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D.G. Martin

Good Results From Virtual Education Won't Come Cheap

Mention on-line education around some of my friends and you will get an emotional reaction. Some senior university faculty members teach classes filled with several hundred students and they worry that famous on-line lecturers could take their places. Others wonder if they can transfer their talents to the on-line market and, if so, how much compensation they can demand for their extra efforts. Public school advocates worry that private businesses will persuade decision makers to replace more expensive traditional classroom-based instruction with programs delivered directly to students’ computers. The result, they fear, will be high profits to the providers and a loss of hands-on support from classroom teachers and fellow students. Whatever our worries about on-line education, our state should be braced for changes. Governor Pat McCrory’s challenging remarks about the role of universities, discussion of further drastic cuts in the higher education budget, new proposals for education vouchers, consideration of approval for off-site, profit-making charter schools, and a host of other possible “improvements” let everyone know that change, big change, is coming. But worries about negative aspects of pending changes ought not lead people to oppose on-line educational tools that improve a classroom teacher’s effectiveness or provide supplemental instruction that a stretched-out local school cannot offer. Whenever I think about current educational challenges, I remember how important the classroom teachers at North Mecklenburg High School were to my...

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The Eerie Quietness Of A Once Thriving Island

Portsmouth where? Maine? Virginia? Like many North Carolinians, my friend had not heard of Portsmouth, North Carolina. He was resisting my push to visit Portsmouth in connection with a planned trip to Ocracoke Island to participate in a program for public school teachers organized by the North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching, known as NCCAT. Take out a state road map, I said, and look for an island just south of Ocracoke. You will see Portsmouth Island, and on it is marked the town of Portsmouth. Portsmouth is just a small village with a few old buildings: Houses, a store, post office, church, a former lifesaving station, and a graveyard. But no living people. By the 1970s only three people remained on the island and they are long since gone. The buildings, maintained by the National Park Service, stand as reminders of what Portsmouth once was: a thriving and important commercial center. Portsmouth lies to the south of Ocracoke Island, separated by Ocracoke Inlet, which, according to the late Dirk Frankenberg’s recently reissued classic, “The Nature of North Carolina’s Southern Coast,” is “the only inlet on the Outer Banks that has been open continuously throughout recorded history. It was a major entry into North Carolina’s coastal sound and estuaries in colonial times—first for pirates and smugglers” including Blackbeard, who was killed at the inlet in 1718. After...

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Is North Carolina Manufacturing Dead?

“The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.” So said Mark Twain after hearing that his obituary had been published in the New York Journal. And many of the more than 1,000 people who attended the Emerging Issues Forum last week are saying something similar about the reported death of manufacturing in North Carolina. “Manufacturing is not dead; it is on the upswing in our state.” Wait a minute. Even the forum’s sponsor, North Carolina State’s Emerging Issues Institute, acknowledges that between 1992 and 2010, manufacturing employment in our state declined by 30.6 percent, leaving fewer than 620,000 manufacturing jobs. Meanwhile, although the manufacturing of pharmaceuticals, plastics, and food processing products is growing rapidly, employment in textiles, furniture, and tobacco manufacturing is down. Maybe not down and out. Maybe not quite dead. “Manufacturing has a public image problem,” reported the institute. By showcasing a host of new manufacturing activities, the forum attacked the public image problem and persuaded attendees that there is a manufacturing renaissance in our state. But the renaissance the forum touted is based on a new model. For instance, Gart Davis, founder of Durham-based Spoonflower, explained how his manufacturing business makes it “possible for individuals to design, print and sell their own fabric, wallpaper and wall decals.” So, if you want your own design for a fabric or wallpaper, Spoonflower can manufacture those products, quickly, in...

