of which is our teachers.  We continue to employ a diverse population of capable teachers and assistants who labor endlessly to prepare our youth for productive lives.   Despite ever-increasing classroom populations, the challenges of educating indisciplined children, inadequate resources, and bureaucratic distractions, our cohort of teachers continues to turn out stellar graduates who perform well in college and in the labor force.   Not all our teachers are performing to their potential, but the county has a means for culling out those who are not meeting educational standards and most are removed in due course.

Another pillar of our present public education system is our funding stream.  We continue to spend about 40% of our total budget on public education and education spending in the state remains proportionally high each year.  Although levels of spending do not correlate precisely to good educational outcomes, it helps that we are gacious in funding public education as a top local priority. 

A third pillar of the Lee County schools is our geo-demographic profile.  Unlike our neighboring counties, Lee County is small and our population is more uniformly distributed across a well-integrated road network.  Most of our schools are a short drive from home and we can more easily accomodate after-school programs and activites over shorter distances.  These factors help reduce the overall cost of education and enable the community to provide supplemental services (like Boys and Girls Club programs) to enhance the educational experience.

There are several other pillars that support our educational system and I hope others will nominate them as they comment on this and subsequent posts.

I will detail what I think are the detractors from a sound public education system  in my subsequent post.  Stay tuned and keep those comments coming…


About Thomas Jefferson

3rd President and Founding Father of the U.S. I conceived and promoted the country's system of public education in the early 19th Century. I am often misunderstood about my the "wall of separation" term and letter to the Danbury Baptist Association, which unfortunately has come to be interpreted as my suggesting separation of God and the Holy Trinity from all matters of state. I am a Christian, saved by the blood of Jesus Christ and I owe Him my salvation. I pray for this great country, that it remain strong, independent and Christian!
This entry was posted in Education. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to On Public Education…

  1. Patrick Henry says:

    I agree. I do hope some serious dialogue occurs without name calling.

    One thing that it seems hasn’t really been tried in a long time is to stop all the fluff and actually start teaching Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic again. Without these basic skill sets, you simply can’t survive the way the Founding Fathers intended. There has been so much dumbing down of America via the public school system that it is too easy to fool the citizens because they don’t know better. Hence, the way they vote.

    Lt. Gov Dalton is speaking the same language. Enrich the little ones’ lives with arts, drama, and social activities. But in the long run, the very ones we “say” we want to help eventually fail or get so bored with the “social activities” they become dropouts and we’re left with an overburdened welfare system. By design…

    And then there’s the EOG testing: Our teachers spend way too much time teaching tests. But if they don’t, and the kids fail the tests, even though they know the “real” stuff, it reflects on their performance reviews and everywhere else. Hence, now we have discouraged public school teachers. How long can we expect them to enjoy their job, instill the love of learning into our kids lives, and yet try to keep up with all the rules and political games played in the system? Let’s just start with Lee county on that one….

    The NC Constitution guarantees education for all. What it can’t guarantee is the “all” wanting education. Throwing money at failed policies and programs is insane. Throwing money at this year’s initiative and then telling the school systems “you find a way to pay for it the next year” simply has to stop.

    It’s almost like a deliberate plan to fail. Just keep the peasants illiterate, downtrodden, and depressed so a “King” can come in and sweep them off their feet.


    • Thomas Jefferson says:

      Thank You Patrick. As stated in my 1818 Report to my beloved University of Virginia, “The objects of… primary education [which] determine its character and limits [are]: To give to every citizen the information he needs for the transaction of his own business; to enable him to calculate for himself, and to express and preserve his ideas, his contracts and accounts in writing; to improve, by reading, his morals and faculties; to understand his duties to his neighbors and country, and to discharge with competence the functions confided to him by either; to know his rights; to exercise with order and justice those he retains, to choose with discretion the fiduciary of those he delegates; and to notice their conduct with diligence, with candor and judgment; and in general, to observe with intelligence and faithfulness all the social relations under which he shall be placed.” While the arts certainly play a role in rounding one’s educational experience, the fundamentals of reading, writing and arithmetic must be emphasized. Too many of our youth today are distracted with secondary or tertiary educational activities and are failing to master the talents which would make them productive citizens and workers.


  2. James Wilson says:

    I can’t help but be shocked by what those outside the education system think when they look at it. The first three words I would use to describe the school system are as follows: bureaucracy, bureaucracy, and bureaucracy. Every time a student sharpens a pencil the teachers have 6 forms to fill out, two conferences, a liability waver that needs signed by the parent or guardian and pencil sharpener company, and a series of staff development seminars on how pencils can be more efficiently sharpened in the classroom. We are literally almost to this point. I don’t care what the Lieutenant Governor says, with all the laws, policies and general bureaucracy in place he couldn’t re-engineer a canned carrot out of the cafeteria. His ideas don’t seem horrible to me in the least however, but I could see the criticism, especially from those on the outside. You want to focus on reading, writing, and arithmetic? If you can’t see how language arts could be taught in a theatre, you are a below average teacher. If you cannot see how arithmetic can be taught through music, you are a below average teacher. If you cannot see how chemistry can be taught through pottery, you are a below average teacher. In addition, these kinesthetic paradigms for learning are recognized by neuropathologists to be the most efficient and permanent way to learn pretty much anything. I would not argue that they should be permanent, long-term school settings but they can be valuable resources that significantly enhance the speed and retention in learning for many strands of the curriculum as it is written.

