Friday, September 2, 2022

Oklahoma, Land of Boastful Ignorance

Are you planning a move, or is your company planning a relocation? Companies like to relocate their employees to states that have a good quality of life. For employees who have kids, this means a good educational system.

But don’t come to Oklahoma.


According to a recent report, Oklahoma ranks 40th for overall child well-being. I think you or your company’s employees would not want to raise your kids here, unless you can afford a private school.

Oklahoma ranks 45th in childhood education. The major reason for this is (according to the Democratic candidate, and one of two Republican candidates, for state superintendent) a teacher shortage. It is difficult to recruit new teachers or to keep old ones. Why?

One reason is that teachers are not paid very well, in comparison to other jobs or states. But many or most teachers enjoy teaching and would not quit just because of low salaries. The Oklahoma teachers’ strike in 2018 was primarily over school funding, not salaries, although the state did increase their salaries that year.

One thing that discourages teachers in Oklahoma is that they are in the crossfire of conservative anger. If parents do not want their children to have to wear masks during a pandemic, it is the teachers to whom the parents complain, sometimes abusively. If teachers dare to mention that people of color (especially Native Americans in Oklahoma, which used to be Indian Territory) have experienced oppression, parents can complain that those teachers have violated an actual state law (HB1775) that prohibits the teaching of historical oppression of people of color. Ostensibly, the law is just against “critical race theory,” but teachers often avoid all mention of racially charged historical events like the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921 in order to stay out of trouble. If teachers even mention LGBTQ, they might find themselves in trespass of SB615. And if a science teacher mentions evolution…well, they just don’t.

Teachers are tired of having ignorant politicians dictate what they should teach and are tired of being the brunt of conservative hatred. There are other jobs at which they can use their talents, that pay more, and at which their opinions can remain private.

The solution, so far, has been to hire teachers on “emergency certification.” This means that the teacher needs no qualifications other than, I assume, to not be a criminal. If they have a college degree in a subject, but no education courses, they can get “alternative certification.” But for emergency certification, you don’t need the subject matter courses either. From what I could tell from state websites, the emergency teacher has to submit a portfolio of experience. But approval is up to local school boards.

So if a qualified teacher leaves, an emergency teacher can replace her or him. This person could then teach creationism, global warming denialism, and hatred (or at least mild disgust) towards LGBTQ people. While they cannot (I think) teach racism, they can teach that there are no problems with racism that require any change in societal thinking.

And more change is likely to come. One of the Republican candidates for state superintendent openly proclaimed that teachers should be required to teach that America is the best country that has ever existed in the history of the world.

Already, 3,600 out of 45,000 teachers in Oklahoma have emergency certification. This downward slide can only favor the indoctrination of children with extreme conservative views. This is already a major problem for recruiting new employees into the Oklahoma work force. For every new company moving to Oklahoma, another leaves.

Where there is the worst, there is also the best. Many high school biology teachers are members of NABT, the National Association of Biology Teachers. They have a new president each year. Three of the presidents in recent decades have been from Oklahoma. All three were high school teachers, though they are now on college faculties or in administrative positions. Three! This shows that, in Oklahoma, to be a good science teacher, you have to be motivated almost as much as a missionary.

I have little personal interest in this, as I have retired and plan to leave Oklahoma. I was just hoping that I could feel good about not only having been born in Oklahoma, having spent most of my career in Oklahoma, and about my Oklahoma family roots that go back six generations. But instead I will have to be at least a little bit ashamed.

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