Donald Trump, HB2, And The Soft Bigotry Of Low Expectations

I want to talk about the “soft bigotry of low expectations.”

We’ve heard that phrase, right? Michael Gerson is the one who coined it, back in 2000 when he was a speechwriter for George W. Bush. Back then, it was an argument about race and education: we’re hurting African-American students by failing to hold them to a high standard, rewarding them for doing the bare minimum. Low expectations means students have no incentive to strive or work hard or be ambitious – so the achievement gap will never close, families will be stuck in poverty, and it’ll be on us for not having been more demanding.

That was the original argument, and it resonated well – especially with Republicans, who pride themselves on being the party of personal responsibility.

But here’s the thing, y’all:

Today, the “soft bigotry of low expectations” is still with us – only it’s not against African-Americans.

It’s against Republicans.

Today, Donald Trump and Paul Ryan met to work out an “agreement” to re-unify the GOP. Now, Donald Trump is a pathological liar, he says he wants to ban all Muslims from entering the country, he’s stirred up hatred of immigrants, he’s threatened to prosecute journalists who criticize him, and he’s actively encouraged his followers to beat up anyone who disagrees. Any one of those things ought to be enough to disqualify him from being president – if we hold our candidates up to high standards. Instead, GOP leaders are willing to let all that slide. Ryan will settle for some tiny concession, they’ll come out saying they’ve had great talks and reached an understanding, and they’ll shake hands and smile and move on. (Even as I’m writing this, Ryan and Trump just released a statement to exactly that effect.)

Meanwhile, Trump is creating a new controversy by refusing to release his tax returns. “There’s nothing to learn from them,” he says. Trump’s opponents say he’s lying about his finances, he’s not really worth ten billion dollars, he’s involved in shady dealings. But there’s no proof without the tax returns, so Trump says it must be a non-issue.

That’s how low the bar is for Donald Trump. We can’t prove he’s committed dozens of felonies; therefore he’s qualified to lead the free world. He has no respect for the Constitution, but that’s okay because he gives the GOP a slightly better chance of winning in November.

The soft bigotry of low expectations.

And it’s not just Trump. In North Carolina, we’re all about to go to court over the “bathroom” section of House Bill 2. What, exactly, are Republicans arguing? They’re arguing that federal law bans discrimination on the basis of sex, but it doesn’t overtly ban discrimination on the basis of gender identity, so a law that discriminates on that basis is technically acceptable.

Mind you, this is not the GOP’s fallback position – this is their position. Pat McCrory is making this argument loudly and proudly. “House Bill 2 is technically not directly against the law, so therefore it must be okay.” Forget whether it actually protects public safety. (McCrory hasn’t even tried to make that argument for weeks, in case you haven’t noticed.) As long as it manages to skate riiight up to the line of breaking federal law without actually technically crossing it, House Bill 2 must be perfectly fine.

The soft bigotry of low expectations.

And it’s not even just House Bill 2. This year alone, we’ve had legal fights over Congressional district lines, state legislative district lines, voter ID, teacher tenure, and judicial elections. Sooner or later, “magistrate recusal” is heading to the courts as well. And in every single one of those cases, it’s the same argument from the GOP: “Well, technically it’s not quite a violation of federal law, so therefore it must be okay.”

You know what? That’s not good enough.

It’s time we raised the bar.

Rather than letting the NCGA get away with passing bill after bill that’s arguably just slightly not quite unconstitutional, let’s demand our lawmakers pass bills that don’t create a legal crisis at all.

Rather than having to go to court and nitpick over whether our district lines constitute racial gerrymandering or just partisan gerrymandering, let’s just draw our district lines without any gerrymandering whatsoever.

Rather than making Pat McCrory go on TV and argue that “gender” discrimination technically isn’t the same thing as “sex” discrimination, let’s just have a law that doesn’t discriminate on the basis of gender or sex.

Rather than making teachers sue the state to secure their contractually guaranteed benefits, let’s just fulfill the frigging contract.

Rather than jumping through legal hoops to argue that we’re not technically violating the Voting Rights Act when we impose new voting restrictions, let’s just…not impose new voting restrictions.

And rather than selling your soul and supporting a presidential candidate who stirs up hatred, panders to racists, trashes the Constitution, and generally acts like an eight-year-old playground bully, let’s actually demand our candidates meet a higher standard than the lowest possible bar. Ditch Trump if you need to. Vote for Gary Johnson instead. Democrats, if your candidate doesn’t hold up to high standards either, same story. Vote Johnson. Vote Stein. Write in somebody good.

