Other voices: What does the state’s lieutenant governor do?

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Many in North Carolina might rightfully wonder: Just what does the lieutenant governor do?

Usually, the post is a low-profile and largely ceremonial one. But Republican Dan Forest and now his fellow Republican and successor, Mark Robinson, have given the job a sharply defined function: The lieutenant governor promotes political polarization.

Robinson, who is Black and an unlikely ambassador for white, conservative grievance, assumed the state’s second highest political office in January. He has taken up the role of being ill-informed and divisive with gusto.

As a member of the State Board of Education, Robinson objected that new state standards for social studies were “anti-American” distortions. He lost that dispute, but he’s not giving up. The lieutenant governor has formed a task force to collect complaints from parents who think their children are being subjected to “indoctrination” by politically liberal instruction in the public schools.

Robinson said at a recent news conference that during his 2020 campaign he was “besieged by folks who were complaining about things their students and their children were having to learn in public schools that were contrary to their own beliefs.”

Robinson knows there are doubters about such indoctrination. “People say, ‘Well, where’s the proof?’ Where’s the proof?’ ” he said. “We’re going to bring you the proof.”

No he’s not. Robinson is going to bring us a collection of random anecdotes from people who don’t think their political or religious views are being reflected in a certain school or by a certain teacher. Collecting those complaints through a quasi-official state task force isn’t about proving a problem. It’s about harassing and intimidating teachers.

Robinson, who is serving in his first elected office, came to the attention of conservatives in a viral video in which he championed gun rights (an issue that’s a real concern for schools). He then gained notice for his attacks on people in Facebook posts.

By now Robinson’s ability to surprise by being extreme is wearing thin. Still, it is stunning that after what may be the most trying year in the history of public schools, the lieutenant governor thinks his top priority should be challenging the motives of teachers and fueling paranoia about schools indoctrinating children.

As usual with Robinson, there’s nothing original here. He is just tearing a page from the playbook of divisive politics and waving it before the cameras. Consider what then-President Donald Trump said, disgracefully, in his 2020 speech at Mt. Rushmore: “Against every law of society and nature, our children are taught in school to hate their own country and to believe that the men and women who built it were not heroes, but that they were villains.”

That’s nonsense. Even Trump knows it.

Teachers’ political views and styles vary, but they are overwhelmingly conscientious and dedicated people who provide broadly accepted instruction about the nation’s history and social conditions. What’s taught is more accurate now than ever as the experiences and views of minorities are being provided their rightful place in America’s story.

If Robinson really cares about public schools, he should help bring teacher pay up to the national average, restore teacher assistants lost to funding cuts and provide nationally recommended levels of school counselors, nurses and psychologists.

— The News & Observer of Raleigh