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Holding Back The Tide

North Carolina Republicans are trying to do what the Democrats did in our state for 50 years: Hold back the tide! Until about 1960, North Carolina was part of a “Democratic Solid South.” But a Republican “Southern Strategy” and changing loyalties brought about a rising GOP tide that attracted conservative Democrats who followed Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms into the Republican Party. That rising tide led to Republican control of most Southern state governments by the turn of the millennium. But not in North Carolina. Fighting back the rising tide, the Democrats did not lose control of both houses of the legislature until 2010. How did Democrats do it? How did they stay in power for so long when the tide of voter preference was against them? Democrats will tell you that it was the moderate progressive leadership of strong office holders whose programs appealed to North Carolina voters. Republicans will say that Democrats gerrymandered legislative districts to give themselves unfair advantage, that they used their power to freeze Republicans from leadership positions and to extort political contributions that gave them an unfair advantage. In short, they point out that Democrats built up a series of walls, bulwarks and other barriers to hold off the Republican tide. Ironically, at the moment the Republican tide finally crashed through the Democratic bulwarks in North Carolina, the tide has turned against them....

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Reacting to Governor McCrory's Higher Education Remarks

It was as if aliens had attacked and taken over the state’s university system. At least that is how upset my university friends and faculty reacted to Governor Pat McCrory’s remarks about higher education. He said, “I think some of the educational elite have taken over our education where we are offering courses that have no chance of getting people jobs…I’m going to adjust my education curriculum to what business and commerce needs to get our kids jobs as opposed to moving back in with their parents after they graduate with debt.” McCrory promised to base the financing of universities on “how many jobs you are getting people into.” University voices, joined with newspapers opinion pieces in a collective, “What?!” “Doesn’t he get it?” they asked. “A university education cannot just prepare its students for their first job, it has to try to prepare them for a lifetime of changing work and challenges.” It has been easy enough to throw stones at the governor for seeming to ignore the critical main point of higher education. But criticizing the governor misses two important facts. First, the governor is speaking for many citizens of North Carolina who do not automatically see the lifetime value of a university education. When their university-educated children do not have a set of skills that guarantees them a good job, they are nodding their heads when...

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The Whole Nation Looks at 3 North Carolina Connected Authors

Three recent books with North Carolina connections have gained national recognition. You should certainly know about them. Tim Gautreaux is widely admired in our state’s literary community. For instance, popular Hillsborough author Lee Smith, writing about Gautreaux’s latest book, “The Missing,” said, “I have just finished, biting my nails and staying up almost all night to do so—-surely the best rip-roaring old fashioned truly American page-turner ever written! No way to say how much I admire that book. Got your attention?” “The Missing,” like Smith’s “The Last Girls,” is set on a riverboat that travels along the Mississippi River. But it is not the same kind of book. Smith’s characters are contemporary middle-aged women on a luxury tourist ship remembering their college river rafting venture down the river. Gautreaux’s tale, set in post World War I times, is dark and violent, featuring a kidnapped child and outlaw families living on swampy, nearly deserted lands near the river. Gautreaux grew up in Louisiana’s Cajun country and has spent most of his life writing about his home state and teaching there. So what is his North Carolina connection? His wife grew up in Raeford, and since Hurricane Katrina they have divided their time between Louisiana and a home in Ashe County. Gautreaux will be the guest on UNC-TV’s North Carolina Bookwatch on Sunday at noon (February 3) and Thursday (February 7)...

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Caught In A Lie, What Do You Do?

What should a public figure do when caught in a mistake or telling a lie? Any experienced political advisor will urge, “Stop lying, tell the truth, and get the whole story out in one fell swoop.” Further lying or delay in telling the whole story makes it worse. Day after day, the news media’s reports reemphasize and compound the negatives, destroying the troubled public figure’s chances for rehabilitation in the public’s mind. Lance Armstrong and John Edwards compounded their disasters by delaying acknowledgement of errors and continuing to lie to the public. Duke University history professor William Chafe, author of “Bill and Hillary: The Politics of the Personal,” agrees. “The cover-up is worse than the crime and it is going to come back and get you. When you’ve done something wrong, ‘fess up.” For every rule there are exceptions. Professor Chafe describes how Bill Clinton saved his presidency by maintaining and adjusting his untruthful story about his relationship with Monica Lewinski, waiting several months before admitting the truth. “He buys six months” Chafe told me recently, “and that six months saves his presidency.” During those months the country got used to the idea of having a president who had an affair with an intern and lied about it. Several things helped Clinton. The country’s economy under his leadership was doing well. Ken Starr, the special prosecutor, and the Republican...

