In front of an attentive group of about 50 UNC students, the College Republicans met Tuesday night in Phillips Hall to engage a panel of speakers in a lively debate on the future of education.
The forum's panel included students' points of view as well as the expertise of local charter school principal and Sen. Hugh Webster, R-Alamance. Issues discussed included vouchers and school choice, charter and home schooling, testing and accountability.
"It's the last general body meeting of the semester, and the issue is something we wanted to tackle - especially since (gubernatorial candidates Richard) Vinroot and (Mike) Easley were constantly debating it," said sophomore Philip Tracy, co-chairman of the group's activism committee.
College Republicans Vice Chairman Justin Johnson, a senior political science major, moderated the forum. "We have been dormant (this year) as far as forums go, but that's only because we've been involved in the election," Johnson said.
Craig Warner, chairman of the group, sat on the panel as a student representative.
Among Warner's more vocal points was his support of the Republican party's endorsement of parental school choice as a politically viable alternative to the current system of education.
Sadie Jordan, principal of Village Charter School in Chapel Hill, also strongly expressed her approval for school choice. "I am for school choice, but not because I work with charter schools," she said. "I support it because it is a choice in the vehicle of education. Students are craving for a decent education, and school choice might improve this."
But on the issue of school vouchers, Sadie Jordan said she fears they will destroy any balance that educational systems work to achieve.
"I don't want (vouchers) to take away from the current education system - there needs to be a balance in our approach to education."
Webster added a colorful twist to the discussion with personal accounts of his educational experiences. Students laughed as Webster recounted his first day of high school, where he was quickly reprimanded for slyly calling the teacher "teach."
On a more serious note, Webster spoke on his days as a UNC student and his experiences as an education major. "As I sat in Peabody Hall, I came to realize that it was not a school of education, but a school of indoctrination," he said. "I was afraid of my ideas. If something was said so, it was so." He quickly added, "This is not the case now."
Among his more strongly voiced opinions was the idea of accountability.
"I've seen North Carolina's education system improve in quality because we now have accountability in the school system. End-of-grade testing shows where we are and what still needs to be done," he said.
Students said they left the forum feeling much more informed about the possibilities and options available in educating future generations.
"I thought I received lots of great information," said Christine Quigley, a junior international studies major from Pensacola, Fla. "I am still undecided about the vouchers issue but felt that (the panel) gave a good representation of ideas."
The University Editor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.