Mark Johnson, a Republican candidate for state Superintendent of Public Instruction, is challenging one of his primary opponents over her views on vocational education.
On her website, Dr. Rosemary Stein compares career training to ancient Greek and Roman education for second-class citizens.
"In America, we employed Classical Education for all of our citizens,” her website says. “This education allowed all of our citizens to have an education that allowed them to succeed in life. They were able to move from job to job because they had the education necessary to move up the economic ladder. Somehow, we lost our way. We now are moving towards a two class education system: one for the success or leadership bound and one for the trade positions. This system does not provide the child with the education necessary to attain the American Dream. Instead, it locks them into an economic class, and makes it very difficult to change jobs if there is another economic downturn.”
Johnson, a Winston-Salem lawyer, said he disagrees with Stein's position.
Johnson, Stein, and J. Wesley Sills of Dunn are running in the GOP primary for state superintendent - the person who runs the state Department of Public Instruction.
The American dream is for everyone, Johnson said.
“Some students want to pursue 12 years of education to be a medical doctor and some students want to be ready to work in a trade of their choice as soon as they graduate from high school,” he said in a statement. “Both are noble goals, and I strongly denounce Dr. Stein for insinuating that plumbers and other tradesmen are second class citizens."
In an interview, Stein, a Burlington pediatrician, said she supports students developing skills, but public schools should have classical education at their foundation.
"I don't think that our school system should be in the business of choosing people to be mechanics and welders and electricians," she said.
She recounted the story of a teenage patient with good grades who was told by his school that he should be a mechanic.
"We should be training kids first to become thinkers and citizens," she said.
Private school students are being trained to be future leaders, Stein said, while she is not certain that public schools are preparing students for leadership.
"It comes back to we're not teaching them how to think," she said.
Policy makers have made a big push for expanded vocational education in high school. Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican, made it an issue in his last campaign. The first bill he signed was called Increase Access to Career and Technical Education.