The (unwritten) History of North Carolina’s Public School’s

Chapter One — NC State Board of Education.

As part of my historical investigation of N.C. schools, one of the first “methods” I have used has really just been to run Internet searches for terms like “history of nc public schools.”  May as well start with what on the outer surface of available historical knowledge.  And as expected, these searches have turned up the usual broad, survey-level wikipedia links as well as a lot of links to individual schools’ (mostly college and university) history sites.  One particularly interesting hit that these initial searches came up with is an overview of the history of North Carolina’s public schools that extends all the way back to the drafting of the NC Constitution in 1776.

The constitution provided for State-supported schools then, though the idea of a school board would not really take hold until 1825 with the establishment of the “Literary Board.”  I thought this name had a certain Orwellian ring to it.  And so, I was disgusted, but not entirely surprised when I read that the Literary Fund was originally fed by “bank stocks and proceeds from the sales of vacant lands [my emphasis], as well as dividends from navigation companies, license taxes and money received from the federal government for aid in the removal of Cherokee Indians” (NC State Board of Education).

This was, after all, the age of The Indian Removal Act (1830) and the Trail of Tears, which forcibly displaced many thousands of the original inhabitants of the territory now known as North Carolina.  It is a pretty gross error that the author of this institutional history retains the designation “vacant lands” in this description and fails to interrogate such an obvious misrepresentation by the founders of North Carolina’s public school bureaucracy.

But as I mentioned, as despicable a move as it was to link the early funding of North Carolina’s public schools to the displacement and genocide of aboriginal people was not entirely unexpected.  It certainly fits the larger pattern of colonialism and imperial capitalism that have been the hallmark of the State and Federal governments of the U.S. since the beginning.

Who has written about the learning traditions of the Cherokee who were forced into hiding in the Appalachian Mountains the 1830s?  I am vaguely familiar with legendary figures like the Cherokee man, Tsali, who led a late wave of resistance against Jackson’s forces.  But I suspect that the stories I have heard, whitewashed as they were though Boy Scouts campfire rituals, are severely lacking in authenticity.

Here’s a link to a Cherokee newspaper which has some useful looking resources on EBCI Treaties between the Cherokee and US Government, but nothing after 1819 for some reason…

And here is a link to the Cherokee Central Schools website, which I want to explore in much greater length in the future.

What are the origins of these schools?  When, how were they established?  Why do they use North Carolina curriculum and assessments as they report on this site?  What are the consequences of this positive and negative?

A New Thread for this Blog

Dear reader:

Having finished my masters degree in Education, and on an extended break from full-time academia, while I learn how to be a daddy and a husband in Kure, Japan, I’ve been wondering how I might be able to keep my research chops chopping in a meaningful way, connected at least peripherally to the work I had been doing at UBC.  Living in Japan, I’m relatively isolated from the English language research infrastructure that I had come to rely on as a university student.  But I am not completely adrift in that respect.  While it’s impossible for me to check out physical books from the library, UBC hasn’t deactivated my username yet.  So, I at least still have access to a whole slew of electronic resources, which I want to make the most of (downloading as much as I possibly can to read) before those privileges get taken away.

One thing I’ve settled on doing is to try and gather as many resources, articles, book titles, citations, texts, information as I can on radical progressive education in North Carolina and/ or the Southern Appalachian mountains.  My masters thesis focused on one particular such institution– Black Mountain College– in Western N.C.  And as special and rare as BMC often seemed, my intuition is that it is not an entirely unique school.  It is not just an outlier, but part of a tradition of southern Appalachian educational deviance, and resistance to dominant structures that have defined schooling in the State and the region.

North Carolina is proud of its history as a State where publicly supported education programs have been adopted early.  Figures like Dorothea Dix and Terry Sanford stand out in my memory of my early North Carolina history education.  But as the State becomes caught in the tight grip of neoliberal regimes of teacher accountability, standardized testing and school choice, and as student- and teacher-citizens are forced to submit ever more often and more completely to the market forces that dominate curriculum, it is becoming more and more important to recall and celebrate those moments of resistance in the history of education in our State.

To start with, I want to cast as wide a net as possible to pick up resources that deal with all levels and types of education– public, private, primary secondary, post-secondary, parochial schools, lay schools, art schools, home schools, farm schools, traditionally black schools, what have you.  Some of the schools I have in mind to research are still open.  Some of them I have attended or have programs that have touched my life in one way or another.  The beauty of this project will be to create a sense of the ongoing threads of resistance that define the historical and present-day educational landscape of N.C. because students and teachers deserve an understanding of the work they are doing that extends beyond the current dominant rhetoric of EOGs, SATs, NCLB, IEPs, and so on.  This research is about showing how schools have operated differently and better in the past, but it doesn’t end with nostalgia.  This research will also hopefully inform future progressive educational change in North Carolina and the southern Appalachian mountain region of the United States.

A preliminary brainstorm of interesting schools includes but is not limited to:

Black Mountain College, Asheville Farm School (Warren Wilson College), Highlander Folk School, The North Carolina Governor’s School (and Governor’s School East), North Carolina Friends School, Edgeworth Female Seminary, Elizabeth College, North Carolina School of the Arts, North Carolina School of Science and Math, Gaston College, Littleton College, NC Military and Polytechnic Academy, Oxford College and Raleigh Female Seminary, Sacred Heart College, Yadkin College.


More to come.  But for now, this link to a UNC Chapel Hill Library site called “Gone But Not Forgotten.”  This is where I found out about several of the colleges in the list above.  There is also a link to a research pathfinder, which has A LOT more that I have only been able to take a brief look at so far.