N.C. Sen. Jim Davis: 'I Am So Frustrated With These Teachers …'

GOP state senator to teachers: On your knees

Hey, public school teachers. Want to know what the Republican leadership in the N.C. Senate really thinks of you? Feast your eyes and ears.

“If you’re a teacher, and you don’t understand numbers, I don’t know what in the world you’re doing in a classroom.” That’s N.C. Sen. Jim Davis of Macon County, who’s facing an electoral challenge from longtime educator Jane Hipps of Waynesville. The forum was a debate last week at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee.

What strikes me isn’t just the position Davis takes—at base, it’s standard right-wing contempt for anything in the public sector—but his open hostility, as if he’s livid that teachers aren’t lining up in his front yard to kneel and kiss his feet in gratitude for their seven percent pay raise. (Which, incidentally, is a pretty misleading figure. The formula for calculating the raise is quite complicated, and the raise itself contains a nasty catch: the effective elimination of longevity pay for veteran teachers.)

In a way, it’s edifying to see Davis express his rancor so openly. Because his dim view of public education and educators isn’t an isolated example. It’s part of a large-scale effort to dismantle the institution of public education and open it as a new market to an assortment of profiteers—some of them well-intentioned, many not.

Coincidentally, Politico magazine ran a long article this weekend on that very subject, an excerpt from longtime New York Times columnist Bob Herbert’s book Losing Our Way: An Intimate Portrait of a Troubled America, out this week. The key paragraph:

For other school reformers, however, a huge financial return has been the primary motivation. While schools and individual districts were being starved of resources, the system itself was viewed as a cash cow by so-called education entrepreneurs determined to make a killing. Even in the most trying economic times, hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars, earmarked for the education of children from kindergarten through the twelfth grade, are appropriated each year. For corporate types, especially for private equity and venture capital firms, that kind of money can prove irresistible. And the steadily increasing influence of free-market ideology in recent years made public education fair game.

I’ve said it before, in the context of North Carolina’s charter school movement, but it’s worth repeating: When education opens as a market, a large number of schools—actual or virtual—will fail, just as any business can fail in any market. (By “fail,” I mean “close,” so please holster the “our schools are failing anyway” trope.)

When businesses fail, their owners and investors suffer. When schools fail, owners, investors, parents, and children suffer. So do we all.

Categories: Poking the Hornet’s Nest