Editorial: Education as Commodity


For a state that’s more than a thousand miles away from the Mexican border, North Carolina does its share of fretting about the issue of immigration. And when we address immigration in the Old North State, we’re not talking about expatriate Swedes or snowbird Canadians. The issue as most people see it centers on Mexicans and other Latinos, who are part of the state’s fastest-growing demographic.

There are nearly 600,000 Latinos in North Carolina – that’s a Census number, so the figure’s a bit conservative. They came and, for the most part, they didn’t ask for much, maybe drivers licenses, places to live, jobs within our agricultural, manufacturing and construction industries.

And yes, plenty of Latino Americans have broken the law in North Carolina, as have many company owners who rely on cheap labor to keep costs down.

But all of them came here for the promise of a better life for themselves and future generations. And most of them aren’t going anywhere.

Last month’s announcement by the NC Community College System, ratifying a 1997 decision to universally accept undocumented immigrants for admission, could be seen as keeping a deal struck by the founding fathers, well in line with the spirit of this country and this state.

We do still consider ourselves a haven from oppression, a bastion of freedom, a land of opportunity, right? And do we not all agree that education is more right than privilege, that an educated populace is inherently better than an unlearned one, that it is in our best interests to give our citizens, particularly our most disenfranchised, access to the tools to unlock their potential?

Do we?

We should. Even those who do not stand behind the flag on this issue should see the alternative as undesirable.

By prohibiting education past high school for a demographic which clusters on the low end of the socioeconomic spectrum, we effectively create a ceiling through which none but a few can break. In the process, we are helping ensure a lasting underclass and all the problems – crime, poverty, diminished property values among them – inherent therein.

Still, the decision by the community college system has come under fire, particularly from US Rep. Sue Myrick, a Republican who represents North Carolina’s 9th district, who called the policy “stupid” because it “educate[s] and train[s] illegal aliens so they can directly compete against American citizens for the same jobs.”

And both Republican and Democratic gubernatorial candidates have already seized on the issue as campaign fodder and have put the question to NC Attorney General Roy Cooper, himself up for reelection in 2008.

What the pols must consider is whether people see education as a commodity to be controlled and distributed according to strict dictates or as an investment into the state’s economy and quality of life.

This is far from over.

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