N.C. Governor's School -- BEWARE!



Are Your Tax Dollars Working Against Your Values?

by Luke Setzer


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North Carolina Governor's School
Preparations and Alternatives

I attended a six-week program called "Governor's School" between the tenth and eleventh grades in 1982. On this page, I would like to characterize that program, and to share its surprising connection to President Bill Clinton.

The Governor's School of North Carolina began as the brain child of a politician who governed N.C. during the 1960s or 1970s. I first learned of this program when my high school guidance counselor challenged me and several other classmates to apply. We received very little up-front information about it, but our trusted faculty assured us that we should feel "honored as intellectual elite" to attend. After undergoing the selection process, one other classmate and I became finalists. Since the Governor's School program was spread over two campuses at opposite ends of the state, he and I ended up going our separate ways for the duration.

I spent that summer at Salem College in Winston-Salem, N.C. During our initial orientation, the students and their families toured the campus and received an overview of the program. The campus director informed the parents from the outset that it would be "best for their children" if they refrained from visiting for the first two weeks of the program. He asserted that early visits from family would disrupt the students' "adjustment" to campus life. He also sternly informed students that "if you have any kind of prejudice against others, check them at the gate. We will be too busy pursuing new and valuable ideas to have those kinds of barriers holding us back." It all seemed just a little ominous.

The program itself split into three specific areas: Area I covered the students' chosen areas of interest, such as Natural Science, Music, Dance, Social Science, Art, Mathematics, Drama, Spanish, etc.  Area II covered epistemology, or what the director called "knowledge about knowledge."  Area III covered psychology in a "Self and Society" format and involved sitting in classes where the instructor distributed copies of very left-leaning material, such as ranting against capital punishment, along with inconclusive babblings about exactly what would constitute an "ideal" or "utopian" society.

The program involved attending these classes during the week as well as "special events" during the evening and on weekends. These "special events" included performances by the students in the Dance, Drama, and Music departments. Some of these performances proved downright embarrassing. My own epistemology teacher offered a "performance" of a piece of piano music that consisted entirely of rest notes. For another "public performance", he had several students on stage turn radio dials to play static while he waved a baton to "conduct" them. The audience's applause for these lazy musical numbers dumbfounded me. Fortunately, not all artists there made such pretense at accomplishment. The students offered some good dramas and some excellent orchestral realizations that I could sincerely applaud.

One of the "special events" we attended offered a lecturer who made some pretty outrageous claims about eugenics. He alleged that the Soviets were using hormone treatment to accelerate the fertility of genetically superior six-year-olds so they could capture their gametes much earlier. We split off into groups, discussed our ethical view of the experiments, then selected team leaders to get onto stage to share each group's views. After we had all completed Governor's School and returned to our homes, we each received a letter from the Governor's School science faculty. That letter stated that the entire "eugenics" scenario had been a hoax perpetrated on us simply to see how we would think about the asserted experiments.

How can I summarize the overall sense of life I got from Governor's School? Perhaps a T-shirt from my counterpart's Area I classmates best summarized it: "Don't f*** with my reality."

Ten years after my adventure, I found myself attending a local forum about public education and its decline. Despite its religious trappings, the lecture proved quite informative about President Clinton's plans for U.S. education. At one point, the speaker mentioned a videotape called The Guiding Hand, which detailed the Clinton influence on Arkansas education. Curious, I ordered the product. I had expected an analysis of the whole Arkansas education system and how Clinton's plans for U.S. education had first manifested themselves in his home state. Instead, the bulk of the video discussed the Arkansas Governor's School program, which proved almost identical to the N.C. Governor's School! I am not sure which state originated the idea, but the programs seemed to mirror each other. The video even contained footage of a T-shirt with a slogan that seemed far too appropriate: "I got f***ed in the head at Governor's School." (Sorry, but the video is no longer available for purchase.)

While I remain an atheist, I can sympathize with religious folks who resent having their tax money spent to teach values contrary to their own. I have my own radical proposal to rectify this conflict. My proposal is simply to abolish public funding of all education at all levels of government, even down to the local township, and to leave education entirely in the hands of markets, churches, and parents. My reasons would occupy volumes, but the outright fears already ingrained in citizens' minds make such a revolutionary break unlikely.

I learned this lesson during the 1996 presidential election. As I exited the voting polls, a young lady approached and asked me to sign a petition to increase the State of Florida's educational spending. I politely declined, explaining that I would instead gladly sign a petition abolishing public funding of education altogether. The petitioner remained civil in her attempts to persuade me, but an eavesdropping non-petitioner in the parking lot showed no such restraint. "Oh, so that's how you want it, huh?", he screamed from his van window. "Keep all the poor people ignorant, then we'll all take our guns in hand and blow away f***ing scum like you!" I have no doubt that his brilliant oratory and persuasive arguments resulted from his years of public school indoctrination. His liberal use of the "f" word says it all. Who knows? He may have even attended one of our nation's prestigious "Governor's School" programs.

I strongly encourage any young person considering Governor's School to look at alternatives such as iCamp and Camp Indecon which will deliver far more value per hour spent than Governor's School ever could.

Epilogue I

The Supporters Strike Back

Evidently, someone posted this page's link to an e-mail list some Governor's School alumni had formed to stay in touch.  In mid-April 2001, I received several heated e-mails from students who completed the summer 2000 N.C. Governor's School program.  They stated that they and everyone they knew thoroughly enjoyed Governor's School and felt a tremendous amount of growth from it.  They challenged me to re-think my position on government funding of education.  They asserted that no one should have the right to "take away" the Governor's School experience from any future generation.

