The Republican “social engineers” are at it again this year.
Two Oklahoma lawmakers have introduced legislation for this upcoming session, which begins today, that would make it more difficult to get a divorce here.
Both bills, which I will discuss later in detail, are unwise attempts at addressing a chronic issue in the state, which has “extraordinarily high rates of divorce among both men and women compared to the rest of the country . . .” The bills seem overly punitive and take away, to use GOP jargon, a person’s “freedom” to change their life and perhaps their children’s lives for the better on their own timetable given their own particular circumstances.
The high divorce rate here, whether one considers it a problem or not, is mainly due to people who shouldn’t be getting married in the first place. Some of these people are rushed into marriage by a conservative culture that stigmatizes people who simply live together—a no-no, when it comes to certain dominant religious denominations here—while romanticizing wedding mania. Add to this the conservatives’ refusal to offer comprehensive sexual education in schools and our low college graduate rates, and divorce and more divorce is what you get.
The larger point is that any tweaking of our marriage and divorce process, if it even needs tweaking and I don’t think it does, except for allowing same-sex marriage, should start long before any marriage even happens.
House Bill 2398, introduced by Arthur Hulbert of Fort Gibson, would extend the waiting period for the granting of a divorce to six months instead of three months. According to a media report, Hulbert thinks the extra time will “give them time to rethink reconciliation.”
It would also give people more time to argue, grow embittered and jockey for legal position, which creates even more tension. Many times, people just need to move on, and that includes couples with children. Let’s be clear that it is, generally speaking, not always in the best interest for children that their parents stay married.
Hulbert’s bill includes exceptions for extreme cases involving abuse and other things, and some might view it as innocuous, but it falsely presupposes that the high divorce rate is because of the legal process rather than the conservative religious culture here and low college graduation rates. The matter of a divorce is a holistic issue, and making this adjustment in the legal process only inflicts harm. If a couple wants to reconcile, then they will reconcile.
Another bill, HB 3115, would eliminate simple incompatibility as a reason for divorce. This bill, introduced by Sean Roberts of Hominy, has less chance of passing than Hulbert’s bill, but with GOP-dominance right now in the legislature, anything can happen.
The proposed bill lists a host of legal reasons one could use to get a divorce, such as accusing a spouse of abandonment, adultery and, here’s an interesting one, “gross neglect of duty.” Essentially, it eliminates the concept of no-fault divorce, and almost ensures couples must argue and adopt combative positions. This, of course, would not get lost on most children of the divorcing parents.
The arguments in favor or against no-fault divorce are outlined here in this academic article. The larger point is that the concept of no-fault divorce or incompatibility has been around for decades in this country and going back now and ensuring each divorce is adversarial accomplishes nothing, if the aim is to create strong marriages. Some divorces, usually those in which there is a lot of property and money involved, are always going to be contentious. Using incompatibility as a reason for divorce, while not completely removing tension, can and does make things smoother.
Most people would probably agree that what’s most important in divorce is ultimately the welfare of children from marriages, but neither of these bills directly addresses that issue. Hulbert’s bill is a gesture of wishful thinking that takes away people’s rights to a reasonable time period for a divorce, and Roberts’ bill would throw us back into acrimony and legal muddles.
Neither bill comes even close to addressing the issue that the way to reduce the divorce rate is to deal with it before people even get married. That means allowing comprehensive sexual education in our schools and increasing our college graduate rate. We should also work to create tolerance for different approaches to life relationships, and we should embrace same-sex marriage here. It’s blatant hypocrisy for conservatives to fight same-sex marriage in a state with such high divorce rates. In addition, if the legal process of marriage and ensuing divorce is what’s so important, as implied by these two bills, then everyone should be granted equal standing under the law as guaranteed in the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution.
Here’s a slogan we might use in this state: “Go to college first, then get married.” Or how about just “College before marriage”?
No, it’s not a panacea, but distributing bumper sticks with those slogans on them and adopting their edict would probably do as much, if not more, as these two proposed bills to reduce the state’s high divorce rate.
Let’s hope a legislator’s effort to eventually cut off all state funding for the Oklahoma Arts Council gets stopped or voted down.
These uninformed attacks on the arts or the Oklahoma Education Television Authority are nothing new, of course, but that doesn’t mean this current effort couldn’t sneak through the legislature, which will convene this coming Monday.
State Rep. Dan Fisher, a Yukon Republican, has introduced House Bill 2850, which would reduce funding for the Oklahoma Arts Council (OAC) by 25 percent in proceeding years until all appropriations are eliminated by fiscal year 2018.
