Veteran educator: We’ll keep teaching the truth about America’s racial history

Image: AdobeStock

As you’re no doubt aware, the political right’s ongoing effort to whitewash American history through legislative efforts to micromanage public school history curricula continues apace.

Here in North Carolina, Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson joined in the effort this week by trumpeting their opposition to a once obscure academic concept that’s never been taught in North Carolina public schools called Critical Race Theory.

Berger even went to the trouble of giving a big speech on the topic that was, sadly, chock full of wildly inaccurate claims and frightening ideas – including a proposal to amend the state constitution.

Happily even as this cynical, Trump-inspired campaign at manipulating white voters in anticipation of the 2022 elections persists, educators across the country are forcefully pushing back.

Gabe Hart

For a great example, check out the fine essay that appeared earlier this week in the Tennessee Lookout by veteran public school teacher Gabe Hart. As Hart explains to his state’s conservative Republican governor, Bill Lee, in “Educators will continue to teach the truth of America’s racial history,” the campaign against Critical Race Theory, will ultimately fail — both because it’s a solution in search of a nonexistent problem and, more importantly, because teachers will keep telling the truth about American history. Here’s Hart:

While no conservative lawmaker could explain exactly what CRT was or how exactly it was being taught in Tennessee classrooms (spoiler alert: it wasn’t being taught in Tennessee classrooms), the basis of CRT deals with the inherent racism of many of our social constructs such the criminal justice system and policies put into place by lawmakers who have been predominantly Caucasian males.  To see the modern day effects of CRT at play, one needs to look no further than the recent voting laws enacted in many southern states.  

By the time CRT had made it through the wash cycle of conservative media, the banning of teaching CRT was brought to the floor for a vote in Tennessee and other red states like Texas, Arkansas, and Florida even though no one seemed to be able to provide examples of how or where it was being taught.  It passed in each state.  

The problem with banning the teaching of CRT, however, is that CRT was never taught directly in classrooms to begin with. There are no Tennessee State Academic Standards requiring the teaching of CRT or standards pointing out inherent racism within societal structures in our state or country.  Those ideas are illuminated naturally if a teacher is teaching students to think critically based on the facts that are provided.  It doesn’t take a lot of searching to see that bias and racism are intertwined in most of our societal structures.  

When asked for a reason for banning the teaching  of CRT, Gov. Lee responded, “We need to make sure that our kids recognize that this country is moving toward a more perfect union, that we should teach the exceptionalism of our nation and how people can live together and work together to make a greater nation, and to not teach things that inherently divide or pit either Americans against Americans or people groups against people groups.”

But, Gov. Lee, are we “moving toward a more perfect union”?  Our criminal justice system is still heavily slanted against African-Americans.  We are only two generations removed from the Civil Rights movement.  In my town of Jackson, Tennessee, there has essentially been legal resegregation of our local education system due to the inordinate amount of private schools and white flight to the county north of Jackson.  These are precisely the examples of collateral damage from our systems of inherent racism that CRT highlights.  Asking public educators to turn a blind eye to those truths is like asking a firefighter to drive past a burning building – we, as educators, must address the inequities of our societal structure to keep them from continuing to occur.  We don’t have time to cradle your white fragility.  

As Hart concluded: Read more

What working people say they need in a job today

At the start of July, job seekers in North Carolina struggling to stay afloat breathed a sigh of relief when Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed Senate Bill 116 — a measure that would have ended the $300 weekly federal unemployment supplement. While we’ve all seen headlines about a supposed labor shortage, Cooper’s action rightfully highlighted the fact that there are a variety of factors at play right now. For instance, among many other roadblocks to employment, there’s a childcare shortage and the federal minimum wage has remained stuck at $7.25 since 2009. Unfortunately, when it comes to discussing the state of the economy, the needs of job seekers are often excluded from the narrative.

Recently, in an effort to get a better gauge on the reality that confronts job seekers, a North Carolina employer, Bryanna Hopson at HIRE Strategies, asked a question in an unemployment-focused Facebook group: 

 

Here’s a summary of what we learned from job seekers’ responses: 

People want to work. While many have been applying for jobs for months or even since before the pandemic, they haven’t seen progress. Whether they are just starting out or have an advanced degree, they want a chance to prove themselves, and for their employer to remember that they’re people with lives and not just there to help with profits. Many people applying to jobs are being told they are overqualified or turned away due to missing a desired skill, while others say they want employers to be more willing to train them if needed. Many report that employers seem to instead be focused on seeking the most highly qualified candidates, even for entry level positions. How are people to get back to work, even for entry level jobs, if they aren’t given a chance? Many commenters reported feeling frustrated at being referred to as “lazy” when they truly want to work. 

