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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Text of my remarks from last night's Board of Education meeting about the school uniforms

Am still working on getting the full report about last night's meeting up. It's written, but it's taking a bit to encode the video of the news clips that I want to include with the report. That should be done in the next hour or so.

In the meantime, here is the full text of the remarks that I made - while wearing my full Jedi Knight costume - before the Rockingham County Board of Education last night.

Good evening. My name is Chris Knight, I reside at 1516 Sherwood Drive in Reidsville, and since most of us came here to discuss uniforms, tonight I've chosen to wear my own.

Your purpose, as part of this democratically elected republic, is to present a bulwark against the citizenry becoming overwhelmed by its own appetites. That your particular task involves the education of the next generation gives your charge considerably more crucial import than that of most functions of this government.

But when you fail to heed not only the legitimate concerns of the voting public, but also what absolutely should be among the dictates of your good conscience, then you have failed utterly in the carrying-out of your duties and are become something that is quite alien to the vision of the Founding Fathers.

Indeed, in the past few months, regarding the Standard Mode of Dress issue, I have seen this board act less as our public representatives and more as if it was a sovereign lord that believes itself beyond reproach.

I wear this costume to symbolize the frustration that most of us had during the previous meeting of this board. For well over two hours we addressed this board about why we are opposed to the Standard Mode of Dress. Not only because we believe that the uniforms are an inherently wrong idea, but also because in light of how the uniforms policy was implemented, our own good conscience has led us to demand that the vote to mandate the Standard Mode of Dress be completely rescinded. Not postponed, nor put off any longer, but taken fully and immediately off the table.

The vote to implement the Standard Mode of Dress was based on fraudulent data, and it remains an open question as to whether or not this was done intentionally. That this board is apparently determined to see it enacted despite the dubious procedure that led to the vote, does nothing to increase our faith in the board and in fact is drawing us to disrespect it that much more. I said last time and I will say it again: if you do the right thing by rescinding this vote, we will respect you. But if you insist on perpetrating this fraud, how much reason do you give us to trust you at all?

And the example that this board is setting for the young people of this county is that it is perfectly acceptable to in effect lie if that's what it takes to achieve one's goals. By refusing to acknowledge our protests in this regard, the board compounds this grievous sin by demonstrating that it is not only okay to lie ... but that it should be exercised without apology.

Please tell me: is the cause of mandatory school uniforms enough to justify setting this kind of moral example to our children?

You haven't addressed our concerns. You have instead attempted to use the assignment of a new principal at Reidsville High School as political cover away from us. Now we've returned, once again forcing consideration of an issue that you should have felt led to confront on your own, for sake of good conscience. You have failed to do that. You have further failed to demonstrate that you are sincerely listening to your constituents. Because of this and in the spirit of many students who have gone before, we have been compelled to employ an attention-getting device. The result is that now the world is watching this board and is bearing witness to what it is doing.

I doubt it is perceiving this board's actions on the uniforms issue as earnest leadership. Real leadership entails having the courage to admit that you were wrong. Running away from the matter and being disingenuous with those who have elected you is not leadership. That's the furthest thing from real leadership there can be.

Here, tonight, you once again have the opportunity to show leadership quality by making this right, for all of the reasons that I, and many others have brought up not only regarding the morality, but the very legality of the vote to implement the uniforms. But since the last meeting other concerns regarding this matter have crossed my mind.

If implemented, the uniforms will be an expense far above and beyond that of necessary personal cost. I know of no comparable expenditure that parents are called to make for their children's education. And in fact, I have been told by a number of people who have better minds than my own on the subject that it could be argued that in requiring parents to subsidize a government policy out of their own savings, that this is tantamount to levying an indirect form of taxation. I need not remind you that under current North Carolina law, no school system is authorized to levy taxes.

Is this school board willing, or could it afford, to see this premise tested in the courts?

Is there an ample stock of uniforms in the area to accommodate the students at both schools throughout the year? Or will some parents have no choice but to drive all the way to Greensboro or Burlington or Danville to purchase these uniforms. Once again, this would obligate travel costs that would in any other situation be needlessly exorbitant for some families of limited income. Has this also been taken into consideration?

For sake of time and because there are many others wishing to comment about this tonight, I will attempt to keep my remarks as brief as possible.

But now, there is one more reason why this board should rescind the uniforms policy. It was one that I was prepared to touch upon but the argument did not truly achieve its substance until yesterday morning's edition of The Reidsville Review.

One of the members of this board stated the following, and I quote from the paper ...

"I voted for what's best for our children and what will make the schools safer," this member said. "School is about learning, not about individuality. It's about how to find a job."

Members of this board: this is wrong. And it cannot possibly be more wrong. I would even dare to say that any member of this board who holds to this belief about the role of education has so little understanding of what education is supposed to be, that he or she should be voted off of this board at the earliest possible opportunity.

There is little doubt about why public education was started in America. One of the provisions of the Northwest Ordinance was for the establishment of public schools. Why? Because Thomas Jefferson, among others, wisely understood that the strength and vitality of America depended on her citizens being fully capable of reading and critical thinking. For America to survive, Jefferson and the other Founders knew, her people must be educated and enlightened, and as fully much the individuals that God created them to be. For there to be a government of the people, by the people and for the people, it is first necessary for the people to be masters of their own fate. So it was that part of the Northwest Ordinance was a plan for public schools ... for the express purpose of educating the people to be something more than what the world around them expected and defined them to be. Free government was dependent upon a free people ... and it still is.

