Archived Opinion

In praise of passionate, civic-minded teachers

op frAs they say, the devil is in the details, and in this case the details are simply ridiculous.

A bill that has been sent to the N.C. Senate Finance Committee for consideration — Senate Bill 867 — is intended to keep children in our schools safe by requiring better background checks for potential teachers and spelling out specific crimes that would prevent them from being licensed. Among those are crimes one would expect — prostitution, homicide, misconduct in public office.

However, dig down a little deeper and we also find this little nugget in the bill: “Offenses Against the Public Peace; Article 36A, Riots, Civil Disorders and Emergencies ….” In effect, the bill says those arrested for disturbing the peace should not get a state teaching license. Remember all those protests in Raleigh by educators complaining about lack of funding for students, not enough money for supplies, etc. Well, some of those protestors were charged with disturbing the peace.

Why did sponsors of this bill choose to include a free speech issue among a host of other crimes were about the morality and ethical behavior of teaching candidates? I would like to think this wasn’t an attempt to squelch the voices of those exercising a basic American right to protest government action, but it’s hard to see it any other way.

I am certainly not an impartial judge on free speech issues. Since my adolescence, I have fiercely argued for free speech issues. As a high school newspaper editor, I once wrote a column asking why the various social groups at my Fayetteville, N.C., high school could not simply get along better. I singled out “rednecks, socialites, freaks, do-gooders” and others in what I thought was a fairly harmless piece. 

When the papers arrived back from the printer and the principal gave it the usual once-over before distribution, he called my journalism teacher and me to the office. He told us to trash all the papers, that it couldn’t be distributed because what I thought was a pretty tame take on the reality at our school was, to him, an unfair stereotyping of the student body. That cost our paper hundreds of dollars and, well, pissed a lot of us off.

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That kind of censorship flamed my free speech advocacy and probably helped lead to where I am today.

Look, good government and an open society demands vocal critics. Those who attend local county or municipal government meetings witness this on a regular basis. Nearly every elected board in this region has one or two folks — perhaps more — who constantly show up to criticize, to seek change, or to constantly harangue office holders on one specific issue. Those people can be a pain in the rear and take up valuable resources and time.

But they are a fact of life in our country, as much a part of what keeps us free as those who run for office and those of us who pay taxes to a government whose actions we disagree with. In reality, it’s part of America’s unique social contract and a key component of what makes this country so great.

The reality is that we want people in our classrooms who are so passionate about issues affecting this country or this state that they will drive to Raleigh or Washington and join others in protest while risking getting arrested for refusing to disperse or go home. Let’s have that man or woman teaching our children something about what it means to live in this country.

Sure, let’s pass a law that keeps dangerous people out of the classroom, but not one that keeps passionate and civic-minded people from getting a teaching license.

(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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