Treat people like you need them, want them, and like humans.  

They want to make a livable wage. Unemployed people say they want to return to jobs with higher wages that are more realistic for getting by in today’s economy, naming between $11 and $18 an hour as an acceptable range. North Carolina’s minimum wage has remained at the same rate as the federal level ($7.25) for the past 12 years, despite repeated attempts by lawmakers to increase it statewide.  

People say they want to be paid for what they have to offer so that if they’re bringing bonus skills, like being bilingual, they expect to be compensated for that added value. Many workers report finding job listings that require a college degree, but only pay $9 an hour.  

Workers recognize, “there is a fine line between what we need and what [employers] can afford to give us.” They acknowledge that the demand for an increased wage is a different thing, but the cost of childcare, rent, and living overall has increased dramatically, and those needs must be met so working people can have fulfilling and less stressful lives. The cost of living is much higher than it used to be, and wages should reflect not only the increased cost, but also the demand for workers.  

They want to have flexibility and paid time off. Employees value paid time off in the form of paid sick days, vacation time, and paid family leave so they can prioritize taking care of themselves and those they love and maintain a healthy presence at work. For some, their career isn’t their whole lives and their families come first, so they want an understanding that when things come up outside of work, they need the time to deal with caregiving logistics, or tend to children who need childcare or are returning home from school. Flexible hours and the option to work from home were mentioned repeatedly as ways to help people maintain both work and personal needs. Ultimately, many working parents really need flexibility so they can not only get their work done, but also show up for their kids.  

They don’t want to be judged based on their age. Whether just starting off or later in their career, people ask employers not to be afraid to hire them based on their stage in life. Discrimination towards aging workers is a real concern for people who cannot retire yet and want to keep working but find themselves excluded from opportunities.  

“Don’t be afraid to hire 60-plus-year-olds,” said one respondent. “No one seems to want to hire older people,” another lamented. People want to be desired as employees, comfortable, safe, and accepted at work, no matter how old or who they are.  

They want benefits. People need health care and good benefits to ensure their needs are met. Benefits add value on top of the salary and work environment, but with reasonable premiums, deductibles, and co-payments, benefits will make everything better and not hurt take home pay as much. When hours are cut or people are only finding openings for part-time or contract work, that does little to help working people find the stability and benefits they and their families can count on.  

Employers and elected officials, are you listening? 

Lindsay K. Saunders works with the Workers’ Rights Project of the North Carolina Justice Center.

NC Department of Labor adopts new federal worker safety standards boosting protection for healthcare workers

The North Carolina Department of Labor announced Wednesday that it will adopt the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s COVID-19 standard, which serves as an enforceable framework to bring employees into workplace safety compliance.

The federal emergency standard is limited in its scope, only applying to healthcare workers. It requires employers in the healthcare industry to develop COVID plans, provide Personal Protective Equipment, make testing available, and remove sick workers while providing normal benefits, among other things.

“We understand that interpreting and implementing these new requirements may be challenging for employers in the healthcare industry, and we stand ready to assist stakeholders who have questions about the new standard,” Labor Commissioner Josh Dobson said in a news release.

Former Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry

As Policy Watch previously reported,  NCDOL failed to inspect the majority of workplaces that received COVID-related workplace safety complaints due to a lack of enforceable standards. Yet former Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry denied workers’ rights groups’ petition for rulemaking that urged the agency to adopt either temporary or permanent standards. Berry ignored evidence indicating clusters of COVID cases in certain industries, such as agriculture and meat processing; She insisted, instead, that the coronavirus is widespread and not specific to workplaces. [Note: The parent organization of Policy Watch, NC Justice Center, represented the petitioners.]

The petition is now under judicial review in the Wake County Superior Court at the request of the petitioners. At an earlier hearing for the review, state counsel for the agency pushed back against the notion of more enforcement and emphasized the department’s role in education. If a judge rules in favor of petitioners, NCDOL would have to engage in the rulemaking process.

“It’s disappointing that the federal government didn’t adopt a broader rule to protect all workers, but NCDOL could still do so,” Carol Brooke, a staff attorney at the Justice Center representing the workers’ groups said in an email.

