I am just a poor boy
Though my story’s seldom told
I have squandered my resistance
For a pocket full of mumbles, such are promises
All lies and jests
Still a man hears what he wants to hear
And disregards the rest
–Simon and Garfunkel, The Boxer
One of my former students, Larin Sears Rottman, is a teacher in Washington, DC. Her husband is an assistant principal there. Both are University of Oklahoma graduates, and they still have family in this part of the country, but they love it out there. I mention this because of an article that she posted to Facebook over the weekend. She added this at the beginning:
This is a very short read that is very real for me. I am from Oklahoma, but D.C. is my HOME. I live in a real house, in a real neighborhood. I wake up each day and go to my real job to make the world a really better place. There are far more REAL people than politicians in my city. Respect D.C.
I won’t post the article here, but you get the basic idea. People who have real families and live in real neighborhoods and who work and send their kids to real schools there don’t like the generalization that it’s a swamp.
Sure, 220 years ago, when Pierre L’Enfant began to lay out the city design Actually, the District was never a swamp. It was a tidal marsh. But DRAIN THE TIDAL MARSH doesn’t really roll off the tongue, now does it.
Still, as of 2009, 46% of DC’s residents were actually born there. For that matter, OU President David L. Boren – the son of a congressman – was too.
Generalizations hurt. When you make them, even if you mean for this to happen, you’re probably hurting the wrong people.
Over the last couple of months, since the defeat of State Question 779, I’ve seen more of them on social media. Everyone is making them!
It’s the love language of identity politics. Liberals this. Conservatives that. Gender. Race. Religion. Sexual Identity. Wealth. Geography.
That’s one of my favorite ones. Remember when Ted Cruz was attacking Donald Trump for being from New York? Or have you heard a defensive Republican point out that Hillary’s popular vote margin over Trump is virtually erased if you exclude California? It makes sense. After all, that’s more American than discounting the opinion of voters in the most populous state?
Even making generalizations about voters is specious. Hillary supporters are just a bunch of whiny crybabies (or crybaby whiners, if you prefer). Trump supporters excuse all the horrible things he says. I’m probably doing this wrong because I never use exclamation points. Ever!
This isn’t a blog about DC, or presidential politics, or racism, or sexism, or class warfare, though. It’s an education blog in which I have tried, for nearly five years, to set the record straight. Mainly, this involves responding to the action (or inaction) of policymakers and false narratives presented by groups with influence.
Generalizations seep into the public education conversation too much too. Whether it’s a state senator talking about all the waste in public schools (without offering a single example), or another one making sweeping, disparaging remarks about school board members, this kind of recklessness does not steer us towards solutions.
With the First Regular Session of the 56th Oklahoma Legislature set to convene in 19 days, I’m unwilling to make generalizations about this new group as a body. The book is closed on the 55th Legislature. I can comfortably say that they failed us – both sessions. They built upon the failures of the 54th and 53rd legislatures. For six straight years (three straight Legislatures), we’ve been treated to a menu of fiscal catastrophes.
I don’t blame all the legislators (lowercase). I blame the Legislature (uppercase) though. The body failed to help with teacher raises, specifically, and with so many other critical state functions, in general. Individuals within that body had good intentions, though. Many did. Maybe most did. They just couldn’t get it done. In the end, we won’t judge you by your intentions. It’s your outcomes that tilt our moods.
That doesn’t mean the 56th Legislature will be the same, though. We have 45 new legislators. Most of them love teachers. Just ask them!
We need to remember that they haven’t served during the session yet. We really need to remember that when we engage them on social media. Some of the returning legislators are on our side too. Maybe many. Maybe most.
My friend Blue Cereal Education posted a blog this morning titled Don’t Raise Teacher Pay (To Be Nice).
We shouldn’t tolerate the implication we’re somehow looking for charity; we’re not. It’s unbecoming to play on sympathy, especially when we’re not the only profession getting shortchanged at the moment. Besides, pity or warm toasties are horrible reasons to raise teacher pay or increase school funding. They’re emotionally driven, unreliable, and fundamentally inaccurate.
