Archived Opinion

Jackson students need a balanced education

By Michael Sanera • Guest Columnist

In what appears to be a first in Jackson County, planners from a private consulting firm have been invited to teach students at Smokey Mountain Elementary and Cherokee Indian Reservation schools. The consultant will use a one-sided curriculum called Box City that not only ignores the realities of private land ownership, but also encourages students to engage in political activity. The Box City curriculum provides students with small cardboard boxes and maps so they can plan their ideal community.

Kimley-Horn, a Raleigh-based private land-planning consultant, was hired by the Jackson County Commission to create a land development plan for the U.S. 441 corridor. The purpose of the plan is to regulate all land from ridgeline to ridgeline along the corridor. Kimley-Horn is a for-profit company whose success depends on communities adopting similar plans.

Land-use regulations are always controversial. They, by necessity, bring up questions about Fifth Amendment constitutional protection of property. Government is prohibited from taking private property without just compensation. Witness the heat generated by the Jackson County commission’s recent approval of subdivision and slope ordinances.

Any educational program about land-use regulation must be a balanced presentation. Students must be taught “how to think,” not “what to think.” The Box City curriculum does not pass that test. Box City is a program of the Center for Understanding the Built Environment (CUBE).

The mission of CUBE is to use students to “effect change,” not to provide quality and balanced education. CUBE’s mission statement states: “The ultimate goal of CUBE is not simply to enable children to learn to value the built environment, nor is it just to improve their problem-solving and social skills. The fourth ‘R’ in the CUBE educational model is Responsible Action.”

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This primary objective of getting kids to engage in “responsible action” (aka, political action) is perhaps the reason that Kimley-Horn planners have scheduled student workshops (Jan. 14-16) before the public information sessions (Jan. 21, 23, and 24). It appears that motivating kids to take their lessons home to their parents and to have kids show up at the public meetings is the “educational” outcome sought by planners.

A balanced education not only requires teaching students that they should participate in land-use decisions because it is “their community,” but that those decisions affect their friends and neighbors, many of whom have their life savings invested in their land. Land-use regulations can wipe out or greatly diminish those values. To become responsible citizens, students must learn that political decisions have real consequences for their neighbors. They must exercise prudence when considering land-use decisions.

Students should also learn to respect the Constitution. Just because some in the community want to preserve the rural character of the land does not mean that they can ignore the Constitution. Students need to be aware that there is a right and a wrong way to achieve community goals. The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution requires those who want to use government to take private property for a “public use” to provide “just compensation” to property owners. Even if a majority in the community wants to protect the view of the mountains, it is not just or moral for that majority to pass regulations that deprive landowners of their property values.

Jackson County and Cherokee Indian Reservation students deserve a quality and balanced education. That is not likely to happen when Kimley-Horn planners come to the county.

(Michael Sanera is Research Director and Local Government Analyst for the John Locke Foundation. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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