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No, school board race is not about our children’s ‘souls’

op frGetting 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.

 

I’ve never met Jeremy Davis, who is running as the candidate from the Bethel district, but here is what he wrote in a letter to The Mountaineer newspaper concerning a program hosted by the Center for Diversity in Education where sixth-graders learned about Islam: “Programs that advocate religions of hate should not be allowed to continue in our schools …. We have a situation in this country and the world where this evil religion is taking hold and we cannot allow this to continue in our own communities.”

Later in the same letter, Davis brought his feelings about Islam into the school board race: “Our children’s very souls are up for grabs in this school board election and this type of religious deception cannot be allowed to continue.”

And finally, this: “The Center for Diversity in Education has pictures on their website of Muslims holding up signs that say ‘we are not all terrorists.’ Current events around the world tells us otherwise ….”

The very idea that the 1.6 billion people who are Muslim should all be described as “evil” or “terrorists” is, by any standard, just ludicrous. That’s nearly a fourth of the world’s population. Are there splinter groups of Islam extremists doing terrible things? Of course, and they are horrible, as Davis points out.

But to try and bury our heads in the sand and not let students learn about the culture of, oh, those other 1.599 billion people who live throughout the world and practice this religion in peace will not help as we try to deal with very complicated geopolitical issues. Instead of criticizing the fact that our students are learning about Islam, we should go the opposite direction and make sure they know much more than people my age knew about this religion when I got out of school.

And instead of making this program the focus of a very public letter, how about talking about testing, teacher pay raises or increased supplements, technology in classrooms, how scarce resources are being used, or some of the other fundamentally important issues facing our schools.

We are all entitled to our views, which is the foundation upon which this country rests. Another basic tenet of being an American is to allow different opinions to be aired publicly rather than be squelched, as they might in some other country. I don’t disrespect Davis’ opinions, but I think he is wrong. 

And I also think someone who believes that all Muslims are evil and who would say that, because of those beliefs, “our children’s very souls are up for grabs in this school board election,” should not be on the board of education for a public school system. The schoolhouse is not where we save souls.

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We make it a habit of not endorsing candidates. It’s just something we have not done over the years that this newspaper has been in existence. 

But sometimes, as in the case above, you find someone who by their actions or their views is not a good choice for a particular office. I would say that about Mike Matthews, who is running for tax collector in Haywood County.

First things first. I’m a personal friend of David Francis, the current tax collector. I covered his first attempt for political office when I was editor of The Mountaineer in the 1990s, and have known him since then.

The problem with Matthews wanting to earn someone’s vote for tax collector, however, is that he is currently delinquent on his personal property taxes. That just doesn’t seem a good idea to put someone in charge of tax collections who has been delinquent on his taxes since he filed for office. 

Even though it’s highly unusual that the tax collector is an elected position, that doesn’t downplay its significance. Matthews is not the person for the job.

(Scott McLeod can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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