Point of View

Backsliding in the Wake County schools

January 29, 2010 

— We must speak now, with one voice, on the issues facing public education in Wake County: black and white; male and female; Republican and Democrat; Muslim, Christian, Jew and Catholic; CEO and unemployed; educated and uneducated.

History has shown that communities are only as strong as their commitment to the education of their young. We also know that education is about more than what is printed in textbooks. An effective educational system is dependent upon exposing our children to the diversity that exists in the real world and to teaching them healthy ways to relate to people of different economic, religious, cultural and family backgrounds.

We do not develop or nurture whole, compassionate, accepting and responsible adults by creating communities and schools where everyone looks, thinks, talks and acts alike. Our nation was built on diversity, and it has continued to thrive on the complexities and differences represented in the human experience and the sharing of those diverse experiences.

Recent decisions by the Wake County school board threaten one of the most basic principles on which our nation was founded, "that all people are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness," and one of the most fundamental faith teachings of many of our faith traditions, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

We must not fool ourselves by thinking that the issues at hand are not issues of race, economic status, privilege and power. These are the issues at stake. If we allow our elected leaders to return us to a place of segregation and intolerance within our schools - a place where the gap between the haves and have-nots is widened rather than closed - it is ultimately our children who will suffer.

Possibly more disturbing than the content change of this new school board is the way in which its members are going about change: taking up a series of major policy issues with no advance notice to anyone else, hiring their own legal counsel (a top Republican election-law expert) and using methods of obtaining feedback that exclude a large population of poorer Wake County school parents (online survey).

This is a moment in our history in Wake County when people from all walks of life must stand up and speak out with one voice for the values that have made our nation, our state and our communities strong. Those vital values include respect and tolerance of differences; treating all people equally regardless of race, gender, religious affiliation or economic status; and equal access for all our children to high-quality public education.

We must act now to hold accountable those who are currently making significant decisions about our educational system - decisions that undermine the health of our community. Anything less diminishes the value of every single human being living in Wake County.

Nancy E. Petty is pastor of Raleigh's Pullen Memorial Baptist Church.

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