    The bureaucracy and wasteful spending occur on all levels. Schools, experts on their populations, are micromanaged by too many central office employees. In Lee County there was a recent issue with a county dress code. The proposed dress code was great. I had no problems with it as written. The problem is that this should be a school issue, not controlled by central office. Similarly, the old SACS (School accreditation) is now an outfit called AdvancEd and came in for a recent evaluation of our schools and one of their suggestions was very general: To make more programs and initiatives uniform and consistently implemented throughout the county. Is this a good idea? What good would this do? Because there is a need for a program at LCHS, there MUST be a need at East Lee and Bullock too… right? To make things uniform for the sake of making them uniform is ridiculous, but what else is there to do with that many employees at central office, right? And the AdvanceEd people need to keep their job too…

    Humor is a big piece of what is missing in many classrooms, but I got a good long laugh when I read from the original post: “Not all our teachers are performing to their potential, but the county has a means for culling out those who are not meeting educational standards and most are removed in due course.” Many administrators (those doing the not-so-objective teacher evaluations) wouldent know good teaching if it bit them. If you think there is a good ‘ol boys network in politics, you have no idea of the exponential level to which it exists in the Lee County Schools. Who you go to church with, who your family used to vacation with, who you grew up next to, and so on are the defining factors for both evaluation and promotion. I have seen awful teachers with glowing evaluations and excellent teachers who have personal issues with administrators with poor evaluations. To do an honest evaluation, that judges the talent and work of a classroom teacher would be lengthy, involved, expensive, probably still somewhat subjective, and… oh yes… require a competent unbiased administrator. There is no evaluation tool that I know of, especially the newly adopted one by the state of NC, that is completely objective and still thorough.

    We need accountability in the education system, at a far more extensive level than we have now. The problem is that someone along the way made the leap that accountability = student testing. EOG tests are relatively cheap, easy to administer and score, and even someone with a middle school education can understand the results. True accountability would be more expensive, inefficient and require a growth model for each individual with an examination of potential juxtaposed with imperical before and after data surrounding instruction.

    I have much more but Im afraid ill turn off people to reading my post if it is too long. I am anxious to see where this goes and will continue to contribute as the dialogue evolves.

  3. Thomas Jefferson says:

    Interesting post, James. Pardon me if your neuropathologists’ kinesthetic paradigms just don’t resonate with me. I’m not an outsider: I teach. In fact, I am a trained curriculum developer for post-graduate education and I’ve studied cognitive processes at great length. One of the many problems we face in public education is chasing the latest fad or program or method for sake of change. We deviate from proven methods and known productive settings because some so-called expert questions the old paradigm.

    Traditional public education methods produced contemporary heavyweight entrepreneurs and celebrities like Warren Buffet, Steve Jobs, GEN Dave Petraeus, and Rush Limbaugh. Most American nobel laureates were traditionally schooled. Our nation’s deepest thinkers, scientists, and educators were products of the old educational paradigms. Our great leaders of the industrial age and our most brilliant technologists leading the world into the information age have been groomed in traditional public schools. The preponderance of our 21st century elected leaders, CEO’s, and military minds were ‘victims’ of the graveyard method of teaching. So, pardon me if I am just a little skeptical of shifting that paradigm.

    Does that mean I am opposed to changing our classroom settings occasionally to break the monotony or spice up the educational process? Of course not. But please spare me the hype about teaching chemistry at a potter’s wheel. Give me the old periodic table of elements, a traditional chemistry lab with bunsen burners and beakers, and a solid text book and I’ll fill those young minds with useful information rather than the mushy drivel they would get in an artsy craftsy setting.


  4. Patrick Henry says:

    Very interesting. Very interesting point that relates the education bureaucracy with the politics. I don’t teach. I am an outsider. But it appears to me the insiders, the know it alls (bob e can be on this list as our past State Superintendent) are doing a poor job. They keep throwing money at it and it’s not working. If we did the same things in the private sector that is allowed to happen in the public education system, America wouldn’t survive. And we’re on the blink as it stands now.

    I probably would be completely irate if I knew what really went on. But I don’t need to look too far when the ad-hoc committee puts out a survey and then the superintendent (has anyone checked his background?) and another board member who has been around awhile state they will determine how the results are interpreted and presented to the public. Umm that is not an objective study! No matter what comes out of it now, I will interpret as cynical and skewed.

