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In My Words: 'Slow violence' against N.C. schools harms us all

Professor Steve Braye laments lawmakers' treatment of North Carolina public school teachers and students in a guest column published by regional newspapers.

The following column appeared recently in the (Burlington, N.C.) Times-News, the Durham (N.C.) Herald-Sun and the Winston-Salem Journal via the Elon University Writers Syndicate. Viewpoints are those of the author and not Elon University.


Professor Steve Braye

'Slow violence' against North Carolina schools harms us all
By Stephen Braye - brayes@elon.edu.

It has been another long year for North Carolina public educators and students. No teacher pay raises. Inadequate buildings and classroom supplies. State legislators attacking teacher job security and school budgets.
As a teacher for the last 30 years, from a family of public school educators, I find myself for the first time pushing my top students away from the profession I love. I cannot, in all good faith, encourage my own daughters, products of the North Carolina public school system, to pursue teacher licensure in North Carolina.  Given the current legislative attacks on public schools, I can see no productive future for them as North Carolina teachers.  
It would be easy to put all the blame on a Republican administration for its attack this year on public school funding and teaching but the assault on public schools in North Carolina has lasted for more than a decade and goes beyond party politics.
Both parties will deny they are assaulting public schools. They will argue, and have for 10 years or more, that “times are difficult for everyone” and “there is no money to fund schools or teachers.”
But when legislators cut tax rates for the state’s wealthiest citizens and divert lottery money earmarked for school construction, while systematically failing to build adequate facilities for the education of 5-, 6-, and 7-year-olds, legislators are making specific choices to harm teaching and learning in public schools. There are committing acts of slow violence.
Rather than typical violence - a clear, direct action that harms people with an identifiable perpetrator - slow violence diverts attention from the action and the perpetrator by systematically attacking victims over a long period of time. And all North Carolinians are hurt by the slow violence committed against public education.
When legislators devise plans where salary increases are tied to the loss of much-needed teaching positions, hurting the effectiveness of our public schools, they are committing slow violence.
When legislators blame teachers for poor student performance as they reduce teacher salaries to some of the worst in the country, failing for the past decade to provide for cost-of-living or increasing medical costs, they are committing acts of slow violence.
When legislators fail to construct facilities for students we know will be attending our public schools, frustrating both teaching and learning, legislators are committing acts of slow violence.
Each of these actions systematically causes long-term harm and destruction. Politicians that impair teaching and learning ensure the citizenry of North Carolina is less qualified to work in future industry, less likely to qualify for the best schools and jobs, and more likely to depend upon state funding and programs.
Do we really want our most progressive businesses to look outside the state for capable employees or even relocation for a better workforce? Do we really want to tell the best graduates from our state and private universities to look elsewhere to settle down, because North Carolina K-12 education cannot compete with surrounding systems? Do we really want to produce poorly educated citizens?
State politicians cannot excuse away their systematic behavior. They know the outcomes that result from poor educational practices. People who receive inferior opportunities - poorer teachers, facilities, and programs - receive a poorer education. People who receive a poorer education are less capable and independent throughout their lives.  
Slowly, these legislative attacks take a toll on North Carolina students and teachers. The bumps in the road caused by years of neglect become potholes that we cannot avoid. Students failing tests today do not disappear. Rather than becoming productive taxpayers, they become the next generation’s unemployed and uninsured, requiring more state services at taxpayer expense.  
Why go down this road? North Carolina citizens deserve the best from our state legislature. Shouldn’t this mean the best education and brightest future for all?
Stephen Braye is a professor of English at Elon University.


Elon University faculty with an interest in sharing their expertise with wider audiences are encouraged to contact Eric Townsend (etownsend4@elon.edu) in the Office of University Communications should they like assistance with prospective newspaper op/ed submissions.

Eric Townsend,
6/24/2014 12:25 PM