Instead, the state went no further than the federal regulation.

North Carolina regulates workplace safety with its own state plan, which requires the state’s occupational safety and health program to be at least as effective as the federal OSHA program. Verbatim adoption of the federal emergency standard for COVID ensures the state remains in compliance with the state-plan agreement, the state agency stated in a news release. The new COVID emergency standard will take effect in North Carolina on July 21.

Controversial energy legislation narrowly passes NC House despite widespread opposition

Among the many unsupported, if downright bizarre, statements uttered about House Bill 951, Rep. Larry Pittman’s bested them all. 

Solar farms, he announced on the House floor yesterday, make deer meat inedible.

“I’ve been told if deer eat vegetation around these things the meat might not be fit for human consumption,” Pittman (R-Cabarrus) said on the House floor yesterday, in opposition to House Bill 951.

Rep. Larry Pittman: Concerned about solar panels’ effect on venison (Photo: NCGA)

While folklore and falsehoods aren’t the best bases for policymaking, a ‘no’ vote is a ‘no’ vote, and bill opponents needed every one they could muster.

Known in some corners as the “Super Secret Energy Bill” for the covert way in which it was crafted, the measure, is opposed by the state’s major manufacturers and industries, businesses, environmental groups, and public-interest organizations.  

“Almost every single stakeholder is opposed to this bill,” said Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-Guilford) on the House floor yesterday.

Across-the board rate hikes

Drafted with outsized input by Duke Energy, it’s a complex and technical bill, 48 pages long with a 17-page summary. It could change the arc of the state’s energy policy for at least a decade. 

Rep. John Szoka (R-Cumberland) acknowledged in a previous committee meeting that he wasn’t even sure he understood it all — not usually what you want to hear from a bill’s co-sponsor.

But the meat-and-potatoes reason for the opposition — the kind of blowback that politicians hear about on the campaign trail — is that the bill would result in higher electricity rates.

The 1.3 million Duke Energy Progress residential customers would pay a cumulative increase of $11 to $18 in monthly bills by 2030 and 2035, respectively, according to an analysis by the Public Staff of the NC Utilities Commission. This is based on a usage of 1,000 kilowatt hours per month; if you have a poorly insulated home, or a large house, your bills could be even higher.

Another 1.9 million Duke Energy Carolinas residential customers would pay an extra $12 to $24 each month by those dates.

Over the same time period, industrial and commercial customers would see cumulative increases ranging from 11% to 31% depending on which service territory they’re located in.

“There is the potential for a massive rate increase,” said Harrison, noting that for low-income North Carolinians, “this will be a hard hit for them.”

(“Securitization,” essentially low-interest bonds, would help pay off about half the value, $500 million, of Duke coal plants as they retire. This ends up saving ratepayers money; otherwise the costs of retirement would increase monthly bills even more.)

Boosting Duke’s power

The bill contains other more subtle, power grabs. 

Bill co-sponsor, Rep. Dean Arp (R-Union), for instance, sprung an amendment on the full House that was drafted in response to a recent decision by the Environmental Management Commission that would have put North Carolina on the road to joining 11 states, including Virginia, in curbing carbon emissions.

On Wednesday, the EMC had approved a petition for rule making, submitted by the Southern Environmental Law Center, to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. RGGI, as it’s known, is a market-based way to cap and reduce carbon emissions. The approval was only the first step in a protracted and uncertain process that would, even if it clears all potential hurdles, likely not come to fruition for two years.

“We are the policy makers,” Arp said in his justification for the amendment. “This amendment makes sure that the governor does not have authority to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative without authorization of the General Assembly.”

The bill would also takes steps to defang the North Carolina Utilities Commission, an independent institution established by the legislature several decades ago, in part, to oversee regulated monopolies. As in many other states, investor-owned utilities are allowed to operate in the state as monopolies in exchange for being held accountable to the commission.

The commission, which is govrened by seven-member panel of gubernatorial appointees) regulates the rates and services of all investor-owned public utilities, like Duke Energy and Dominion Energy. It holds rate increase hearings, approves or disapproves utilities’ energy mix plans, among other duties.

Rep. Becky Carney: Concerned the bill will undercut utilities commission authority (Photo: NCGA)

In debate, Rep. Becky Carney (D-Mecklenburg) pointed out 13 clauses in the bill that strip authority from the panel. This includes requiring the commission to approve a utility’s proposed energy replacement for coal, as long as it meets a few basic benchmarks, like reliability. The commission must allow utilities to pass along to ratepayers some costs of retiring the coal plants. Other sections set a time limit on how long the commission can deliberate.

