BY DAVID PERRYMAN
Pickup trucks prior to the 1960s were made for work. In that regard, they were functional vehicles. The old 1951 Chevrolet pickup that I drove in high school had no “optional equipment” mostly because there was no optional equipment available. Of course it had an engine in front and a bed in back. It had a bench seat and a three-speed transmission that we called “three on the tree” as opposed to “four on the floor.”
It had no radio and no turn signals. Seat belts and air bags were not an option. Perhaps the greatest safety feature on a 1951 Chevrolet pickup, or on any vehicle of that era, was its lights. My pickup came from the factory with a single red taillight on the rear driver’s side and two “sealed beam” lights on the front. The headlights did not exude much candlepower, but they were enough to be seen and did illuminate the roadway in a manner that was appropriate for the relative speed of a stock Chevy pickup of the day.
While the headlights of my youth were used to keep me out of the bar ditches and help avoid the occasional nocturnal skunk that wandered onto the roadway, it is imperative that Oklahomans diligently look “down the road” to anticipate whether decisions made today will improve or destroy the ability of our government to deliver services upon which we and our children and grandchildren rely.
While the future of education in Oklahoma is but one example, it provides a casebook study of how maligned a publicly funded system can become when the goal of naysayers is to redirect funding from its intended purpose.
Daily, Oklahoma’s public education system is bashed by groups motivated by financial pursuit that runs contrary to the best interest of Oklahoma. An Oklahoma City daily newspaper inundates us with dismal news about the failure of our public schools. It joins with the outgoing Republican State Superintendent to tell us that Oklahoma’s schools received a D+ and rank 48th out of the 50 states and the District of Columbia and that our educational system is broken.
The conclusion that they and many others like them want us to reach is that Oklahoma’s schools, teachers and administrators are failing us and are therefore wasting our tax dollars. The solutions that they propose are batteries of high-stakes tests that literally rob days from classroom instruction and divert millions and millions of dollars from the education budget into the corporate treasuries of testing companies.
In short, our schools are being undermined and set up to fail as curricula are narrowed and teachers are compelled to “teach to the test.”
Following suit, proponents of school vouchers, charter schools and virtual schools enter the fray realizing that the “failure” of public schools, whether simply perceived or actually accelerated by excessive testing and a lack of funding, opens the door by which public opinion may be mounted against our public education and our education dollars may be diverted away from schools that teach everyone’s children to gimmicks that are designed to educate the privileged few.
Let’s review a fact or two. Fully one-sixth of the D+ grade that is currently being used to denigrate public schools is based upon the 44% score [an F] that Oklahoma received because the governor and the state legislature underfunded public schools. If Oklahoma increased spending to just the national average, the D+ would have been a C+ and Oklahoma’s letter grade would have been better than the C that was the national average grade.
I am offended when our public educational system is slandered because of its low grade when the slanderers seek to cut funding and the funding itself is over 16% of the final grade. They try to convince us that our system is 48th in the country but what can we expect when funding is 48th also?
Be diligent and discerning. We should be pursuing excellence in education, not seeking to take local schools and their funding from our locally elected school boards and turning it over to corporate interests and private entities that are not accountable to anyone.
Looking down the road requires us to recognize the motivation of those corporations and their messengers who “assess” our students and teachers as well as those entities that ask us to “trust them” and they will solve our “problems.” We merely have to give them our money and abdicate the power of the ballot box. Is that a price worth paying? As you “motor along” on this issue, use your high beams.
– David Perryman, a Chickasha Democrat, represents District 56 in the Oklahoma House of Representatives