Let's listen and learn from each other
January 22, 2014
As State Superintendent of Public Instruction, I routinely receive hundreds of emails, letters, phone calls and visits from fellow North Carolinians and other people outside of our state. I look forward to this interaction, and when I receive letters and emails, I respond because communicating with other North Carolinians is an important way that I learn and connect to the people I serve.
Through these interactions I have learned a great deal. I know that North Carolinians care deeply about public education and about making sure that our young people learn what they need to be successful adults. I've learned that history is important to you. You have shared your concerns about the economic competitiveness of our youth. I've learned that you want to support teachers, and that teachers want to work with parents to help their students thrive. I have learned that many of you are concerned about the future for various reasons.
I have concerns, too.
Our students are very promising young people. I visit schools regularly and find that young North Carolinians are enthusiastic, hopeful and capable – even when they are working against difficult challenges. Many of today's high school students are learning at what was considered college-level in past times. More than 82 percent of our high school graduates say they are going to college to prepare themselves for success in today's economy. At the same time, young people face challenges. The official poverty rate for children and youth in our state is more than 25 percent. The standards students need to meet are challenging. Resources for K-12 education are stretched thin. Teacher pay is low. The college price tag is high.
In order for North Carolinians to meet the challenges of these times, we need to listen to each other, to recognize the strengths of different perspectives and to assume the best of intentions of all. As we debate, share information and communicate our concerns in order to work with each other, I hope that we can model the civility that we want our students to demonstrate as they interact with each other and with their teachers and parents. We need to listen more, consider ideas with an open mind and be respectful if we disagree. Let's assume that we each have the best of intentions at heart. For the most part, I think North Carolinians want the best for our young people.
At the Department of Public Instruction, we involve educators and others in the decision-making process for many of the things we do. During the development of our Standard Course of Study, we received online, face-to-face and other kinds of feedback from thousands of teachers and ordinary North Carolinians. We have created advisory groups to guide thinking and decision-making on many topics. It takes more time to involve many people in decision-making but it is worth it in the long run. When we can debate, listen and confer with each other with civility, politeness and kindness, we will make better decisions, and we will all benefit.
June St. Clair Atkinson