Our political leaders ought to be better than this. Our candidates ought to be better than this. We ought to be better than this.

Otherwise, we’re subjecting ourselves, our state, and our country to the soft bigotry of low expectations. And we’re going to hate ourselves for it.

To hell with that. There’s too much hate already.


Postscript: Michael Gerson, the speechwriter who originally coined the phrase “soft bigotry of low expectations,” is now a writer for the Washington Post – and he’s remained consistent. He’s been a vocal opponent of Donald Trump’s for a long time now, most recently in this column.

CHCCS: Superior Court Ruling Against Tenure Law a Victory for Teachers

A ruling by a North Carolina Superior Court that strikes down the so-called “25 percent law” aimed at ending teacher tenure is being praised as a victory for teachers, including those in Chapel Hill and Carrboro.

“The general consensus is – in education circles here and our district and throughout the state – that this was not well thought-out,” says Jeff Nash, Executive Director of Community Relations for Chapel Hill Carrboro City Schools.

“It’s something that was going to be harmful to education. So we’re certainly glad to see the judge rule the way that he did.”

Nash praised Friday’s ruling by Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood that a recent state law ending job protections for veteran teachers is unconstitutional.

The so-called “25 percent law” compels school districts to pick the best 25 percent of its teachers to receive four-raise contracts, plus a $5,000 raise.

Teachers, however, would lose tenure rights that were promised after four years on the job.

Nash says the popularity of the new law among Chapel Hill-Carrboro teachers can perhaps be illustrated by how many teachers signed up to be considered for the contracts when the opportunity was offered.

“Out of our hundreds of teachers who are eligible, we had 10 who wanted to be put on the list,” says Nash. “Teachers don’t want to be put on that list. They don’t want to be part of this.”

The judge’s ruling does not apply to teachers who haven’t yet worked four years. According to The Associated Press, Republican Senator Phil Berger, the President Pro tempore of the State Senate, promises that Hobgood’s ruling will be appealed.

CHCCS Teachers Reject State-Mandated Contract Changes, Ask Board For Support

CHAPEL HILL- Chapel Hill-Carrboro educators are rejecting the changes to teacher tenure mandated by the General Assembly, and they want school board members to do the same.

Deborah Gerhardt was one of 40 parents and teachers who came out to Thursday’s Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education meeting to demand the board condemn the state-mandated changes to teacher tenure.

“I am basically here to plead with you to stand behind the parents and the teachers in this district and help us to voice how horrible we think this law is and how insulting it is to our teachers,” Gerhardt told the school board.

Wearing red to show support for education, the crowd asked the district’s elected leaders to take a firm stand against the new state law that will do away with career status for teachers, instead offering four year contracts and a $500 bonus to 25 percent of teachers while the rest get year-to-year contracts.

In an effort to sidestep the competitive aspect of the new law while still complying with the mandate, Chapel Hill-Carrboro administrators offered qualified teachers the option of volunteering for the new contracts instead of being ranked by school officials.

Human Resources Director Arasi Adkins said this opt-in policy would prevent teachers from feeling like they were vying against their peers for job security and extra pay. Superintendent Tom Forcella agreed, noting district teachers help craft the policy.

“Our opt-in model, I think, makes a statement in and of itself that we don’t agree with this particular law and the whole concept of merit pay.” said Forcella. “

But teachers throughout the district have resoundingly rejected the proposal. Adkins said of the 800 educators eligible to opt in, only 10 decided to do so.

Instead, the parents and teachers at the meeting said they want the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school system to join the growing number of school districts that are protesting the loss of teacher tenure.

The Guilford County and Durham County school boards have each voted to join a lawsuit seeking an injunction to stop the changes from being implemented, while the Wake County school board adopted a three-page resolution asking the legislature to repeal the new law.

Chapel Hill-Carrboro school board members said they stand behind the districts teachers, but worry that joining the lawsuit could have unintended consequences, as the legislature could choose to appoint new board members if the district did not comply with state law.

“Unfortunately, in this state, the legislature holds all the power,” said board member Mike Kelley. “The local governments, including school boards, have none that isn’t granted to them by the legislature, and the legislature can take that away at any time.”