Public schools aren’t businesses, nor should they be. You’ll hear that a lot in the upcoming voucher battles, and it’s entirely true. But neither are we charities, or churches, or some type of third world profession. We’re not asking for handouts or love offerings while Sarah McLachlan plays in the background.
Nevertheless, teacher pay needs to go up substantially, and soon – but not for me. It needs to go up for you. And your kids. And your pocketbook. And your state.
A decent public education system is an essential function of civilization. We’re a fundamental element in the social contract that allows people to live together in relative peace, to specialize, to become more productive, and to progress artistically, culturally, medically, financially, and lots of other –allys.
Blue Cereal is right. All teachers need raises. I’m not saying that all teachers are fantastic or that all superintendents are worth what their districts pay them. I’m not saying I’ve never met a board member with an agenda. Nor am I saying that all legislators or all Republicans in the state are out to get us.
As an example, I recently had an exchange about school funding (and waste) via Facebook Messenger with a legislator I know. I won’t share his remarks (without his consent), but I’ll share a portion of mine:
I have some thoughts on waste. Sometimes it’s in the eye of the beholder. We have some patrons who don’t value athletics at all. To them, every time we buy a football helmet, it’s waste. To the mom whose son is on the field getting hit, it’s not. Some people want us to get rid of the arts. Or transportation. Or child nutrition. Or they want teachers to clean their own rooms (which I would highly suggest not proposing).
I managed a restaurant for four years in college. There I learned that limiting waste, more than anything, was about predicting the future. If we prepped a certain amount of food expecting customers and had to throw a lot of it away, which was wasteful. Some nights at closing, we threw away very little. Sometimes, we underprepared which then backed up the kitchen, and probably cost us business.
My point is that every enterprise has waste. Every government agency and every business does. Every superintendent I know tries to limit it – often to the point of increasing the frustration of the workforce. You won’t find one of us who hasn’t tried to find waste.
I get it. You’re trying. So are we. In trying times, that’s what we all do.
I really haven’t had a lot of time to write this week. I attended a conference in Tulsa. We’re budgeting for a massive shortfall next year. And, well, my personal life gets in the way sometime.
Still, some crazy things have happened in the last few days. To acknowledge them, I’m simply going to address each with a single haiku.
Two votes short, no prob –
Bring in Denney and Hickman.
Just so convenient!
Thank the Eight who Voted No
You made the right choice.
Vouchers are a sham.
Why fight anymore,
Especially this rigged game?
Like Elsa, let it go.
Tongue firmly in cheek,
Rob finally wants to test!
It was just a joke.
Senator Ford listens;
His constituents are clear.
Even his bill dies.
Clear and forward thought:
Vouchers threaten liberty.
Thankful they get it.
What a huge SNAFU!
Forgot to update spreadsheet!
Enough false narrative!
Trying to distract, divide?
This page gives the facts.
Middle Ground News whines.
Do I intimidate you?
He just doesn’t care
What Jay Chilton thinks of him.
We keep striking nerves.
That’s all for tonight. Have a great week, #oklaed!
Yesterday, at the end of a long week, I caught wind of a post on the Middle Ground News site critical of some of the content on this blog, as well as Rob Miller’s View From the Edge and Dallas Koehn’s Blue Cereal Education. Apparently, we’re having our hands slapped for being potty mouths. To refresh your memory, it all started a week ago at this time, when the Oklahoman plaintively wailed a collective you guys at all of us for saying what we actually think.
I probably kicked it up a notch mid-week responding to a Journal Record column by OCPA fellow Andrew Spiropolous, critical of his perpetual rip of public education. Here’s part of what I wrote:
The facts don’t matter to Spiropolous, or any other member of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs. They may bill themselves as a “public policy research organization,” but their primary function, for over 20 years, has been the dismantling of state government. They never miss an opportunity to root against public education. It’s their bread and butter.
It disgusts me. My career in public education began the same year OCPA was founded. It’s a coincidence, but a meaningful one to me. I am currently responsible for the education of more than 14,000 students in my school district, and I’m proud to do it. I’ve also had the privilege to work with several of the educators mocked by Spiropolous at the top of his column.