The bill does add one small enhancement to the commission’s authority by specifying that it must hold more than one public hearing on the retirement of the coal-fired power plants. Previously, it could hold only one.

Climate change provisions spur debate

Beyond the bill’s financial and procedural aspects, it’s not far-fetched to say there are existential consequences of the measure.

HB 951 would establish a new, overarching energy policy for the state. It also would establish, at least through mid-century, North Carolina’s contribution to climate change and the habitability — or inhabitability — of the planet. 

The bill proposes to reduce carbon emissions from power plants by 63% by 2035, compared to 2005 levels, short of the 70% goal laid out in the governor’s Clean Energy Plan.

It would retire most of Duke Energy’s coal-fired power plants. Allen would convert to solar plus battery storage, but at least one — Marshall Steam Station, and possibly another, Roxboro, would convert to natural gas, a major source of methane and a significant contributor to climate change. 

“Conversion from coal to gas is trading one stranded asset” — essentially obsolete technology that the utility still owes money on — “for another,” Rep. Harrison said. Read more

Rupert Murdoch is launching Fox Weather. What could possibly go wrong?

(Image: pxHere.com).

This is for real: Rupert Murdoch will soon launch a new platform, Fox Weather.

Wrap your head around that one. Brian Wieser, a prominent media analyst, said it best the other day: “How do you address the fact that weather changes are caused to some degree by humans when you have a media property with a history of challenging that fact?”

Hmmm.

“…And for the latest Big Beautiful 10-day American Greatness Forecast, let’s go to Sabrina at the big board. Sabrina?”

“Thank you, Tucker! Stay tuned, we’ll have that soon. In the meantime, I’m happy to report that red states are in for a treat this weekend as a high pressure system brings balmy temps and blue skies, fine weather for cleaning your guns outdoors or joining up with other tourists at your favorite Capitol building. But Tucker, there’s very different news elsewhere. Would you like me to share?”

“That would be mighty white of you.”

“It does appear that the Pacific Northwest, and we all know how those states voted, will boil in 125 degrees, with rampant wildfires in the areas where they don’t rake the forests. Why God is seeing fit to punish that region, we can only speculate on His motives at this time, but suffice it to say that tomorrow in particular may be the worst day for those folks since Ashli Babbitt was shot.”

“Sabrina, some elites will surely say that those high temps are further ‘evidence’ of what they theorize as ‘climate change,’ but what does your reporting tell you?”

“Tucker, I’m getting high readings on the Chinese Hoaxmeter, so let’s leave it for the viewers to decide.”

“And questions need to be asked whether it’s just a coincidence that all this is happening at the same time that blue states are forcing our kids to learn critical race theory.”

“Which also may account for the sustained high winds that are expected in other blue states, where some say that the wind turbines will kill tens of millions of birds.”

“Right you are, Sabrina. Seems like what this country needs this weekend is a massive tax cut.”

(Mutual laughter). “Right back to ya, Tucker. But just to be fair and balanced, it does look like some southern areas of Real America will be hit this weekend with record flooding and endless rain, so it might be advisable for those patriots to get out the ole umbrella and go live for awhile in a rescue shelter where unvaccinated people aren’t persecuted.”

“Any remote chance that the flooding could spread into ungovernable Democrat strongholds?”

“Not at this time, Tucker, but if I take my Sharpie pen…there…fixed it!”

“Thank you Sabrina. Is there any confirmable good news out there?”

“Well, it does look like Miami is under water, and we all know how Miami-Dade County voted.”

“I’m sure the alarmists will have a different theory. By the way, have you finished tabulating the 10-day American Greatness Forecast?”

“We have indeed, Tucker. But we don’t like the downbeat results – too much ‘extreme’ weather in too many places – so we’re going to send the data out to Arizona for an audit.”

“Right you are, Sabrina, you never know what Hugo Chavez may be up to. Stay tuned, we’ll be back in a minute after this message from Beautiful Clean Coal.”

Cagle Syndicate Photo

Dick Polman, a veteran national political columnist based in Philadelphia and a Writer in Residence at the University of Pennsylvania, writes at DickPolman.net. He is a contributor the Pennsylvania Capital-Star, which first published this essay.