Devon Green, writing in the Oklahoma Gazette, recently outlined the impact of the cuts and the eventual elimination of funding. The OAC funds around 400 programs throughout the state, according to the article, and smaller, rural programs would get hit the hardest.
Taking money away from artistic endeavors lowers the quality of life in any given area. Oklahoma needs to expand cultural and artistic opportunities because of its death of cultural opportunities despite improvement in recent years. The huge economic impact of artistic events and programs often gets lost in funding debates as conservatives try to simplify the issue or issue sanctimonious ideological decrees about government spending.
For years, studies have consistently shown the positive impact of arts in our communities in engaging and connecting people. Creating a strong sense of community has a domino effect in building a healthy, aware citizenry. Other studies have shown how arts education develops in students a host of attributes, including communication skills, transferable to other non-artistic endeavors.
Fisher, a pastor at Trinity Baptist Church in Yukon, recently publicly opposed the staging of the play “The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told” in Oklahoma City. The play contained tolerant depictions of homosexuality and satirized Biblical stories. The OAC denied funding for the play.
This is a snippet about Fisher on his religious and political views:
Dan believes that American [sic] is facing a crisis today much the same as the one faced by the country in 1776. He says it is time for the preachers of America to respond to God’s call and fully engage in the culture war that is destroying our liberties and will eventually, if not checked, steal away our religious liberty and our opportunity to freely preach the Gospel.
The idea that anyone is trying to take away Fisher’s “opportunity” to “preach the Gospel” here in Oklahoma is as ludicrous as eliminating funding for the arts.
Third graders in Oklahoma public schools will start getting retained this year under state law if they don’t pass a reading test.
Supporters of the 2011 Reading Sufficiency Act, which mandates retention starting this year if students fail the test, cloak it in sanctimonious language about helping children, but it’s really part of a unified conservative effort to damage the credibility of public schools.
Retaining an elementary-school student should be a holistic decision made by teachers, parents and school administrators based on a variety of factors, not just one proficiency test. Excessive, high-stakes testing in our schools is definitely political, not educational.
The test is given in April. According to a news report, 869 students in the Oklahoma City Public Schools district didn’t pass the test last year when the retention rule was not in effect. If the number is anyway close to that this year, it could create a simple logistics nightmare.
Here’s how the conservative attack on public schools works: Create universal difficult tests that don’t take into account individual student development and home life, force teachers to teach to the tests and then demean teachers and students when the results don’t meet arbitrary expectations.
Everyone thinks students should be able to read at a competent level, but there are a variety of factors that contribute to or inhibit a student’s ability to learn. For example, what if a student lives in an abusive or overly dysfunctional home in which literacy is not privileged? What if a student is hungry?
But the larger issue is that those who seem most adamant about high-stakes testing—primarily conservatives—are some of the same people who have systematically defunded Oklahoma schools. Since 2008, per-student funding in Oklahoma has dropped by 22.8 percent, the steepest in the nation.
It’s a classic “starve the beast” tactic, even if that term is not widely used anymore. Starve the schools of money, increase class sizes, limit individual attention to students, place the emphasis on testing and blame teachers for the result. Once that has been accomplished, conservatives can then push for privatization of schools and vouchers.
Schools Superintendent Janet Barresi, who is facing serious challenges to her re-election this year, seems to be always ready with the sanctimonious language about student achievement, which never acknowledges opposition to the conservative agenda with our schools here. Barresi recently referred to the new retention law this way:
It is a tragedy when a child in our public schools cannot read. In tomorrow's world, the inability to read is a sentence to a lower quality of life. This won't happen on my watch. Oklahoma has great teachers who will help make this law succeed.
Again, no one can argue against the idea that students should be able to read. But the idea that Barresi and other conservatives here are behind “great teachers” is nothing but a myth. Our “great teachers” are some of the lowest paid in the nation. They work under a great deal of testing stress and are constantly the universal fodder of politic attacks by many conservatives, who, above all else, despise teacher unions.
Right now, the state faces a teacher shortage because our surrounding states care more about education and pay their teachers more than we do under our dominant conservative leadership.
Eventually, there will be political change here, but Oklahoma seems poised for the next few years, anyway, to continue the attack on public education through defunding public schools and creating systems designed to produce failure. The state, for example, faces a $170 million budget shortfall for next fiscal year and conservatives are clamoring for tax cuts again. Where do you get teacher raises out of that scenario?
In order not to just be negative, let me offer some ideas: Give teachers raises and boost their morale in other ways. Hire more teachers. Reduce class sizes. Ensure schools have the best equipment and textbooks to encourage learning. Give students more individual attention when it comes to reading and other subjects. Privilege parental input when it comes to the issue of retaining students.
Of course, that’s just crazy talk around this neck of the woods.