The Oklahoman editorial board can’t stop whining about the defeat of Schools Superintendent Janet Barresi in the recent Republican primary election.
An editorial published on NewsOK.com Monday essentially makes the argument that so-called conservative education “reformers,” such as Barresi, are courageous people battling an entrenched “status quo” that simply don’t want to improve student performance. Pointing to Oklahoma’s low test scores, the editorial tries to create this narrative:
Barresi and her reform counterparts nationwide have sought to improve such depressing statistics. They’ve stepped into the arena, showing courage and commitment that excuse-a-minute establishment critics will never match.
The word “simply” in the paragraph before the quote is key to understanding The Oklahoman lament. The editorial fails to address crucial counter arguments while presenting its narrow views and thus fails the argumentative test.
Here are points to consider:
(1) Low test scores in Oklahoma or elsewhere can’t be blamed on educators alone. There are deep, long-term social and health problems in Oklahoma, including underfunded child welfare programs and poor medical access. When children are hungry and sick, often changing schools because of unstable homes, we can’t expect them to perform well on tests. The schools with the poorest students will always have the worst test scores. It takes a holistic approach—sometimes dealing with issues outside the specific scope of pedagogy— to improve education. The Oklahoman, while often bemoaning the state’s social problems, never applies that same stance to education.
(2) The editorial doesn’t address the counter argument that recent “reform” efforts in education are based on privatizing our school systems as much as possible. While privatization is not necessarily some evil plot, it does raise alarming questions. Vested, commercial interests have a stake in any testing system or any act of assessment for that matter that will show failure in public schools. Virtually all the recent excessive testing and assessment rubrics, such as the A to F grading of schools, guarantee failed outcomes in places such as Oklahoma.
(3) It goes without saying that education here in Oklahoma has been dreadfully underfunded for decades. More teachers, better equipment, the best textbooks, nicer classrooms and full access to food can contribute to better outcomes. In particular, lowering the teacher to student ratio, along with flooding schools with teaching assistants, can help improve scores, but the conservative reformers in Oklahoma intentionally ignore this. The editorial never mentions the legendary underfunding of Oklahoma schools. How can you make any kind of argument about education in the state without acknowledging that obvious point?
(4) The editorial refers to the status quo or, more specifically, teacher unions and schools superintendents, but it omits crucial details. Teachers and school superintendents, for example, are not against appropriate assessment, which includes testing. It’s essential we have holistic assessment, but high-stakes testing, championed by Barresi and other conservative reformers, only proves the negative. It undermines the philosophical idea of individual needs of individual students, who can make progress on different time frames.
There’s a lot more to say on this issue, but the bottom line is that Barresi loaned $1.2 million to her campaign to get reelected under the conservative school reform philosophy, and she was trounced. In another recent editorial, The Oklahoman noted the supposed demise of the Democratic Party in the state. It should note, as well, the coming demise of the conservative school reform movement here.
I sailed into Dublin on a beautiful Saturday afternoon aboard the Ulysses ferry and eventually made my way to the Temple Bar area fairly near O’Connell street.
The music, a lot of it on the street, was incredible and the pubs were packed. It was Gay Pride here, and the rainbow flags were hung throughout the city. I ended up singing harmony to John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” with a guy just a bit younger than me as we sang along with an Irish duo at The Temple Bar.
So I mentioned O’Connell Street, which is named after Daniel O’Connell, sometimes known as The Emancipator. In the nineteenth century, he agitated for the rights of Catholics and for Irish independence. His monument sits on the street, just next to the River Liffey.
I won’t go more into Irish history, which I deal with in the literature classes I teach because of authors such as Jonathan Swift, James Joyce, W.B. Yeats, Samuel Beckett and Seamus Haney. In a postmodern class, I’ve even taught Roddy Doyle’s A Star Called Henry, a beautifully written novel about Irish independence. Irish history, as all history, has its different interpretations, especially among the Irish. I wouldn’t presume to know all the nuances.
But, on this sunny morning here, with the temperature about 60 degrees, I can at least try to transition from Irish history, with its relatively recent arc of oppression, uprising and independence to the latest act of agitation in Oklahoma over earthquakes of all things.
Reading media accounts, I learned of the town hall last Thursday night in Edmond about earthquakes in which several citizens rose up to speak truth to power. One account is here. According to the article, at one point there was an “angry sounding rumble” from the crowd, and it should be that way, and we can only hope it gets louder.
I’ve been writing about the dramatic surge of earthquakes in Oklahoma for some three years now, especially since the 5.7 magnitude temblor struck near Prague in 2011, and I’ve been urging such agitation. The clear point is the scientists have linked the earthquakes to wastewater injection wells used in the hydraulic fracturing or fracking process. In the process, wastewater is injected by high pressure underground into rock layers. This, according to the latest scientific information, can cause instability along fault lines.
The oil and gas industry, supported for now by the state’s Republican-dominated government, continues to claim that it’s not conclusive what is causing the almost daily earthquakes in central Oklahoma. The government itself seems to take the position that living with earthquakes, and perhaps even the ensuing property damage and risk of bodily harm, is just the price we must pay for our precious fossil fuels. The fact billionaire and millionaire oil men are running the show for their own benefit isn’t even part of the state-sanctioned discussion, but that could be ending if the town hall is any indication.
So, as was suggested by one citizen at the meeting, why not simply declare a one-year moratorium on injection wells, and see what happens? I would prefer an unspecified time period until we know more abut the issue, but one year seems enough time for considering impacts and options. The industry would just have to do something else with the drilling wastewater. That might cost more, but it’s for the safety of Oklahomans and for the protection of their property.