Kelley and other board members urged the audience to focus on voter outreach to change the make-up of the General Assembly.

School board members also indicated they would consider a resolution condemning the new state law while still offering four-year contracts to the handful of teachers who opt in. The board could consider that measure at its next meeting on March 20.

CHCCS Teachers Face Loss Of Tenure: “It’s An Insult”

CHAPEL HILL- Chapel Hill-Carrboro teachers, administrators and school board members aren’t happy about the loss of job protection rules for educators. Nonetheless, school officials are drafting a plan to comply with new state laws that end teacher tenure.

Chuck Hennessee, a Culbreth teacher and president of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Association of Educators, addressed the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools board last week.

“You all know there are so many inherent things wrong with this law,” said Hennessee. “It’s built on the premise that only 25 percent of our teachers would deserve a contract, when we know that in this district, 94 percent of our teachers are proficient or above. It’s an insult to us as teachers.”

Starting next August, teachers with more than four years of experience can no longer be awarded career status, and those with career status will lose it by 2018. Instead, schools will offer most teachers one-year renewable contracts.

But school districts across the state are also tasked with identifying the top 25 percent of educators and offering them four-year contracts with annual raises of $500.

Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Human Resources Executive Director Arasi Adkins told the school board that unofficial polling among local teachers revealed little interest in the plan. So far, only 77 teachers have indicated they’d accept the four-year contract if offered.

Regardless of how many choose to sign the contracts, the district must make the offer to 200 teachers by next June.

School board member Annetta Streater called the plan “laughable.”

“So all we have to do is offer documentation to some authority that ‘here’s who we offered it to’ and half of them decline, then it’s done?” asked Streater. “What is the point of this?”

Although the contracts come with bonus money, the General Assembly has not allocated funding for those bonuses for future years. The board agreed that the district can’t afford to pick up the tab if state funding falls through.

“I feel strongly that we cannot promise to have this money, so it needs to be contingent on the state funding in the contract,” said Board Chair Jamezetta Bedford.

Administrators and school board members questioned the wisdom of the changes approved by the legislature as part of the budget bill this summer.

Adkins said the state requires the district to use a teacher evaluation tool to assess proficiency, but she and others stressed the evaluation is being misapplied.

“It’s a tool for teacher growth,” said Adkins. “It was never meant to compare teachers to each other.”

Teachers who fail to qualify as proficient are subject to dismissal. Supporters say the new rules will make it easier for school systems to dismiss under-performing teachers, but opponents worry it will drive more educators out-of-state or into other fields.

The North Carolina Association of Educators has already filed a lawsuit challenging the law. East Chapel Hill High School history teacher Brian Link is among the plaintiffs. He says the option of career status for teachers was one of the factors that drew him to move to North Carolina four years ago.

Teachers in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro district have until March 1 to put their names in for consideration for a four-year contract. The signing deadline is June 30, 2014.

NC Senate Bill Seeks To Eliminate Teacher Tenure

CHAPEL HILL – Senate Bill 361 is seeking to eliminate tenure for North Carolina public school teachers in five years. The bill received approval by the Senate Education Committee earlier this month, but not everyone thinks it’s a good idea.

Teachers currently are eligible for tenure after four years of consecutive contract renewal. Teachers’ contracts are not re-evaluated after receiving tenure; they also have the right to a hearing before being fired.

Under the proposed bill, district leaders would evaluate all teachers with at least three years of experience, offering four-year contracts to the top 25 percent. Teachers who earn the extended contracts also would be rewarded with annual bonuses of at least $500.

All other teachers would work under annual contracts.

Jeffery Nash is the Executive Director of Community Relations for the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools.

“We’ve got to keep in mind, too, that North Carolina is already 46th in the nation with regard to overall teacher’s salaries. The passing of Senate Bill 361 we believe will be detrimental to attracting the best and brightest in our state,” Nash said.

Beginning in the 2018-19 school year, districts could offer contracts— up to four years— to teachers with at least three years of experience. Newer teachers would be offered annual contracts.

If a teacher’s contract was not renewed, it would be up to the school board’s discretion to hold a hearing if the teacher requested it.

“At any given point in time less than one percent of the teaching category would fall into the category of ‘serious performance concerns’ and enough to consider revoking tenures,” Nash said. “It’s important to note that the number of serious performance concerns is really much smaller than what public perception might be for most school districts.”