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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with William Dallas Herring, May 16, 1987. Interview C-0035. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Decisions about public education must be made on a local level

Herring reflects on southern leadership and education, insisting that decisions about public education must be made on a local level.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with William Dallas Herring, May 16, 1987. Interview C-0035. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

I don't need my colleague from New England or New York to tell me what quality consists of. I could go into a great dialogue about the quality of the writing of history because it has been dominated by Harvard and Yale, with a very provincial view of the American Revolution, for example. They think we didn't do anything down here about it. Ten years before the Declaration of Independence, the first armed resistance to British tyranny occured at Brunswick on the Cape Fear River below here. The first state in America to call for independence from Great Britain was North Carolina in the Halifax Resolves. It was before the Declaration of Independence. They pooh-pooh the idea of the Mecklenburg Declaration. I don't know whether that occurred or not, but Halifax certainly is well documented. New England has distorted the picture of its folk heroes, Paul Revere for example. The Britannica says there is no evidence he ever made the celebrated ride that Longfellow wrote about. I know that Cornelius Harnett made a ride, several of them, and it's well documented but not celebrated. So I am not for any New England prejudice about what constitutes excellence in education. Don't get me wrong. I enjoy and like to believe everything that Washington Irving and Nathaniel Hawthorne and Longfellow and all of these people wrote—James Fenimore Cooper about New York. I read them in my grandfather's library when I was a child, and I dearly love the stories. And I have a passle of first cousins living in Connecticut that I grew up with, and I am not prejudiced against them. What I insist on is that Thomas Jefferson and others of his ilk found the answer to excellence in education and excellence in government, and it is pure democracy. We cannot tolerate totalitarianism in education anymore than we can in politics. The only place that we can tolerate it at all is in the military, and that has to be under civilian control. You see how it has gotten out of hand here under Reagan and Mr. North, Colonel North, or whatever he is, Admiral North. He decided that he had the know-how to solve all of our international problems, misguided young fellow. No doubt he had the best intentions in the world, and he had the shortcut answers. The Carnegie Corporation is in the control of people of ilk mind. So, I would say without any apology whatsoever, it's the wrong idea. The genius of American education is that it is a grass roots operation. It has been from the beginning. It started in the churches, and it finally became a public duty by the community first—neighbors getting together and creating the American public school system with their own local effort. North Carolina again was the first state in the nation to recognize and establish a statewide school system in 1931 and '33 during the Depression. We established one of the few systems that is statewide. But we jealously guard the right of the local people to determine policy in education. If you don't believe that, I know it from first hand experience. We established the community college system at the state level, and realizing our history in that respect that there had to be a grass roots effort or it would… [Interruption]
I don't know whether I'm telling what you need to know or not.
Exactly right, the way it is.