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An Alarming Quest For Power, Control
The annual Oklahoma State Report Card often serves as ammunition for the small, but noisy crowd that wants dismantle public education and replace it with for-profit and religious schools.
You can bet this year will be no exception, especially after last spring’s testing indicated academic achievement was largely stagnant – slightly slipping in some categories, marginally improving in others.
Traditionally, this would be a moment when the state superintendent soberly details and analyzes the big picture and urges lawmakers to make specific investments to help lift Oklahoma to a brighter future.
However … the current state superintendent is Ryan Walters, a one-time public school teacher who later went on the payroll of an anti-public ed group, served a stint as Gov. Kevin Stitt’s education cabinet secretary, and then was elected as state superintendent.
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So, Walters, of course, immediately decried the results as “simply unacceptable.”
“The Oklahoma Legislature,” he said, “is investing record amounts to address education in our state, but for too long, our schools have focused on social experimentation rather than educational outcomes.
“My message to the people of Oklahoma is clear: we are righting this ship, and we will make Oklahoma a leader in education again.”
This is classic Walters: Pronouncements long on fiery rhetoric, short on specifics.
Railing about classrooms replete with “woke” teachers “indoctrinating” students in some mythical leftist agenda undoubtedly thrills his far-right base and his big campaign donors. But it does precious little to bolster Oklahoma’s public schools and serve their 700,000-plus students.
Sadly, Walters spends an inordinate amount of time on social media, amplifying messages of astroturf groups like Moms for Liberty, promoting Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, and providing links to his appearances on rightwing media.
None of which is leading an Oklahoma education renaissance or encouraging a holistic approach to better academic outcomes – from teacher pay and improved technology [think: better, more accessible broadband] to smaller class sizes and expanded course offerings.
Walters’ coziness with the book-banning Moms for Liberty is especially ironic given the report card’s assessment of reading proficiency – down nearly a percentage point to 26.3%. Even more troubling: 81% of eighth graders reportedly do not read at grade level.
Yet Walters has led what amounts to a witch hunt of school libraries and classrooms for what he deems to be inappropriate, which in his mind not only includes woke ideology, but also pornography. As a former history teacher, Walters surely knows this is straight out of fascism’s playbook – a recipe of those pursuing power and control.
Whatever happened to the conservative notion that parents decide what’s best for their children? It reminds me of the marquee-at a north Texas Southern Baptist church that recently declared: “Children belong to their parents, not the government.”
Yes, they do. But it’s also important to remember that not all parents hold the same views of what is age-appropriate for their children. Nor do all see woke indoctrination in their schools’ mathematics textbooks or in the offerings of the Scholastic Book fair.
Bottom Line: Walters and the Moms for Liberty crowd want to be the deciders of what is appropriate for your child.
That’s led eight textbook publishers to withdraw from consideration to supply the state’s next round of math textbooks. Walters bombastically responded with what amounts to “good riddance – go to California.” Meaning already struggling Oklahoma students would be denied access to what might be the best available textbooks. Talk about cutting off your nose to spite your face.
And now Walters is investigating Scholastic Book’s offerings to determine if they, in his judgment, include “inappropriate … left-wing ideology.”
This quest for power and control should alarm all clear-eyed Oklahomans.