They deserve better than this.
Since you’ve probably never heard of Middle Ground News, you should probably know that they’re another tentacle in the parasitic hydra that is OCPA. So is the 1889 Institute, which is why the Oklahoman keeps giving them space on the opinion page. Even the Choice Remarks blog is really just OCPA vice-president Brandon Dutcher. And if you’ll scroll down the blog and see their content, it’s just a roll call of every negative article they can find about a public school.
Collectively, these individuals and groups will do whatever it takes to foment enmity towards public education. They are the mouthpieces of the far, far, far right. When I tell people that letting the infrastructure of your state’s core services crumble around you is not a conservative value, it’s in response to people such as this, and the key elected leaders that they control.
In all their fury, Middle Ground took particular exception to what I wrote last weekend:
Cobb often demands greater funding from the state as a matter of legislative appropriation; in this post he demands a blank check while using his position as a public School administrator to insist on political activism by private citizens.
“It can’t just be educators beating down the doors of our elected leaders. We need parents and community members saying that enough is enough! And before any smart-aleck representative asks back, ‘How much is enough?’ I’ll just let you know that we’re nowhere close. I don’t have a number.
I’m not asking for a blank check. I’m asking for adequate funding. I’m also preemptively saying that none of us really know what that number is because it’s never been approached in this state. And yes, I do call for more of the people who are frustrated to be outspoken. Why should it just be my rowdy blogger friends and me? Would I say that I insist? No. It’s neither a condition of employment nor friendship. I’ll still respect you if you keep your nose down and try to avoid the politics. We all have our path to take. Besides, not everybody likes having a bullseye on them. Of course, there was more:
“I don’t have a number. You’re lucky I have my nice words. Just keep adding, and we’ll tell you when you get there.”
Cobb continued his rant to berate the legislature and governor alluding to a highly vulgar obscenity much like fellow #OKLAed blogger Koehn as shown above.
“Don’t say you support education. You had a chance when times were good, from 2011-2015. You missed it. And now, when things are tough? You’re all voucher this, A-F that. Well A-F that is right!”
It is true that Superintendent Cobb, Assistant Superintendent Miller, Mr. Koehn and many others attach disclaimers and notes insisting on a separation between their blog life and their professional life. However, a simple statement proclaiming oneself to be professionally divorced from their own public actions does not make it so.
Yes, I alluded to an obscenity. It’s a joke that many of us have been making online for two years, dating back to a discussion of t-shirt designs prior to the 2014 education rally at the Capitol.
I’m sorry you’re upset.
Actually, I’m not. Be upset. Feign offense. I’m good with either.
Whoever wrote this piece also insinuates that we should be fired for what we’ve written, and compares our language to people who’ve used racist speech on their social media accounts. That’s absurd. We’ve voiced our opinions about bad policy and policy-makers who don’t seem to care about Oklahoma’s children. I can’t speak for my friends, but I have no intention of stopping.
One last excerpt:
Bloggers such as Koehn, Miller, Cobb and others within the #OKLAed community have derived a modicum of renown for their position in the classroom, principal’s office or administration building. Subsequently, they have converted that notoriety into a measure of online celebrity. However, that celebrity is irrevocably linked to their professional position within the school.
After I revealed my identity last year, my daughter called me a temporary, minor, local, online celebrity. That’s a nicer way of saying what Middle Ground wrote, I guess. I don’t know how many people regularly visit their compendium of websites and social media accounts, but I know my numbers. I count the Facebook likes, Twitter followers, and page views. I don’t know how OCPA defines modicum, but I do know that they tout their free-market principles.
Let me just say then, that if ideas are a free-market commodity, those of people such as Rob, Dallas, me, and the rest of our rebel alliance, are in demand. Until that’s no longer the case, we’ll continue with the supply.
And if you’re still asking yourself, hey, exactly what middle does this right-wing fringe group represent, allow Stealers Wheel to answer that in the video below: