Commentary, Education, News

Must-read: What we can learn from a canceled Wake County class on diversity

Chances are, most everyone knows someone who teaches in a classroom.

It’s an enormous job, putting it mildly. But it’s also a much more complicated job than it was decades ago.

Questions about pay aside, and they are major questions, the modern classroom isn’t the same place it was when the lion’s share of North Carolina’s lawmakers enrolled in K-12. It is more diverse; it is more globally connected; and it is under enormous pressure from a school choice movement that’s squeezed traditional public schools for resources and pupils.

But a report Monday from Carolina Public Press highlights another challenge for educators: teaching about diversity. As the report notes, Wake County officials nixed a class recently when parents raised privacy concerns about the forward-thinking course.

Surely a valuable subject, North Carolina educators need to find a way to make such a course work. The report explains those looming difficulties in detail.

Here’s an excerpt, although check out Carolina Public Press for the full piece:

When a Wake County teacher had her students use a “diversity inventory,” concerns about privacy led the principal to cancel the classroom lesson in late August.

But the question that education leaders in that school district and others across North Carolina are still dealing with is how to teach about identity in the classroom without violating student privacy.

The issue is multifaceted. First, the checklist used in that lesson didn’t quite fit the lesson plan the Heritage High School class was supposed to be using, Wake County Public School System spokesperson Lisa Lutin said. The lesson was intended to teach about identity, not diversity.

The lesson also required students to ask their family, neighbors, peers and others to contribute information. With fields such as “sexuality,” “ability” and “socio-economic status” on the list, some parents felt uncomfortable and contacted the school.

Principal Scott Lyons reviewed the material and canceled the lesson.

Identity and diversity

Identity and diversity are distinctly separate, according to Dana Griffin, associate professor and faculty chair at the UNC Chapel Hill School of Education.

Griffin, a former school counselor as well as a marriage and family counselor, now instructs school counselors at the undergraduate and graduate levels on how to teach about identity.

Griffin does think that teaching about diversity is important.

“I can’t speak for the school or the person who was doing the activity in class,” Griffin told Carolina Public Press.

“When I talk about diversity or cultural identity, I say that I use ‘diversity’ broadly, like as the adjective: ‘We are a diverse population.’ What makes us diverse are our cultural identities. What are our identities? And then, here’s the list: The identity is age, race, social class, gender identity, sexual orientation, religious affiliation or lack of, disability, military, education, right? Work, family, even our family makeup. What I try to do is normalize it, that no matter what or how we identify, or what our experiences are, it doesn’t mean that we are better than or less than.”

It’s important for students to understand that individuals will have various life experiences according to their identities, Griffin said.

Many people tend to think of race or gender as an identity, but Griffin pointed out that identities have many factors. Two people of the same race and religion but in separate social classes would likely have different experiences that would shape their unique identities.

Commentary, Trump Administration

Columnist: Despite what Trump’s people say, the president’s Ukraine call is classic case of quid pro quo

President Donald Trump (Credit: Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons)

The story that has roiled Washington, D.C. in recent days — President Donald Trump’s bizarre July phone call with the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky — is now a case of semantics.

Defenders of the president will make their case that the president was not attempting to coerce the Ukrainian leader. He may only have to convince Senate Republicans in the impeachment inquiry, but at some point, Trump will have to convince the American people as well.

In a Sunday op-ed, Professor Joseph Kennedy of the UNC School of Law wrote that the public should not be fooled.

From the op-ed:

President Trump and his defenders in the ongoing impeachment inquiry are pretending that the law is more complicated than it is.

“Quid pro quo” is Latin for “one thing for another.” Trump has argued that he did nothing wrong during his phone call with the president of Ukraine last summer because there was no quid pro quo, no explicit request of continued aid for Ukraine for an investigation of Joe Biden, his leading opponent in the next election. A quid pro quo is not essential to a crime or abuse of power, but the president is wrong in any event. No “magic words” are required for a quid pro quo to take place.

If I withhold something your country needs to survive (like money to buy missiles to defend against Russian attacks), and I ask you for a “favor,” that is a quid pro quo. Neither the law nor common sense require me to say “or else.” If it did, corruption and extortion would be almost impossible to prove because mobsters and crooked politicians would simply avoid making explicit threats.

Imagine that people are being laid off at your workplace. Your boss calls and refers to the fact that you have not been let go. You say that you really appreciate still having a job. He then says “I need a favor though” (which are the exact words that the president used). You are listening very carefully to your boss’s every word because your economic survival depends on keeping him happy. When you hear the words “I need a favor though” you will believe that the favor is a condition for not being laid off because “though” can only refer to what you just said about still having a job.