Such e-mails underscore my implicit point, which is that the government is using tax dollars snatched from others in order to benefit the best and brightest, thus getting such top students into the government's corner.  Government officials and their running-dog statist lackies in academia have conspired to create a false aura of benevolence, making bad seem good and good seem bad.

What is good and bad?

Good: Letting people be responsible for themselves, including their own children's education.  Call this "rugged individualism".

Bad: Forcing some people to pay to support other people's children whether they want to do so or not.  Call this "nanny state authoritarianism".

Regardless of how much participants enjoy the courses, public education itself is a scourge.  My casual suggestion to those who scream that the U.S. literacy rate would plummet without government education is to read Sheldon Richman's book Separating School and State.  Richman proves beyond a reasonable doubt that literacy is a marketable commodity that free markets can best supply.

Another argument offered is, "Without public education, people won't learn how to reason about the issues on which they are voting."  Well, that's happening already.  Look no further than the fiasco with the Florida voters and the butterfly ballots in the 2000 presidential election.  Do we really expect people who can't follow arrows to punch holes to be able to think carefully about much more complex subjects?

My suggestion is to make voting an earned privilege rather than an automatic right.  Immigrants have to pass a rigorous examination on U.S. Constitutional law and history in order to become U.S. citizens.  I suggest that everyone should have to pass such a test in order to vote.  Perhaps this test should include proving that you are able to complete a butterfly ballot!  Such a new setup would certainly encourage people to become proactive about their own and their children's education.

Thankfully, I did receive one supportive e-mail that made my day.  Here's what Daniel Bruhn had to say about Governor's School 2000.  Obviously some things haven't changed very much since 1982:

I know you've received many e-mails from my fellow Governor's School 2000 participants, ranting about how wonderful Governor's School was and how it opened their minds and encouraged free discussion of issues.  Baloney! The institution masqueraded underneath such a guise.  In reality it had a very noticeable leftist agenda.  Instead of receiving viewpoints from across the spectrum, we were flooded with liberal arguments and ideology.  The only ounce of conservatism on the campus came from the few of us who actually could think on our own and protested against such overt indoctrination.

Three types of people came back from Governor's School: those who weren't affected at all, those who saw what they were up against and had their own beliefs strengthened, and those who were successfully indoctrinated and can now spout liberal doctrine in their sleep.

Not only were we assaulted with such doctrine, but anyone who disagreed was characterized as "narrow-minded."  I'm sure you've encountered this in the e-mails you've received.  Those self-righteous individuals who believe they epitomize "open-mindedness" and wallow in their own supposed depth like to label as "narrow-minded" anyone who holds an opposing view.

I agree totally with you on the "music" stuff.  The running joke among us "protesters" was to call any unpleasant noise "John Cage music."

What I found especially funny about Governor's School was its aversion to commercialism.  They wouldn't let us go to the mall because it was "too commercial."  Thankfully, that's a battle they'll never win.  Commercialism will never die, no matter how much the elites rant and rave.

So, in contrast to many of my indoctrinated peers, I thank you for your essay.  It reflected many of my own thoughts.

If, after reading all this, you still want to attend Governor's School, then prepare yourself well for it!  Read the Ayn Rand Institute's Student Survival Guide, chock full of information about "how to get an education while keeping your mind intact".

To learn more about the swelling impact of Governor's Schools on our culture, visit the National Conference of Governor's Schools web site.

Epilogue II

The Guiding Hand Debunked!

On July 18, 2002, Dawn Handy sent me the following e-mail that both disturbed and enlightened me:

I just wanted to let you know that the reason that "The Guiding Hand" is no longer available is because the people who produced the video created much of what was said in the film.

I am a 1992 Arkansas Governor's School Alum and everyone in the video (who actually went to AGS) were from my year and I knew them all personally.  They were all interviewed for a film project by the father of one of their high school friends.  The father just sat and asked them questions about what they liked about AGS etc., but afterward he and the producers inserted sentences and spliced together things that they did not actually say.  My friends were astonished when they actually saw the finished product because they said very little of what was contained in the film.  This was all later reported in the local press in Arkansas.

In addition, there are some people in the film that actually have no connection to the school at all.  Remember the guy called "Parent"?  He was the father in question who made the film.  His child never attended AGS!   But he put on the guise that he was a parent of an AGS alum.   There are also two other false students in the film who never attended AGS.

As for the child who killed himself, it is well known at Hendrix College, where the young man went to undergraduate school, that he killed himself after a very hard breakup with his first boyfriend.  All that took place several years after AGS.

After the producers got into trouble in the local press for falsifying the statements of my friends, they no longer sold the video.

The T-Shirt was fake, too.

Just thought I would let you know.

Dawn Handy, AGS 1992

This is very telling of the lows to which the Religious Right will stoop to fake reality.  Nevertheless, I do know for sure that my classmate said a T-shirt was made that said "Don't f__k with my reality" at NC GS East in 1982.  I also maintain that GS had a very left-leaning agenda.  So it is not necessary for The Guiding Hand to be true in order for my independent assessments of Governor's School to remain accurate.

Epilogue III

Debunkery Debunked?

On September 25, 2002, Chris Dobrowolski furthered my education:

I do not know whether that "debunking" is accurate.

Check out these testimonies given before Joint Interim Education Committee.

Their experiences correspond to yours except they are far worse. Apparently some of these schools are quite good and some are very bad. Not only that, the same Governor's school can be terrible on year and then completely reformed ten years later.

Do not forget to read the letters supportive of AGS.

So the saga continues.  What new revelations of facts will refine the picture we should paint of the Governor's School programs?


Objectivism 101
Objectivism 101