Education

OEA, Classism, & Race: An Afterthought on the Oklahoma Teacher Walkout

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Photo Credit | Timantha Norman 


Opinion piece by Timantha Norman

As all of the teachers have slowly and sullenly headed back to their collective classrooms throughout the state, a large portion of the state’s elected officials — who happen to be mostly Republicans — are actively trying to undo what little progress was made through the legislative remedies as a result of the teacher walkout.

To me, if it wasn’t already clear before, it seems as if this state cares about public education in name only. A sizable portion of our state’s elected officials seem to care more about the wealthy. Again, this comes as no surprise but it is still unsettling to witness in real time our elected officials, including Governor Mary Fallin, effectively using the same propaganda strategy that the Trump administration uses: the crafting of false narratives that satisfy people’s subconscious fears and needs.

In the midst of the teacher walkout, I continued to see headlines of the state’s lawmakers saying things that were blatantly false. For instance, Rep. Kevin McDugle from Broken Arrow brazenly stated in a second Facebook live post that he wasn’t talking badly of Oklahoma educators, but of outside interest groups from Chicago and California lodging death threats at elected officials and their legislative assistants. It was almost as if he just blurted out the names of the two most politically progressive areas of our country that immediately came into his mind as if this fact alone makes someone immoral or untrustworthy. No concrete facts ever surfaced to support his claim.

Honestly, I feel as though the teacher walkout happened too late. The last time a teacher strike/walkout happened was in 1990. The state of public education has continued to deteriorate at a pretty consistent rate since that time. With the lack of collective political will for public education for almost 18 years in this state, it should not come as a surprise to anyone that our state legislators do not take OEA or other educational entities seriously.

It should not come as a surprise to anyone that our state legislators do not take OEA or other educational entities seriously.

These anti-public education legislators know that they can count on the compassion of the state’s public educators towards their students taking precedent over the greater good in pushing desperately needed education reform. However, this selflessness in public educators will continue to have negative effects on all parties involved, in the long run.

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Photo Credit | Timantha Norman

I feel as though some of our state’s educators weren’t willing to go the extra mile in the fight for additional public education funding. I think a large amount of public educators involved in the teacher walkout weren’t prepared to face the fact that true political activism is messy, uncomfortable, heartbreaking, and often doesn’t follow the timeline we want. If civil rights activists such as Martin Luther King, Jr. or Cesar Chavez had been willing to give up the fight the moment someone from the opposition threatened them physically, political, socially, or economically, where would we be as a nation right now?

I think a large amount of public educators involved in the teacher walkout weren’t prepared to face the fact that true political activism is messy, uncomfortable, heartbreaking, and often doesn’t follow the timeline we want.

Also, the Oklahoma Education Association’s continuous moving of the goalpost and deviation from its original demands throughout the negotiations with state legislators made it easier for the opposition to call their bluff. It’s not that the side with the best argument and supporting evidence won out, but rather the side that was the most stubborn and steadfast in their beliefs, regardless of how blatantly illogical they may have been. Sadly, credit can be given to the state’s GOP representatives and senators for standing firm in those beliefs. The same cannot be said for OEA.

As the teacher walkout was still in full effect, there were some school districts that had set timetables on how long they were willing to cancel school operations. Several school districts, such as Jenks and Bartlesville, were independently petitioning for more funding for their own communities to end the teacher walkout early. What this signals to me is that these predominantly white school districts in suburban and rural areas were not really concerned with progress for all public education students across all socioeconomic and racial/ethnic backgrounds in the state. They were really just concerned with tending to their own backyards.

Several school districts, such as Jenks and Bartlesville, were independently petitioning for more funding for their own communities to end the teacher walkout early.

Of course, a sizable portion of white Oklahomans will deny this as race has always been put on the back burner in this state. Even during my conversation with my state senator at the Capitol about the overwhelming number of low-income black and brown students being affected by these education cuts, he casually blew this off and said that “it seemed like the color they [the state legislators] were concerned with was green.” To a certain extent, he was correct. However, this statement is indicative of white Oklahomans never wanting to have that honest conversation about race. I suppose it is easier to exist in blissful ignorance. The purposeful exclusion of any discussion of racism and classism during the walkout was not surprising but quite unfortunate.

As the collective media lens of our state and nation has left the issue of education reform in Oklahoma for the most part, I am hopeful for educators and other pro-education allies who have turned their focus to running for public office. For real political change to occur in the education sphere and in general, people have to be willing to do the arduous work internally and externally for as long as it takes.


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Timantha Norman is the Managing Editor of The Black Wall Street Times. She is an educator who fervently believes in the power of culturally responsive, critical thinking-focused pedagogy in transforming the lives and future prospects of children. She also believes in journalism’s power to give agency and power to historically oppressed populations. Through her activism in the community and as a student of public policy, she understands the importance of harnessing collective, political power in the service of promoting truth and eliminating injustice. She looks forward to harnessing her personal and professional skills in the service of her community.

 

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