Colbert ridicules Wake Schools, parents react

Stephen Colbert on The Colbert Report Tuesday (Comedy Central)

January 19, 2011 8:57:58 PM PST
The debate over the socio-economic diversity policy within the Wake County Public School System has again made it to television sets nationwide.

Tuesday night, Stephen Colbert of Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report” used his unique style of comedy to criticize the school board’s vote to end the diversity policy that calls for no more than 40 percent of any school qualify for free or reduced price lunches.

The majority on the board says it favors sending students to schools closer to their homes instead of busing them across town.

But Colbert quoted a News and Observer poll that he said shows 94.5 percent of Wake County parents are satisfied with their children's schools.

"Clearly a tragic triumph of government intervention," said Colbert.

Click here to watch all of Colbert's comments.

Colbert made Wake Schools the subject of his popular "The Word" segment - saying the word is "disintegration."

Colbert also showed video of Wake County District 2 school board member John Tedesco speaking at a Tea Party rally.

"Social engineers and bureaucrats who wanted to for generations control the hearts and minds of our children," says Tedesco in the clip.

"Integrating schools may sound benign, but what's the use of living in a gated community if my kids go to school and get poor all over them?" asked Colbert in response.

He continued to mock Tedesco by reading a quote from him:

"'If we had a school that was like 80 percent high poverty, the public would see the challenges, the need to make it successful. Right now we've diluted the problem, so we can ignore it.' See? Misguided government do-gooders foolishly diluted the problem by addressing it. We need to ignore it, so we'll pay attention to it!"

Tedesco is being a good sport about his ribbing on national TV.

"Well, I think it's skewed, certainly out of context, but hilarious. It was pretty funny," he told ABC11 Wednesday. "But that's what his show does. It's a comedy show. It's supposed to make us laugh sometimes."

But not everyone is laughing.

Some residents who spoke with ABC11 Wednesday said the continued national attention on Wake schools isn't positive.

"It's certainly not gonna help, being made fun of nationwide. But hopefully that won't be too much of a negative," offered parent Dave Hall.

"Makes it seem like we're kind of backwards, and it fits into those old stereotypes about the South that we're trying to move past and get better," said parent Jennifer Knight.

But Tedesco doesn't see it that way.

"I think when we laugh together, we can talk together. So I hope it does create more dialogue," he said.

On Wednesday night at a reassignment public hearing at Southeast Raleigh High School, Wake County parents had a less comedic way of expressing their outrage over the way Wake County is now being portrayed in the national media.

"Steve Colbert was not making a joke," Raleigh resident Dorothy Thompson said. "It's called political satire, he was making a point."

Thompson was one of a string of speakers who slammed the board, especially Tedesco, for changing the long-standing socio-economic diversity policy.

"I don't think you had enough information to do that," Thompson said. "You certainly didn't talk to this group of people out here."

"We have now gone nationwide with our dirty laundry," Raleigh resident Denise McCollough said. "I'm ashamed of Wake County and so should you be."

School Board Member Keith Sutton said he was pleased with how Wednesday night's hearing went.

"I think what you're hearing and what you're seeing is part of a community that has some deep-seated feelings," Sutton said.

However, Tedesco said the comments were disheartening and helped show the disconnect that exists between what the board wants to do, and how the community perceives its intentions.

"I keep doing what I'm doing, because I know that beyond the facade of what these people see is the truth is that nobody was helping these kids or these communities for years and I'm going to keep trying," he said.

A lot of the people who came out Wednesday night were wearing buttons that said no to school disintegration --a reference to Colbert's "The Word" segment.

Meanwhile, there are still two more reassignment meetings scheduled for Thursday and next Monday.

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