Now imagine that the favor your boss asks is something wrongful. He asks you to go on a date with him even though you are married or for you to spread rumors that you know are false about one of your co-workers to get them fired. He refers to this favor over and over again and says it is “very important.” You would assume that you need to go on the date or spread those rumors if you want to keep your job because unless threatened you would not do something so wrong. That is a quid pro quo. It is illegal and an abuse of his power. The phone transcript shows the president did the same thing.

The president should not be held to a lower standard than your boss at work. He cannot escape responsibility because he did not use “magic words.” The more power one has, the less explicit one needs to be, and the president is the leader of the most powerful country on earth. Conditioning hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars in military aid that serves our national security on an investigation of your political opponent is not just “inappropriate” or “concerning.” It is a grave abuse of presidential power and probably a crime.

This is an “Emperor has no clothes moment.” The President’s naked abuse of his enormous power is plain for all to read in the phone transcript. Political leaders who pretend not to see it by twisting legal concepts are either lying to themselves or lying to us.

Commentary, Legislature

Polygraph or not, no one’s buying the GOP story on the General Assembly’s veto override

N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore

If, perhaps, you listened to Speaker Tim Moore’s recent telling of the events of Sept. 11, 2019, and mistakenly believed that it was Republicans — and not the minority party Democrats — bushwhacked by that morning’s veto override vote, you could be forgiven.

Both parties have attempted, in the dismal hours and days after Republicans made off with their budget plunder, to provide a compelling narrative. Of course, this is what politicians do.

And, of course, House Democratic Leader Darren Jackson’s polygraph challenge to Moore Monday is a sideshow, but it’s a sideshow to the circus Moore oversaw on Sept. 11. In that circus, Moore is the carnival barker.

From Joe Killian’s report Monday on Jackson and Moore’s dueling monologues:

“House Republican leadership lied about the session on the morning of September 11,” Jackson said Monday. “They have continued to lie about it since. This dishonesty not only impacts the state budget, which obviously is a big deal, but it has impacted how the entire institution of our state House functions.”

Since the surprise vote to override Gov. Roy Cooper’s budget veto in the state House on September 11, Republicans and Democrats have fought continuously over the narrative of that morning.

Democratic leadership says they were told there would be no votes that morning. Republican leaders say they made no such promise. Democrats say Republicans planned a “sneak attack” to override Gov. Roy Cooper. Republicans said they were surprised few Democrats were present at the Sept. 11 session and simply took advantage of it when they realized they had enough votes to win an override vote they had postponed for months.

Jackson said he recently took a polygraph test — commonly known as a lie detector test — to establish that his version of events is true.

Jackson maintains he was told by Republican leadership there would be no vote that morning, something Rep. David Lewis also communicated to WRAL reporter Laura Leslie.

“I think people want to believe in their government,” Jackson said. “They want to believe their representatives don’t lie.”

Jackson provided his own polygraph results to reporters Monday.

At a reply press conference shortly after Jackson’s, Moore dismissed the idea of a polygraph test as “theatrics.”

“Look, this isn’t the Maury Povich show,” Moore said. “This is state government.”

Moore said he and Jackson are both attorneys and know that while used in investigations, polygraphs aren’t admissible in court.

“I don’t plan to get in the gutter with Rep. Jackson and play silly games,” Moore said.

House Democratic Leader Darren Jackson

If this was, in fact, Maury Povich’s daytime talk show, often associated with paternity test melodrama, we’ll have to borrow Maury’s line: Speaker Moore and the Republican majority, you are NOT the fairly elected majority.

Because, gerrymandering.

Whoever’s story you’re buying — and there are compelling reasons to approach the GOP chain of events with extraordinary skepticism — take time first to consider the truly injured party instead.

It’s not the Democrats or the Republicans. It’s not the lobbyists. It’s not the bureaucrats. It’s not the media. And it’s certainly not Speaker Moore.

It is the North Carolina public, which might not expect professionalism in the N.C. General Assembly, but deserves it nonetheless.

It is the North Carolina public, which will be deeply impacted by the budget conflicts over education and health care that this month’s override in the state House so casually papered over.

It is the North Carolina public, which should, at the minimum, trust its government, but has little reason to do so.

Commentary, Environment, News

Report: As climate changes, expect wetter storms

If you’ve been following WRAL’s reporting this week, you’ve likely seen a series of fascinating pieces on climate change.

It’s an appropriate topic these days. North Carolinians on the coast are still assessing the damage after Hurricane Dorian raked the Outer Banks this month.

Researchers tell us that, as the climate changes in the coming decades, the U.S. can expect to see more intense tropical weather, a frightening thoughts to folks in eastern North Carolina who have been absolutely walloped in recent years.

Today’s report from WRAL focuses on a UNC study which emphasizes that North Carolina, in addition to the more intense storms, can expect to see wetter storms as well. Go to WRAL for the full report.

From WRAL:

Hurricane Floyd in 1999.

