School boards claim to be non-partisan. But nothing could be further from the truth. They can be more complex and worthy of political analysis, especially in Robeson. Dr. Ben Chavis is a good start, as he actually doesn’t hide his agenda and makes for great coverage.
Described by national media as a coveted speaker on free market capitalism and education, Chavis wrote a 2010 book entitled, “Crazy Like a Fox.” It is aptly named.
Chavis has doctorate degrees in education, philosophy and anthropology. His career included professor of ethnic studies at San Francisco State University before becoming superintendent of struggling schools. Rather than applying liberal methods in the liberal state of California, Chavis did the opposite. Instead of lowering standards, treating his minority schools like victims, he raised the bar, employing methods foreign to California.
His controversial style earned him scrutiny. His colorful language garnered national press coverage. His success earned him respect among educational professionals nationwide. Liberals eventually launched investigations. In the end, he survived the scrutiny. Investigative reporter John Stossell examined the California controversies, concluding publicly that Chavis’ opponents were the bad guys who found no chargeable wrongdoing other than business conflicts of interest. His biggest crime was being both a capitalist and an educator in a liberal state.
Chavis turned poor performing schools into the top performing schools in California. He became an advisor to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on educational issues and befriended economic Nobel Prize laureates such as Milton Friedman, who was advisor to President Reagan.
When Stossel needed an interview in 2011 for a segment called, “Freeloaders” touting the success of the Lumbee Tribe, Stossel again called Chavis. Chavis did a great job representing the tribe in a positive light, explaining their success as compared to western tribes.
If Chavis had a military career, he’d be viewed differently. His salty style would be more accepted in that venue. But his direct approach to the generally liberal field of education, though effective, is certainly controversial. In that sense, Chavis is a bit like Donald Trump. Both have no interest in political correctness. They both simply need a publicist to filter their thoughts, making them more palatable to the public as that’s what seems to get them in trouble.
This isn’t justification for the current methods utilized by the school board to insert a new superintendent. Chavis has no vote and the members who do vote make their own decisions. To his credit, Chavis certainly has good intentions and no one doubts those in opposition would have pursued similar methods.
Ambush voting isn’t a pretty parliamentary tactic. It results in unnecessary collateral damage and bad press. What is amazing is that anyone is shocked, pretending it hasn’t happened before.
Recall that although there was a search process before Tommy Lowry’s hiring, Lowry wasn’t part of that process because he didn’t even apply. He was voted in at the 11th hour when a motion to reopen the search process failed. He was then criticized for not having proper certification.
Even as far back as Nov. 15, 1992, an editorial complained about the re-hiring of Purnell Swett for failing to have an open process and cronyism. This isn’t exactly a novel issue.
Getting beyond the colorful rhetoric and focusing on the premise may be a better analysis. No one disagrees our schools fail by every academic measure. The question has always been why.
It is a perennial problem. With apologies to Mark Twain, we regularly change school board members, superintendents and diapers — and for the same reason. Academic performance hasn’t budged.
So how we got here or who got us here has little value at this point. Though entertaining, focusing on messengers rather than the message doesn’t get us anywhere.
Clearly, both sides believe they are doing what is best for the education of children. But so far, there is no quantifiable measure to demonstrate that view.
Phillip Stephens is chairman of the Robeson County Republican Party.