May 10, 2021 - News

N.C. teachers caught in middle of political battle over lesson plans

The sea of red from the teachers' march in Raleigh in 2018. Photo: Logan Cyrus / AFP via Getty Images

The sea of red from the teachers' march in Raleigh in 2018. Photo: Logan Cyrus / AFP via Getty Images

North Carolina’s public school teachers may soon be required to post everything they present to children — materials, lesson plans, guest lecturers — prominently on their school’s website.

Driving the news: The “academic transparency” bill passed the state House along party lines last week. Republicans say it’s an effort to help parents stay in the know, but also to keep liberal politics out of the classroom.

Why it matters: N.C.’s public schools are caught in an emerging national political war over how America’s past and present are taught to students, down to what words are used to describe institutions and events in history.

  • It’s not just here. School boards around the country are becoming the next political battleground, Axios’ Stef Kight reported this weekend

The big picture: In February, after several years of study and conversations, the state board of education passed a new set of social studies standards.

  • Among other things, the new standards would bring more diverse perspectives to lessons.
  • But it didn’t pass until after Republican lieutenant governor Mark Robinson led an effort to get phrases like “systemic racism” changed to “racism.”
  • Robinson, who is Black, has echoed the national GOP’s message that public schools and universities are “indoctrinating” students to believe liberal activist points of view.

Now Robinson’s counterparts are using the same words: “Hopefully we’re just gonna teach the kids; we’re not gonna try to indoctrinate them or teach them in a certain way to make them believe something other than the facts, the knowledge, the ability to write, the ability to read,” Rep. Jeffrey McNeely said in a committee meeting last week.

Yes, but: The North Carolina Association of Educators calls the bill “teacher abuse” and has launched a campaign to get senators to vote against it.

  • Charlotte teacher Justin Parmenter responded to McNeely’s comments with a blog post titled “A state legislator is howling indoctrination because my 7th graders are learning the ocean is polluted.”

Context: Public schools have long struggled to address racism and history. Take, for example, the approach to teaching the Wilmington massacre of 1898. That’s when a White Supremacy Campaign (as it was officially called in a 200-page document called “The Democratic Party Hand Book”) led to an overthrow of a Black-led government and city.

  • Dozens of Black citizens were killed. A generation of Black wealth and political prosperity was wiped out.
  • For nearly a century, the white people who executed the takeover successfully scrubbed it from public classrooms. And if it was taught at all, the events were referred to as the “Wilmington Race Riots,” assigning blame to both Blacks and whites.
  • But Black students in eastern North Carolina still learned about Wilmington through family and church, while their white peers rarely encountered the same history.

The new social studies standards would aim to teach a more accurate version of events like that to all students.

  • And if the academic transparency bill passes the Senate, any of those lessons would be online and up for scrutiny from parents and the public.

In other education news: While lesson plans are the debate on the statewide stage, on the local front county manager Dena Diorio threatened to withhold $56 million from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools unless the system presents a plan to close racial and ethnic achievement gaps by 2024. It’s quite the request, considering that such gaps plague school systems nationwide, as WFAE’s Steve Harrison wrote in his newsletter last week.

My thought bubble: As it happens, while all of this rolled downhill to the classroom, last week was also Teacher Appreciation Week.


Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Charlotte.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More Charlotte stories


Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Charlotte.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more