Hurricane Matthew in 2016.

Hurricane Florence in 2018.

All caused significant damage due to flooding, and it’s a trend a recent study from UNC shows could be caused by a changing climate.

“They all had one thing in common, and that is very high rainfall and extensive flooding, so we got interested in that and decided to explore the long-term dataset for North Carolina,” said Hans Paerl, a professor at the UNC-Chapel Hill Institute of Marine Sciences in Morehead City.

The study looked at 120 years of weather data, most collected by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or NOAA.

“We were really struck by that data because 6 out of the 7 wettest storms datasets that have occurred over the 120 years occurred in the last 20 years,” said Paerl.

“So we asked a question, are we just unlucky in North Carolina over the last 20 years or is this a real trend?”

The research team calculated the probability of the flooding happening by chance at 2%.

Paerl says it’s more likely due to a changing climate, warmer oceans leading to more water vapor in the air.

It’s a trend WRAL meteorologist Mike Maze has been noticing more often.

“There are discussions that come out from the weather service every day, and they talk about the chance for storms, but they also talk about the amount of moisture in the atmosphere, and I’ve seen more wording lately where they talk about record amounts of moisture in the atmosphere for this time of the year. So when fronts come along and access that moisture you may have bigger rain events,” Maze said.

He also said it’s a shift he’s been recognizing during his 25 years forecasting weather in North Carolina.

“You can’t help but notice there is a change going on. Is it solely man made? I’m not sure. Is it just a cycle that’s going on? Could be, but there are more pieces of the puzzle that are coming together,” Maze said.

“This is not a predictive study,” Paerl said. “We are not predicting what’s going to be down the line, although given what we now know it’s difficult to assume we are not going to get some more of these high rainfall events.”

Paerl said he was motivated to do this study because he lives near the cost and has experienced many of these storms.

News

N.C. Sen. Paul Lowe apologizes after accosting Policy Watch reporter

Sen Paul Lowe Jr., D-Forsyth

North Carolina state Sen. Paul Lowe has apologized after a Policy Watch reporter said the senator assaulted him and hurled his phone in the hallway of the Legislative Building Wednesday morning.

Joe Killian, investigative reporter for Policy Watch, says he was covering Wednesday’s budget drama at approximately 10:20 a.m. when he heard screaming from behind a closed door, followed by a shout for police assistance.

Afterward, Killian said he saw Lowe — a Forsyth County Democrat — exiting the room, flanked by Democratic senators Floyd McKissick Jr. and Jay Chaudhuri. When he began filming with his phone, Lowe approached Killian.

Killian provided footage of the altercation with Lowe (see below for the video). In it, Lowe can be heard asking, “What are you doing with your camera?” 

“I’m a journalist,” Killian began to reply, before Killian said Lowe grabbed at his hand to snatch his phone.  

After a brief struggle, Killian says the two-term state senator, a pastor at a Winston-Salem church, threw Killian’s phone across the room and stormed away. Killian says he was not injured in the altercation.

“What happened today isn’t just an assault on me,” Killian said in a statement. “It’s an assault on the free press. Any North Carolinian should be able to visit the General Assembly without being assaulted. Working journalists, now more than ever, have to be able to do their jobs there without fear of assault or destruction of their professional equipment. Representatives of the people of North Carolina should understand that.”

On Wednesday afternoon, Lowe apologized, but declined to discuss why he approached Killian in such an aggressive manner, or what was happening behind that closed door.

“I apologize for anything that I’ve done,” Lowe said. “It was an unfortunate circumstance. I apologize for that circumstance. I’d be more than happy to sit down and talk with him.”

Rob Schofield, director of Policy Watch, offered this statement:

“Senator Lowe’s unprovoked actions this morning targeted a working journalist just doing his job. They were outrageous, unacceptable, and sadly indicative of a trend we’ve seen from an alarming number of public officials.”

Senate Democratic Leader Dan Blue added this statement: 

“Based on the accounts reported to me, I see Senator Lowe’s actions as wholly unacceptable. I will do everything in my capacity as the leader of the Senate Democratic Caucus to see that it is never repeated.”

Killian said General Assembly Police Chief Martin Brock interviewed him briefly after the incident. Brock did not respond to a phone call Wednesday afternoon. 

The incident occurred in the tense hours after Republican lawmakers held a surprise vote on the state House floor early Wednesday when many Democrats were absent, overriding Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of the $24 billion budget. 

Democrats were incensed, claiming GOP leadership said there would be no voting in the chamber Wednesday. But House Speaker Tim Moore denied there was any announcement that no votes would be held in session Wednesday. 

At the time of the incident, lawmakers, including Lowe, were holding closed-door meetings following the vote, which brought Republicans one step closer to ending the budget impasse with Cooper.

Billy Ball is the managing editor of N.C. Policy Watch.