The oppression inflicted on ordinary citizens by the rich and ruling classes is an old, old story, one inscribed in just about every nook in this beautiful city of Dublin. O’Connell sits amid the beauty and music, teaching us agitation and perseverance is a necessary component of the human experience.
I’m in London noting the primary election results in Oklahoma Tuesday, and from my current European perspective there is specific reported material from two particular races that reeks plain madness.
England has its own political issues and problems, true, and I viewed part of a House of Commons session Wednesday that seemed no more participatory than a session of the U.S. House of Representatives. Most MPs, for example, didn’t even attend what seemed to me as a crucial debate over a housing bill, but the vote went on anyway. There was some lively shouting and satirical witty exchanges among the twenty or so members who did attend, a jolly good show, but the emptiness of the chamber struck me as the real story, a story of the perfunctory and apathetic. It’s the same in the U.S. Congress. The conservatives, in the end, won a vote that favors landlords over those who have subsidized housing.
So the class warfare goes on in England without a whimper as it does in the states and around the planet. There will be a turning point. Maybe not in this lost generation, but certainly in the next if there is no correction. Infinite growing wealth inequality is a distinct impossibility.
But I regress. My first declaration of what I perceive as Oklahoma election madness surely will be acknowledged by both Democrats and Republicans alike. It must be some form of madness—constructed upon hubris, stubbornness, intellectual conceit or the unknowable—that drives someone to loan their own campaign more than $1.2 million dollars to retain the position of Schools Superintendent in the state of Oklahoma.
Republicans and Democrats agreed on this crucial issue of ousting Janet Barresi from office, an issue that has now been accomplished. It was, by the way, representational politics at a pragmatic level. It also was an exquisite repudiation of Barresi diehard supporters Gov. Mary Fallin and the editorial board of The Oklahoman, who seem to despise public education. Barresi actually came in third in a Republican primary race won by Joy Hofmeister. In fact, Barresi, who I perceive as an advocate for the privatization of education, was soundly trounced in a message vote that couldn’t be clearer. If Hofmeister goes on to win, her mandate is simple: Do and act just the opposite of what Barresi did and acted. That goes, too, for the Democratic candidates, Freda Deskin and John Cox, who ended up in a runoff.
But this issue of “loaning” so much money to one’s own campaign for such a mundane and, really, provincial position in a minor state like Oklahoma seems the most remarkable in its sheer madness. Did Barresi think of her position as a launching pad for further political aspirations? On what basis? What specifically were those aspirations? Did she really believe in the right-wing message about the so-called failure of public education—this message has to include for its own logical argumentation the demeaning of teachers and the test performances of inner-city school children—that passionately, obsessively and why? Is she just so extremely rich—and why is she so rich?—that a million dollars means nothing to her? Why not simply retire and live in Paris? The Bricktown canal or the Seine?
A million dollars could also go a long way to help one particular school, or a particular group of students in Oklahoma.
Here’s a recorded Barresi quote now making its sensational rounds in The Media today in which she’s telling teachers the way they must enact the education of students:
Anybody that has any question what we’re doing, read Nehemiah. Open up your Bibles and read Nehemiah. I want you to put on your breast plate and I want you to fight off the enemy at the same time you’re rebuilding the wall. Because there’s a lot of people, a lot of enemies are going to try to creep up the back of your neck and say you can’t do it, it can’t be done. Do me a favor and tell ‘em to go to hell. We’ve got a wall to build. ‘Cause I’m gonna be in there with you, too. I’m going to take the hits. I don’t care, I don’t care. And then we will be, we will be an example to the rest of the country about how you produce a wonderful child that is educated and ready to take control of their life. Are there any questions?
I’m looking at the window occasionally in an apartment in the Bayswater area as I write this, and I’m noting the symmetry and beauty of the old buildings around me and the skyline on a beautiful sunny summer day. I’m just an easy tube ride away from the famous landmarks, such as Big Ben and Westminster Abbey, which I’ve seen before and now once again. The diversity of people on the streets here—all the different nationalities, languages, accents—is incredibly comforting to me and gives me a sense of belonging to something larger than my own self-absorptions and retread reflections. I don’t ever get that connection in Oklahoma.
What’s also not so comforting to me here in London and what also seems like madness to me as I write this is the political canonization in Oklahoma of James Lankford, another right-wing religious extremist. U.S. Rep. Lankford easily won his primary race for U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn’s seat. Coburn is retiring. Lankford is sure to win the general election unless there’s a scandal or some major political shift in Oklahoma between now and November. That’s probably not happening.
Let’s be clear: Lankford, as we can obviously conclude through his sanctimonious television advertisements and his former job indoctrinating young people with Christian dogma at the Falls Creek Baptist Conference Center in Davis, Oklahoma, is a radical Religious Extremist. He’s a living embodiment of someone who would not hesitate to end the separation of church and state in this country or force his narrow religious views on us all.
Yet the state’s largest newspaper, which supported Lankford for the position, in response to his predictable victory, proclaims Lankford “would be an outstanding member of the U.S. Senate” and speaks of his “phenomenal rise.”
I wrote about the interchangeable relationship between The Right-Wing Church and The Corporation in Oklahoma in my last post. It’s the partnership of immorality upon which all the state’s social problems and oppression is constructed and disseminated. Lankford is its personification. His laudatory status now made manifest by The Media’s pulpit goes beyond simple red-state religious oppression. It’s a madness that infects bodies with sickness and minds with its falsehoods that sanctify greed and human suffering. From London, away from its direct influence that breeds its own imprisoned complacency, this seems incredibly obvious.
On the tube in London yesterday after I watched part of a the House of Commons session I described earlier, the diversity of people scrunched together in my subway car delighted the senses, formed its own relaxing, inclusive philosophy of existence and depicted a reality rejected by so many people in Oklahoma where madness reaps its peculiar oppressive rewards.