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Dr. Deighan's Weekly Article - April 9, 2021

Mostly Educational

The Educational Smackdown

April 9, 2021 by Tom Deighan

Nowadays, no one wonders if professional wrestling is real, but when I was a kid, we hotly debated the issue. Honestly, we knew a piledriver would snap our necks, but we just needed some heroes and villains in our lives. The same approach has not worked for education, but we continue to follow the professional wrestling playbook, only without the colorful outfits. Both systems thrive on the hero-villain archetype, but professional wrestling is just silly fun. Educational politics has real winners and losers, however. Every decision impacts our communities and our children’s chances at the American dream.

Lately, Oklahomans have been offered two false choices in our own educational Smackdown:  Either rabid resistance to any change in public schools (except for more public funding) or rabid commitment to dismantle public schools (while using the same public money). When rational people are forced to select radical options, everyone becomes a radical, but most educators hate the constant social engineering, and few parents think their local educators are evil. Unfortunately, local realities have less influence on educational policy lately than statewide and national extremes. Are we really ready to rumble?

Just as the federal government has displaced the parent as the most influential educator in a child’s life, our state increasingly usurps local control with central planning. Despite the theater, this is not a red versus blue issue. Every major educational reform in recent memory, from Common Core to No Child Left Behind received broad bi-partisan support at both their inception and execution. Likewise, both sides have furthered the over-reliance on standardized tests while acrimoniously decrying “teaching to the test.” The bubbles our children pencil in now drive everything from federal funding to local property values in our state. They have become the handy folding chair of our educational smackdown; both sides wield them with impunity.

As a career public school educator, I bear considerable blame after a career trying to balance these false choices. Yet, I can no longer support the narrative that we must choose either a progressive march toward Marxism or a progressive march toward crony capitalism. No one can hear while shouting, so the extremists just shout louder as they trade fake blows. Meanwhile, sensible educators and parents have been silenced in the din. I wonder what would happen if they no longer had an audience, kind of like walking away from toddler tantrums in the supermarket?   

I have yet to meet a parent who wants their children to be sources of profit or a teacher who wants their classroom to be a social experiment. Most parents and educators see eye-to-eye on meaningful issues, but legislation seems increasingly driven by reactions to extremes than actual needs. For example, I suspect that the average person believes most Oklahoma schools have been closed, even if their neighborhood school has been open. Of course, most Oklahoma schools have been open since August, but I wonder how much such misperceptions have driven many of our recent “fixes.”  Historically, the unintended legacy of such “fixes” can be seen in the empty school buildings that litter our state.

As children, we were smart enough to know that the diving headbutt would have unintended consequences. As adults, I think its time to also recognize educational theater as a false dichotomy of extremes. We do not have to cheer or react to either extreme, Oklahoma.  A good public education is the American dream, and most educators and parents share a similar vision. Local communities need to retake their local public schools, not abandon them to radicals or corporations. It’s not too late to let the extremists be extreme and to refocus local schools on local children’s needs instead of political theater. To do this, we will need to once again see people who disagree with us as real people, not as villains. And for good measure, please pray for the safety of our schools this second Sunday of the month while the chairs continue to fly.

By grace, 

Tom Deighan

Superintendent

Duncan Public Schools

Public educators welcome all . . . serve all . . . love all.