Getting an education is about reducing ignorance. Whether it’s in a rural second-grade classroom or at one of this nation’s elite graduate schools, learning is all about gaining a better understanding of the world around us. That might mean studying the religion of another culture or unraveling the DNA of a sea turtle, but the idea is to seek to understand.
That said, I want those who would be our educational leaders to embrace this concept, that of helping students broaden their understanding of the world in which we live. Unfortunately, at least one candidate running for school board in Haywood County displays such a depth of misunderstanding that by my estimation he is not qualified to serve on the school board.
When National Newspaper Week (Oct. 5-11) was started 74 years ago, there wasn’t much competition for newspapers. If you didn’t read the paper, you just didn’t know what was going on around the world or in your hometown.
Now that’s not the case. Internet search engines have put thousands of news sites at our fingertips. Social media helps us keep up with friends and family and whole communities of like-minded people.
I heard about this story from the Facebook crowd, so I imagine some of you have already read it. There was a story in this past Sunday’s Raleigh News and Observer that had this to say about Waynesville and Sylva:
To find the most beer-soaked town in North Carolina, look past the much-acclaimed Asheville. Thirty miles to the west sits Waynesville, a small town of 10,000 nestled between the Blue Ridge and Great Smoky Mountains. It’s here where you’ll find four craft breweries – one of the highest brewery-per-capita ratios in the state (www.newsobserver.com/2014/09/04/-4119190_pintful-to-find-ncs-most-beer.html?rh=1#story-link=cpy).
A possible rival is nearby Sylva, a smaller outpost in Western North Carolina where 2,700 people share two breweries.
Anyone who reads The Smoky Mountain News regularly knows we emphasize in-depth, investigative stories when that’s what is called for to get to the bottom of something. Everyone at our company takes great pride in that aspect of our identity.
“Government’s job is NOT to fund private industry!”
“Shouldn’t the mill pay to keep themselves up to par as far as emissions? Why do our tax dollars have to help them? My small business doesn't get help from the state to cover upgrades!”
Those comments above are from our Facebook page in response to a post about the General Assembly’s last-minute decision to come up with $12 million to help Evergreen Packaging in Canton. The money will go to help the company meet EPA-mandated requirements to switch from coal to natural gas in its boilers. The switch is expected to cost around $50 million.
Most anyone who has worked for a living, volunteered, or held elected office has stood at the edge of the abyss, looked over it, and made a very important decision: complete honesty and unyielding integrity, or maybe a little dishonesty, maybe a seemingly harmless white lie. The dishonesty might concern office supplies or maybe tools, perhaps a few dollars from the organization no one would miss; for an elected official, it could mean cozying up and getting favors from someone who could benefit from your vote, or perhaps it could mean a little extra money or a gift from such a person.
The situation that The Smoky Mountain News reported about last week concerning the Junaluska Sanitary District is a great illustration of how this happens. The district’s former employee developed a scheme for embezzling a little money each day over a long period of time. Finally caught, she admitted to stealing $210,000 over six years. She repaid it all and did not serve any jail time.
Haywood County’s hospital was in trouble. The average number of patients staying overnight had dropped precipitously, causing severe problems to the hospital’s cash flow. The relationship between the administration and most of the physicians was fractured. Many of those doctors and many Haywood County citizens feared the hospital might close if it didn’t adapt to the fast-changing health care landscape.
Though that sounds eerily similar to just a few years ago, it was 1993. I was a new-to-the-job 33-year-old editor of The Mountaineer in Waynesville. i was just a few months in town when rumblings of the hospital’s woes began trickling out. A group of five or six doctors decided they wanted the local media to hear their side — off the record — and so invited my wife and I to a dinner at one of their homes.
“Absolutely ridiculous.” Those are the words of Rep. Joe Sam Queen, D-Waynesville, to describe the actions of Rep. Michelle Presnell, R-Burnsville, who has twice in two consecutive legislative sessions stopped in its tracks a bill that would merge Lake Junaluska with Waynesville.
Rep. Queen is being too kind by far. Asinine might better describe her opposition to this bill.
True story. My wife Lori and I were enjoying a delicious, refreshing IPA at the Wedge Brewery on Sunday afternoon, rewarding ourselves after a brutal trail run in the mid-day heat at Bent Creek (brutal, at least, by my estimation; Lori and our dog, Django, were just loping along the entire time, well ahead of me). The brewery in the Asheville River Arts District was relatively crowded and the sun was blazing, so we shared a shaded table with a couple about our age who invited us to sit after making friends with Django.
We soon found out they were from the Charleston area, he an engineer with Boeing and she a public school secretary. More interesting, however, is why they decided to come to the mountains for a long weekend: beer.
For school systems in relatively poor, rural areas where resources are scarce and student achievement is low, there’s no magic bullet that will suddenly transform the public education system. No, it’s mostly just roll-up-your-sleeves hard work by teachers and administrators to make sure the job gets done to the best of one’s ability.
However, getting all of a county’s leaders on the same page so they can at least be educated about the needs and challenges facing teachers and students is a good move, and that’s just what is happening right now in Swain County. If this initial overture turns into a real relationship — and a willingness by county leaders to understand its school system — it will only mean good things for Swain students.