This is why our public schools are the most coveted and lusted-after institutions for political control. Too many who claim interest in education do not see our children as individuals. They see them as a collection of assets to be exploited for selfish gain. To them our children, and we who are of age, are nothing more than bags of meat to be tagged. We are numbers in a system and to these people, our only purpose is to breathe and to eat and to consume and to spend and to watch television and to do as we are told and then to die. That is the totality of our existence to those who consider our children as nothing more than interchangeable parts of a machine.

That is not what our children are. They have a name. They have a soul. What they make of their lives is between they and their Creator. It falls unto us to do everything in our power to make sure that they go into life as equipped and enlightened as they can possibly be so as to meet its challenges and wildly surpass them. Anything less than this, is tantamount to putting our children in intellectual and spiritual bondage.

They should not be reduced to being mere factors to be plugged into an equation in order to achieve an expected outcome. Education is not supposed to be a precise science. Education, however, is a fine art. It is the art upon which all others are founded. This county isn't nearly thankful enough that it's managed to have and maintain the teachers – each of them a gifted artist in his or her own right – who are willing to share their love of their chosen subject matter with their pupils. They want to be free to practice their art.

But we – and by that I mean systems of education across this country, even many that are private – have turned this highest of arts into an industrial machine. We've allowed the soul to be taken out of the art of education. And now it seems, in reflecting upon this member's words, that this is all that our education is supposed to do: stamp out soulless automatons with a fixed designation that is beyond their ability to alter.

I see this board continually take measures that whittle down our teachers' passions and stifle their creativity and drive. It's no wonder that many of our children cannot learn: they do want to learn. I don't know of any child who did not on the deepest level desire to learn. But public education has become a system that frustrates our teachers and frustrates our children in turn. And by implementing the Standard Mode Of Dress, this board would heap on yet another unnecessary thing for our teachers to have to accommodate. I've spoken with a lot of teachers across many schools in this county. They want their freedom. They want to be trusted again by this administration to do what they were trained to do and have spent their lives longing to do. You aren't doing them any favors by forcing this ham-fisted measure on them.

This statement by the board member speaks volumes about why the Standard Mode Of Dress should not only be off the table, but something that should never have been considered in the first place.

If you want to improve the education of this county, indeed in this country, then do what you can to make the students WANT to learn. They really do want that, as much as the teachers want to teach and to teach HERE. But you are driving them away from both this area and their interest in learning out of this lust for more heavy-handed control.

Perhaps this is where we who are out here and some of you on the board differ. I wonder if it's something that's even reconcilable.

You would have our children shackled to a desk. We would see them fly as the eagles.

You would have them conform. We would have them dare to question and if need be, to defy.

You would have them be under control. We would have them control themselves.

We want them to be as much as possible the individuals that God has purposed for them to be. They are not here to do nothing more than to help pay for your Social Security.

There are some educational institutions that do mandate uniforms, but most of these can afford to do so because they already fully understand the true mission of education. This school system is not one of them.

I am here to demand three things:

First, that the Rockingham County Board of Education immediately vote to rescind the April vote to implement the Standard Mode of Dress, out of regard for the morality of the situation.

Second, that if it is yet believed that the students would benefit from having a standard mode of dress, that a serious attempt be made to determine how agreeable the parents and students are to the idea. This would mean bringing in an outside agency that is unattached to the school system in any way to conduct the survey. Much of the problem that has brought us here again tonight results from the fact that this school board failed to act in a way that would avert the semblance of impropriety, by letting the school system carry out the survey. If the parents and students honestly want the uniforms, then fine. I've no problem with that. But that requires an honest determination of fact: something that has been entirely absent in these proceedings.

Third: I want to sincerely ask that the members of this board of education take a few steps back, and introspectively consider what its goals are for the children of Rockingham County. And I want you to ask this among yourselves: is it your intended mission to stamp out replacement parts for the mad machine that is our society? Or are you doing your absolute darndest to nurture and encourage the growth of individual minds, equipping them with ability and the wisdom to use it, so that they will be capable of making the choices that will guide this nation and this world when it is time to pass the torch to them. I sincerely hope and pray that your mission is the latter. But the very notion of imposing school uniforms in the present context flies fully in the face of this noble goal. For that reason alone, I ask you to abandon the Standard Mode Of Dress completely and without condition.

If nothing else that I have said tonight has persuaded you to desist from pursuing the Standard Mode of Dress, I have a few more words to share, and they are most assuredly not my own. Some have asked that if I'm dressed as a Jedi, where is my lightsaber. Well, I didn't bring my lightsaber tonight ... but I did bring the surest Sword of all ...

(holding up Bible)

The words of the prophet Isaiah, chapter 10, verses 1 through 3:

"Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people. What will you do on the day of reckoning, when disaster comes from afar? To whom will you run for help? Where will you leave your riches?"

The uniforms policy is unjust, because it is based on a falsehood. It will definitely be oppressive in the sense that it will hit many people hard in the pocketbook. And how many single-parent families is this going to affect?

What will you tell them?

James, the brother of our Lord, asks this also: "Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, 'Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,' but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?"

The Standard Mode of Dress will make very many of the students, in the words of James, "without clothes". And the board has made it quite clear that it cannot provide adequate clothing for all, instead effectively telling them nothing more than "I wish you well."

If you can not respond to we among your constituents about these concerns, then how can you respond to the words of these great and noble men?

Thank you.


Anonymous said...

Chris, you did an excellent job last night and your speech was right on target. For those of you that read this blog but could not attend last night's meeting - I'd like to say that you missed an excellent meeting.

Anonymous said...

Great speech, Chris! I hope your pressure on the school board doesn't get you sued. They are not adverse to getting even.

Anonymous said...

Wow, Chris! I just read your speech. You don't mince words. You just go for the punch! Amazing stuff. You've moved me and I don't even live in SC.

Missing you over at KarmaCritic. I messaged you there awhile back. Take care. Keep in touch.