“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…