Part 1 of a Multi-Part Series
By Michelle Antoine
Dennis Draughon, political cartoonist, and eighth grade Smithfield Middle School social studies teacher has catapulted Johnston County Public Schools (JCPS) into the media spotlight. Most county residents were unaware the local teacher was being paid by WRAL to use biting satire and hyperbole with exaggerated drawings to dole gut punches to conservative political opposition.
Draughon’s caricature of Mark Robinson, the first Black Lt. Governor of North Carolina, as an elephant in a Klansman robe and hood, left the freshly sworn in politician rightfully outraged. Mr. Robinson called a press conference to call out the repugnant drawing and questioned, “If he is doing this on WRAL, what is he doing in his classroom?” That is an excellent question, one Johnston County residents should have answered.
Draughon grew up in Virginia and North Carolina. As a kid he developed his talent drawing Peanuts cartoons, eventually attending NC State University where he landed his first political cartooning gig at the Technician, a school newspaper. He spent years crafting his skills and political mind on the University campus, largely ignoring the actual pursuit of a higher education. After eight years at NCSU, and not earning a degree, he published a book of his works titled, The Line is Draughon.
His book garnered an opportunity for full-time work as a political cartoonist for a Scranton, PA newspaper, The Times-Tribune, where he stayed for 15 years. He was let go in 2004, reportedly the progressive leaning paper found his brand of politics too harsh.
He came back to the Raleigh area and began freelance political cartooning for several newspapers. He returned to NCSU, finally earning his undergraduate degree, along with becoming credentialed for teaching.
Draughon was hired on briefly at Wake County Schools, then moved to JCPS where he has been teaching for 10 years. Throughout his adult life Draughon has a history of animus toward conservatives. In an April 1985 satirical Technician article seen here, Draughon feigns being shot by a conservative student and in the article the authors state, “The greatest threat today is not from communists but right-wing conservatives.” The piece finishes with Draughon’s statement “Damn Redneck got me.”
When he released his book The Line is Draughon, he was featured in a 1988 U.The National College Newspaper. The writer noted “Draughon’s appearance belies his character,” an apt description still today. In the U. article Draughon called himself “an Anarchist” politically, and the cartoons he chose to feature included Ronald Reagan violently gunning down a black man, and a coat hanger with a holy cross as the hook over the word ABORTION, article linked here.
Draughon was clearly a radical with dark thoughts. As he moved into his established political cartooning career he drew a steady litany of polarizing partisan cartoons, some still found at Draughon Draws, some of his most offensive pieces removed from archived sources. Draughon spoke of his discomfort being in the mixed company of religious faiths outside his Protestant upbringing in an Editor & Publisher Magazine (E&P) November 2019 interview, where he said, “When I lived in Scranton the vast majority of people I knew or interacted with were Irish and Italian Catholics and while that wasn’t an unbridgeable gap it was one that caused tension.” His religious discrimination was reflected in his steady stream of derogatory cartoons of the Catholic faith: March 2002 and April 2002.
As his freelance jobs ended Draughon secured a part-time paid spot on the WRAL website. In an Association of Retired Faculty (ARF) NCSU Spring 2019 newsletter snippet, about Draughon being awarded an EPPY by E&P Magazine, the editor states, “Given today’s political climate, Draughon has plenty to draw from to educate his students and produce insightful cartoons.” A nod of recognition that his political bias will be infused into teaching students.
In fact, Draughon expounded on how he manages to create two political cartoons weekly while holding a full-time teaching job in his E&P interview. He notes the use of his lunch period and sometimes his prep periods to work on his political ideas. This is in direct conflict with JCPS Policy Code 5170: Staff Participation in Political Activities “No person employed by the Johnston County Board of Education shall engage in partisan political activity during the employee’s working hours or at any time the employee is performing his or her job duties for the school system.” and Draughon’s moonlighting is frowned upon at JCPS, Policy Code 5350: Dual Employment “The Johnston County Board of Education discourages non school employment of its professional and support staff during the regular school year.”
Draughon also contributed to the Association of American Editorial Cartoonist weekly Cartoons for the Classroom series, which depicts two graphics followed by a series of questions to be used in today’s social studies classroom, his work and other contributors. The leftist partisan and political bias is thick in each lesson, and features controversial topics like abortion funding, gun rights, religion, and President Trump.
The weekly classroom cartoons from 2015 forward have former President Trump as the subject of ridicule, nearly every week it struck out to impune Trump or his policies. In comparison to the years of the Obama presidency, where only the occasional cartoon with former President Obama would appear.
The unbalanced political nature of the classroom tool may be outside the bounds of JCPS Policy Code 5170: Staff Participation in Political Activities “The teacher shall use a variety of materials that represent balanced and diverse viewpoints on the political spectrum”
Free political speech is broadly protected, and that is important for the citizens of a free Republic. While the depiction of our first Black Lt. Governor as a character in a KKK cartoon is offensive, Draughon should be allowed to draw, and WRAL print, these images.
Whether Dennis Draughon should be teaching our impressionable children and if he is within the terms of employment, however, is another matter entirely. He has gone well outside the JCPS policy 5115 “Employee Conflict of Interest (c) Work of any type that materially and negatively affects the education program of the school systems.” Additionally, he may be outside of the JCPS Code of Ethics and Standards of Conduct that requires honesty, integrity and fairness when dealing with the public. He depicts Republicans and specifically southern conservatives, which includes a large portion of JCPS families and his colleagues, as uneducated racists.
Draughon has locked his Twitter and media accounts, but he cannot wipe away his weekly political bombs that appear to consistently violate JCPS Policy Code 5175: Employee Use of Social Media “(6) Employees shall be respectful and professional in all electronic communications directed to or referencing parents, students, or other employees, including but not limited to communications through social media.”
Mark Robinson may be the subject of his latest attack, but he is not the direct target of Draughon’s demagoguery. Draughon’s goal is to create the false narrative that Republicans are gutting the historical record, while in reality Democrats plod along wiping away the historical truths of America’s story, his drawings are the literal representation of propaganda. JCPS and other districts around the state have gone over ten years without new, or any, curriculum. Draughon has been allowed to cobble together a program
that fed students through conversation his dark and biased worldview, as witnessed by a former student who tweeted here, “He [Draughon] will walk into the room and give it to you straight about what the ‘ real world’ is like. Deep conversations about life happened in his room.”
Lt. Governor Robinson’s call for historically accurate social studies standards would drive curriculum programs that limit bias in the classroom. In his E&P November 2019 interview Draughon said, “I mention to my students lots of times…this country is throughout its history, it’s got some really good high ideals that I’d like to see us live up to one day.” Draughon displays religious bigotry, doesn’t believe The United States of America has lived up to its founding ideals, assails the character of conservatives, and uses divisive political cartoons to manipulate adolescent minds.
Draughon comes across as gentle and thoughtful, a perfected veneer for a propagandist, hiding his darkness and bias certainly the working of an activist, not an educator.
Michelle Antoine, B.S., B.A., M.S. is a Johnston County resident, formerly licensed teacher, counselor, education reform advocate and mom to eight children.
Part 1 of a Multi-Part Series