    My previous post about what was called when I was in elementary school, the 3 Rs, is just a statement to get back to basics. I never said to not be creative. The problem is the money, your money and mine, that is wasted with all the junk that “educational” elites say will raise the GPAs, the SAT scores, the EOG scores, etc. They don’t!! How long has NC been #48 in the nation? Years! You have to build the foundation for the house to be stable. Give me all the pretty rugs you want but if the foundation is not solid, the house won’t make it through a thunderstorm let alone a hurricane, etc.

    So if I am to believe all the hype, then I expect every child who gets a laptop in elementary school to make a “4” on the reading test. But then again, that means the child must know how to read before they can make a 4 on a reading test.

    Our educational officials seem to forget a laptop is just a box that someone must know how to turn on, must know how to choose an icon, must know what a search function is, what a word processing program is, etc, before it’s of any use. Oh, that’s right. Our “esteemed educators and BOE members” expect the parents, even the druggies, to help the little ones with it. That might be a problem. But don’t worry before long they’ll tell us they need more money to create a program that teaches the parents how to help the kids turn the laptops on, find the icon, use a search function, learn word processing skills, etc. That’s how the education cycle seems to go.

    Forgive me, but will this madness ever end?

  5. Goose says:

    Mixed comments so try to bear with me.
    P.H. I have no problem with the end of grade test concept. If a 4th grade teacher gets a group of students that average 65% of what they should know at the end of the 3rd grade and turns out students that score 65% at the end of 4th grade she has done an adequate job since at least in theory she has caught them up to 3rd grade level and taught them 65% of 4th grade skills. GIGO so to speak. 60% not so good, 75% very good, 85% outstanding. This is based on two concepts that education is summative in nature and that the tests can actually measure level of learning. I think the first concept is generally accepted, you do need to know letters before you can read and numbers before you can do math. But the second is very debatable, can any test determine what you really know. I was always good with tests I scored way higher than my classmates on end of school tests but my academic standing was only 12th. Even throwing out the kids taking vocational training like shop or homemaking I was only ranked 7th on the college track. Why? I was bored out of my mind all through high school. So which set of tests were right, the ones testing each subject or the ones testing general knowledge or how I could be expected to do in college? I expect the COG tests are faulty. If they really measured what you knew or could do, the only way to improve your score would be by learning what you were expected to know. Improve the EOG tests to detect who really has learned.
    Wilson I can buy your bureaucracy theory to a limited extent, all government runs on bureaucracy is it really any worse in the school system? I don’t buy the Lt Governor’s theory about off site teaching. Shakespeare wrote great and beautiful plays but his grammar and spelling would earn him an F in any language arts course. Music may be based on math but few composers are known for their math skills. Potters as chemists, most don’t why their grazes work and most have no clue of how to invent a new one. Looking up a recipe for a glaze ranks right up there like looking for a recipe for dinner.
    Nor do I buy your good old boy network theory. All the teachers and most of the administration at the very least had to leave Lee Co. for their education. I will not attempt to guess how many were brought up here and returned. Yes there are networks, there are in any organization. And usually one has to “go along to get along”. I have no idea or how evaluations are done in the schools. Most industry has gone to multiple evaluations from everyone the person has contact with including customers. Many colleges are asking students to evaluate how well someone teaches and their grasp of the subject. If Lee county schools are still using one on one evaluations, that needs to be looked at because abuse can be rampart. BTW is “wouldent’’ proper English?
    Thomas J. Surly you meant Bunsen burner, BTW those were banned in my old high school in 1959 as was the use of gas in the laboratory because some students thought it was funny to open the gas tap a crack before leaving the lab. Once a gas explosion blew off the lab door when it was empty. This was blamed on me since one of my duties as student lab assistant was to check every tap at the end of the lab. The BOE held a meeting and demoted me and capped off the gas line going to the lab. The Class of 1960 recently had their 50th reunion and this was brought up as the action by a class of ’60 student that had the biggest impact on the school! I wonder how many schools still have gas piped to their labs.
    This reminds me of my only real contact with teachers from the Sanford school system. Once upon a time I managed the labs for a local Bio-Tech firm. Our employees used to like to take summer vacations and science teachers were looking for summer jobs. Hire teachers as summer interns, they could learn what real science labs did and they should have basic skills. Win-Win I thought until I walked into a lab where an intern was using an open flame around rather large amounts of flammable liquid in the open lab rather than in the safety hood. Checking with others I found that it wasn’t an isolated incident. Another intern was reported working with deadly bacteria in an open lab instead of the safety hood which would have contained the risk. I put out the word that interns would not be left unattended in labs without a lab buddy which was supposed to be policy for anyone. So many safety reports came back that we no longer allowed interns in the labs and future interns learned about the paperwork of science.

Leave a Reply to James Wilson Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s