Commentary

Ariana Mangum: School situation a disgrace

April 15, 2014 

The situation in our public schools is a disgrace. In 1954 when I first came to live in North Carolina the schools were improving, with good teachers being recruited and new schools being built or rebuilt in the mountains and in the poorer counties.

With people like Terry Sanford, Luther Hodges and Bill Friday at the helm, the schools became a priority. The opening of Research Triangle Park did a lot to improve the schools. North Carolina wished to attract out-of-state businesses, and one of the main attractions was good schools. This was followed by bringing in good, capable teachers and encouraging more North Carolinians to enter the teaching profession. Slowly the quality of the public schools rose, and new people came into the state with its good colleges and universities.

In the remote areas the one-room schoolhouse was replaced by multi-functional buildings. The standards for teachers rose as did medical treatment with hospitals being built in Sylva and other remote places. Cary grew from a village into a bedroom community for Raleigh. Raleigh had good schools and magnet ones came soon after.

In the 1970s I worked with special needs classes in Winston-Salem. The principal, Andrew Yarborough, was a real educator. He allowed me to use puppets to tell the Uncle Remus stories and parts of “Huckleberry Finn.”

Both books were at the that time on the forbidden reading list. Yet Mr. Yarborough was a true educator. I was a white teacher working in a racially mixed school during very turbulent times of our state's history. I wanted to bring to the black children a taste of good literature in which they were treated as sympathetic characters.

North Carolina was progressive and it attracted people from up North and from the Midwest. The congregations of the Catholic churches grew from one-tenth of 1 percent to much larger numbers. With the Northern influx the population became more diverse and more tolerant to outsiders.

The universities flourished. UNC added a four-year medical school in the 1950s grown out of a two-year one. Duke attracted students from the Northeast, and its hospital became well known throughout the country as a good place to attend medical school.

North Carolina was on the march toward national recognition as a progressive liberal Southern state.

Then the progressive policies changed. The older visionary leaders died and less-progressive people took over.

The crowd in politics today is shortsighted and ultra conservative. They are not interested in our schools, but in making money. Developers are grabbing up land and building unwanted and unneeded huge box stores. They are lining their own pockets by emptying those of the middle class.

Poor folks pay and in North Carolina our teachers are paying for our politicians' lack of vision. Also for the lack of concern for teachers receiving a decent salary with additional money for those with master’s and Ph.D. degrees. Meanwhile, the good teachers are leaving North Carolina to teach elsewhere. North Carolina is losing its good educators at a dangerous rate.

Ariana Mangum lives in Chapel Hill.

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