Monday, April 9, 2012

The Many Deaths of Governor's School

Several people have asked me my thoughts about the General Assembly cutting funding to Governor's Schools for 2012, as well as the attempt by the GS Alumni Association to keep them open by soliciting funds.

Obviously, I think cutting funding for Governor's School is a mistake- both schools are programs that deserve to be fully funded, to honor the legacy of Terry Sanford if nothing else. There was a time when GS was the pride of the NC education system and while that time had passed, it could have come around again if the legislature had enough foresight to keep the programs running.

But honestly, as soon as they started charging tuition in 2010, Governor's School was already dead. Arguments that the tuition was nominal and that scholarships were available missed the point; GS worked because it wasn't selling a service. Instead it was providing an education. That the government of NC chose to cover the cost of the school was in many ways the whole point of the school. Attendance was an honor and choosing to accept that honor meant you were also buying into the school on the school's terms. No student had to attend GS; choosing to do so meant you were signing on to the GS model.

But as soon as GS started charging tuition it turned into a less prestigious version of TIPS or any other of the million other education camps that exist. These camps are selling a service, which means they need to respond to the buying public. Henry Ford had to make the Model T in different colors when it became a product that had to win over a consumer. The same thing is true when GS became a summer camp by charging tuition; all of a sudden, parents are buying a product for their student. Introducing students to contemporary Hong Kong cinema trends or the complicating nature of documentary fiction has to help get Little Johnny into the big name college he wants to attend; the fact that it is contemporary scholarship being undertaken by said universities is no longer enough. Students aren't being given a challenging education by the state- they are buying a college application boost from a company and that company now has to answer to its customers ahead of its pedagogical mission. Numbers will have to be generated and explanations for classes and extracurricular activities will be dependent on the numbers they generate. How will this help get Little Johnny into college?

I also think crowd sourcing the next several years of GS is a huge mistake. What motivation does the state have to readopt the program if it still runs under the same name with no financial input from them? Why let the legislature off the hook for its mistake? And realistically, how many summers does the alumni group believe it can raise these funds? Instead of going down fighting and praising what GS did do right, the school now dies, hat in hand on a street corner, begging for alms. The sound you are hearing is Terry Sanford rolling over in his grave.

It makes me sad to write all this because the people that are fighting so hard for it right now are my friends and I know they do what they do because they love GS. I loved GS too, but when I was fired, my heart was broken enough that I got a different perspective. It also makes me sad to write this because I made the same mistake I think they are making now, the mistake that the faculty and administration have been making for years. I loved my job at Governor's School more than I loved Governor's School itself. It really is the best teaching job there is and I did anything I could to keep that job there- I lied to myself and my students, I believed lies that I knew were lies, and I tried to placate hate-driven bully groups. All of those are mistakes and tragically, they are mistakes that many have made and continue to make.

Governor's School is dead. Tell the stories of what the program did right and call on the carpet those that killed it, myself included. But propping the corpse up in the corner with a champagne bottle duct-taped to its hand honors no one and does no one any favors. Governor's School is dead. Long live Governor's School.

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