A couple of weeks ago I spoke at a press conference in support of Public Education in Oklahoma representing Pastors for Oklahoma Kids. Our Executive Director was not sure he would be able to attend the presser and thought another voice from our organization would be helpful. I agreed to fill the spot.
Giving a statement or a short speech at a press conference is not my normal speaking venue. If you have never been given a speaking assignment limited to a few minutes, it is work. When it comes to Public Education in the State of Oklahoma one could find enough to talk about to fill a 24-hour talkathon. Honing your message to mere minutes and stay on a particular point requires lots of editing and not a few extra eyes.
Several friends have obliged me from time to time to read an article, blog post, even sermon, in order to make sure it is clear and concise. Sometimes good lines end up on the cutting floor. And, that is what happened last week.
Two lines have stayed with me and won’t let me go. In order to make space in my head, I thought jotting them down here with some additional remarks might help me to move ahead to another subject, another topic, even another project.
Here is the paragraph I edited with the omitted lines in italics.
Could we imagine State leaders who praise and support the teachers in their own local communities they represent? Rather than peruse the American Legislative Exchange Council website to cut and paste potential legislation related to education, why not actually spend time with teachers, school administrators and even students to hear what real needs they face? Wouldn’t it be better to champion rather than criticize one of our most important groups that help ensure an educated electorate? Imagine legislation that stems from partnerships between legislators and schools addressing needs, challenges and publicizing successes. And, not just successes in support of a gallery address. We cannot fully fund education but we can take pride in the only state to have a State Fiber. We cannot rally support for full funding but we indue a rally by putting the Country on notice that we are a Second Amendment Sanctuary State.
Oklahoma’s State Constitution makes funding Public Education a constitutional requirement. Recently our State has been influenced by outside sources hell-bent on privatizing education making students commodities and schools competitors. If you want an illustration of neoliberalism, here it is. It is this reality that when set against deciding a state fiber or virtue signaling your support for the Second Amendment, school funding is just not sexy.
I cut these two sentences over the concern these two lines would be seized upon providing fuel for antagonists. I agreed they should be cut.
However, this is not a press conference and it is worth explaining what lay behind the objections to fiber and second amendment sanctuary states.
First, I learned from a friend that the selection of cotton as our State fiber came from a group of students in one of our rural areas. Fine. No one wants to skewer students. But, where were the adults who could have carefully directed that energy into something more productive than choosing a fiber with a Southern history tied to slave plantations? Oklahoma Senator, and friend, George E. Young Sr. put out a press release noting this very issue when he had his name removed from the approval of the bill. And, in floor debate in the State Senate, Young called attention to the fact that in 2021 we still have those who seem oblivious to the power of signs and symbols.
You may find it crass but I will write what some of you are thinking. Many of our legislators could use an increase of fiber in their diet, something to clean out the pathways to critical thinking and greater social awareness than play to the most extreme among us.
Second, and this is where it boggles the mind. According to the Wiki there have been more than 100 mass shootings in 2021. If cotton calls to mind the worst of our history, what does it say that Oklahoma wants everyone to know it is a sanctuary for the Second Amendment. What exactly are we saying? Hey students, the best solution to all your problems is keeping guns safe. You read that correctly. Your guns are safe here but we refuse to fully fund your education. We will protect your guns but not your minds. You know an ideology is empty when we rally at the Capitol in support of guns but cannot get the same support for Public Education.
I could go on but then it might be viewed a piling on.