In September 2022, the Orange County Human Relations Committee held a forum where a panel discussed topics surrounding the question "How should race be taught in our schools?" Many have mixed feelings about the way the forum was executed. However, in some ways, it was a step in a good direction by the Human Relations Committee. 

Among many questions that didn't get much discussion was: "How much of a role should non-educators have in what is taught about race in school?"

According to polls conducted during the meeting, the room and panel were filled with mostly progressives and liberals, and many of them clearly believed that non-educators should not have a role in deciding what is taught in schools. In case you aren't making the connection, "non-educators", in this context, is simply a term for "parents". The forum hosts and participants did not try to hide or shy away from this.

In a world where more and more people learn what is happening through social feed scrolling and short-form videos on TikTok or YouTube, it's become easy to promulgate catchy taglines and sloganized concepts that sound like they make sense. 

Take this notion, for example:

Teachers and educators are trained professionals. Non-educators have no training or experience in teaching. It only makes sense that we leave it to educators to decide what is taught in schools.

On the surface, this sounds logical. But you don't have to dig very deep to realize that this makes no sense. 

Let's look at a different example:

Architects and construction workers are trained professionals. Non-builders have no training or experience in construction. It only makes sense that we leave it to builders to decide what buildings should be constructed.

This is the same concept applied in a different field. You can almost sense, just by reading this scenario, that it isn't rational.

No matter how much education, experience, and expertise they have, architects cannot to enter a city and decide to build anything they want. Their job is not to determine what to build, but to apply their expertise in properly building what the community has asked for. If the community asks for a library, the architect will be fired if they refuse to design anything but a theatre. If the community asks for a design that emphasizes natural lighting, the architect cannot unilaterally decide to minimize natural lighting.

Helsinki, Finland- March 22, 2019: New Helsinki central library Oodi interior.

If you hire a home builder, you try to find the builder with the most qualifications. You find one who has built many beautiful homes that have pleased their owners and stood the test of time.  But no matter how good they are, you don't just tell them to build anything they want. This is your home. You get to decide every aspect of it. Their job is to bring your vision to life. Of course, a good builder can, and should, offer suggestions and apply their expertise in ways that enhance the home in ways that align with the owner's vision. In the end, however, ALL final decisions lie with the owner.

This applies to nearly every job and field imaginable. When professionals are hired to do a job, the entire point is that they are not the primary stakeholder. That's why they are being hired. 

Yes, there are scenarios where the professional is the primary stakeholder. For example, when an expert, experienced builder sets out to build her own dream home, she gets to decide exactly what to build herself. And some professional builders become developers who build many homes. Developers build the homes way they hope people will like and try to sell them. 

What's the difference? The difference is ownership and risk. 

In open social exchange, who has ownership, who takes the risk, and who makes the final decision are always in sync. This keeps incentives properly aligned. 

When educators (or any other non-primary-stakeholders) claim the final say on what our community's children are taught, they are asking for a fundamental misalignment of natural incentives:

  • Educators are not the primary stakeholders.
  • Educators do not take on any of the risk.
  • Some educators still want the final say on what is taught. 

Such a divergence in natural incentives has no rational foundation, nor is there any basis for it in an open society.

Citizens, not educators alone, should decide what is taught in our schools. We should find the best, the brightest, and the most talented educators to do the critical work of educating our children according to our desires as a community. 

What do we desire? In our diverse community, there is a wide range of desires for what our children are taught (which is a good topic for another article). But we can all agree on some fundamentals:

We want our children to achieve the highest performance and graduate with the most confidence and opportunities.

Our community has similar aspirations for our teachers:

We want our teachers to go to work every day, feeling truly happy and supported in their jobs.

Many educators have been influenced (let's face it, for political reasons) to believe that they should have the final say in what is taught in schools. In reality, offering educators a false sense of ownership over the children they teach is nothing more than a hollow token that does little to make up for what teachers are really lacking. 

We say we revere our teachers, but then we pay them some of the lowest wages in our society and we burden them with too many responsibilities. Since we don't show we truly appreciate them in tangible ways, we have to make up for it with verbal veneration. While words of affirmation and appreciation are nice, most teachers cannot sustain themselves on adulation alone. Nor should they have to. 

In an additional twist of irony... it's not actually teachers that decide what our students are taught. It's the so-called "educators" who decide, which in this context translates to "administrators" and far distant bureaucrats. This leaves teachers stuck in the middle.

Union leaders and administrators convince teachers that educators are stakeholders, but they don't actually allow teachers to choose what or how they teach. And when the community is not happy with what is being taught, the same unions and administrators tell teachers that parents are attacking them

Treating teachers this way is nothing short of despicable. 

Just like every other field where professionals are hired to do an important job, teachers simply aren't the primary stakeholders in the education of our community's children. They shouldn't feel bad or disrespected because of this, any more than an orthodontist should feel bad that they are not the primary stakeholder of their young patients. 

Pretending teachers are primary stakeholders of their students is lying to them and to ourselves.  Meanwhile, our teachers can never escape the brutal cognitive dissonance of being underpaid, overworked, and highly revered.

This is an unsustainable and irresponsible way for any community to operate, and it does not reflect the potential of Orange County, North Carolina. 

What should be done?

OCCIE is committed to doing our part to have a positive impact:

This is a topic that OCCIE will continue to research, analyze, and report on.

We're sharing ideas and solutions for our community to consider. In the coming months, OCCIE will publish new analyses and proposals for policies and systems improvements, as well as suggestions for direct action by citizens to help enact change for the better.