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The Violin Lesson

What was the best Christmas present? For me, it would be something a family member made, like the pictures and the book my granddaughters made and gave to me last month. Or, maybe it would be the certificate for “free violin lessons” from my seven-year-old grandson Jake. Jake has been taking violin for about a year. One day he will be a good performer, but he is not yet ready for Carnegie Hall or Lincoln Center, nor has he been trained to teach others to play. I have always wanted to know how a violin works, wondering, how does that funny looking instrument make such beautiful music in the hands of an unaccomplished player? In my efforts to play other musical instruments, I know I could never be an adequate musician. But my lack of talent does not keep me from wanting to know how good musicians make their instruments work. Several years ago, when I told my wife that I wished I could play a violin, she bought me one. It was an inexpensive, mail-order version. I could never make it work. It had come without a bridge, a small but essential part that positions and supports strings, aligning them in a way that when the violin bow makes contact, there is a sound. So we had packed up the violin until the other day when Jake came...

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Disfranchisement–then and now

They “disfranchised us, and now we intend to disfranchise them.” It sounds like what North Carolina Republicans might have said behind closed doors while they were gerrymandering legislative and congressional districts to assure their party’s continuing dominance. However, the words came from a white Democratic state senator more than 100 years ago. Legendary historian C. Vann Woodward used the quote to show the thinking behind the white supremacy political movement in the late 1800s. Both efforts, the post-Reconstruction “disfranchisement” and the 2011 redistricting, reduced the influence of African Americans in state government. What made me think about the link between these two events, separated by more than 100 years? First, an early reading of an upcoming biography of Josephus Daniels by Lee Craig reminded me of the Democratic Party’s successful efforts to minimize or eliminate African American influence in North Carolina politics at the turn of the last century. Secondly, talking recently to a Democratic former state legislative leader, I suggested that Republicans had gone much further in redistricting to marginalize opponents than Democrats ever had. He smiled, and said, “Oh no, we would have done as much [after the 2000 census] if we had had the tools and hadn’t had Republican judges looking over our shoulders.” Was there an element of revenge in the modern Republicans’ gerrymandered redistricting plan? It was certainly there in post-Reconstruction politics. Here is...

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D.G.'S Mini-N.C. Almanac — Updated For 2013

When the 2013 edition of one my very favorite books, “The World Almanac and Book of Facts,” arrived on the bookshelves the other day, it reminded me that it has been several years since I updated my mini-state almanac. With the hope that someone will take up the challenge of giving us a printed and complete “North Carolina Almanac and Book of Facts,” here are a few items such book might contain. — The 2010 census reported the state’s population to be 9,535,483, up from 8,049,313 in 2000, 6,628,637 in 1990, and 5,881,766 in 1980. Still growing, the estimate for 2011 was 9,656,401. 25 Largest Cities and Towns City (2010 rank, 2000 rank) 2000 2010 2011 est. Charlotte (1, 1) 540,828 731,424 751,087 Raleigh (2, 2) 276,093 403,892 416,468 Greensboro (3, 3) 223,891 269,666 273,425 Durham (4, 4) 187,035 228,330 233,252 Winston-Salem (5, 5) 185,776 229,617 232,385 Fayetteville (6, 6) 121,015 200,564 203,945 Cary (7, 7) 94,536 135,234 139,633 Wilmington (8, 9) 75,838 106,476 108,297 High Point (9, 8) 85,839 104,371 105,753 Greenville (10, 13) 60,476 84,554 86,017 Asheville (11, 10) 68,889 83,393 84,458 Concord (12, 14) 55,977 79,066 80,597 Gastonia (13, 12) 66,277 71,741 72,068 Jacksonville (14, 11) 66,715 70,145 70,801 Chapel Hill (15, 16) 48,715 57,233 58,011 Rocky Mount (16, 15) 55,893 57,477 57,433 Burlington (17, 17) 44,917 49,963 50,925 Wilson (18, 18) 44,405 49,167 49,297 Huntersville...

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