I wish I could find the reference for the quote, but the concept has never left me. I was listening to an interview on the radio with a member of the George W. Bush Administration. He was discussing future financial challenges with programs like Social Security and Medicare. The internet ascribes it to former Secretary of Health and Human Services Mike Leavitt, but I didn’t actually write down his name at the time of the interview. So, here’s the quote as I recall it. “There is a time in the life of every problem when it is big enough to see, yet small enough to solve.” My mind was blown at the time and it has stuck with me through numerous challenges, leadership conversations, incidents and debriefs. I have noticed a problem that is very apparent to me and many others. Here is my attempt to bring action to the table.
There is a narrative about educators in Oklahoma that is sometimes directly espoused by political leaders, sometimes implied and oftentimes retweeted or shared on social media. The narrative is that educators in this state are a lot of different “ists.” They’re anarchists, leftists, atheists, socialists, Satanists, globalists, communists, abortionists and many other terms. If none of those specific monikers captures them, the generic “woke” seems to do. I’m not even sure what “woke” is, and I’ve always wondered if the antithesis of woke means asleep? Just to be clear, the characterization of any or all of these “ists” is that therefore educators are dangerous at the least and perhaps even evil incarnate.
I’ve worked in public education in this state for 32 years and I don’t recognize those characterizations. I’ve read posts or listened to press conferences and afterwards scratched my head thinking “who are they even talking about?”
Oklahoma is a red state. I don’t know how many fear mongers really understand this. I don’t have to be happy or sad about it because my emotions won’t change the reality. You can use all kinds of metrics to quantify that. Look at the office holders in state government. Look at the super majority in both houses of the state legislature. Look at the election results from cycles going back to the 1990’s. Where are all these “ists” living in our state?
So here’s a logical conclusion. If our state is overwhelmingly made up of citizens with conservative values, who are the people who work in our state? Who are the doctors? Who are the construction workers? Who are the fast food workers? Who are the lawyers? Who are the clergy? There is not a single community or county in this state that is controlled by “ists.” Our state is composed of people in the aggregate who have values that are much more conservative than many other areas of the country.
So who are the educators in our state? They are the people who sit in the same bleachers you do during high school sporting events or little league games. They bring the juice boxes or donuts to give to the team afterwards. They go to the same music concerts you do. They are in the same booster clubs or parent groups as you. They eat at the local diners and buy their coffee where you do. They order take out from your favorite places. They send invitations to birthday parties you go to. You run into them while they buy groceries though at times, admittedly, they act like they don’t see you or you act like you don’t see them.
The educators in our state sit in the same pews with many of you in your houses of worship. They go to your hardware store. They wear orange or crimson or some other college colors like you do. They put their garbage cans out at the curb in your neighborhoods. They buy flowers and mulch to spruce up their yards or buy plants and home decor. Some of them have spouses who clean your teeth, groom your pet or who you buy insurance, cars or furniture from. They may even sell you eggs or meat or go to the same grain elevator or game processor as your grandpa. Oklahoma educators are your sons or daughters or cousins or siblings or parents. These are the educators in your community. These are Oklahoma educators.
The educators in our state experience life. They or their loved ones have gone or are going through rounds of chemo. They’ve lost loved ones to traffic accidents, suicide or addiction, just like you. They or those they care about have struggled with trauma or mental health issues, just like you. They’ve been part of your prayer chains or you’ve sent them “positive vibes” as they have for you.
We don’t all agree on the best approach to teaching reading or how much homework is beneficial (or even detrimental) to student growth. We don’t all agree on the best fundraiser for the local parent teacher association. We don’t even agree on whether or not coffee is better than tea or if all carbonated drinks in Oklahoma are “pop” or “soda” or “Coke.” Yes, we disagree on some things. But we care for students. There’s no disagreement there.
So here’s my attempt to do something now that I’ve recognized the problems with mischaracterization or misunderstandings about Oklahoma educators. As we near Public Schools Week February 27-March 3, I want to share stories of some of the incredible educators I’ve encountered. You may know some of them or you may not, but I bet you know someone like them. These are Oklahoma educators and I’m proud to serve students alongside them. I’m inspired by the example of the compassionate and humble Oklahoma Educator!
2 thoughts on “Who is the Oklahoma Educator?”
EXCELLENT characterization, Eric! I, like you, have no experience with teachers that our State Superintendent calls out for indoctrinating students, teaching CRT, & being “woke.” (Same as you-no clue what that really means) In all the districts & school sites I worked in, over 34 years, all I saw were caring, competent, compassionate teachers that were in it for the right reason-their students. If there were those few that did not fit these descriptors, they did not last long!
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Appreciate you and all the service you and Mark have provided for students of all ages!