To Comfort The Afflicted
And Afflict The Comfortable

To Comfort The Afflicted And Afflict The Comfortable

Friday, December 2, 2022


The Elephants In The [Class]Room



Perryman, DavidIn 1940 as Jimmy Durante headed to the door of Coleman’s Restaurant in Calabash, NC, he turned to 28-year-old Lucy and with a smile said, “Good Night, Mrs. Calabash.” For the rest of his life, until his death in 1980, every Durante appearance ended with his trademark phrase, “Good night, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are.”

As with most entertainers who rose out of vaudeville, Durante’s style included repetitious skits and catchwords, not only phrases, but also songs and mannerisms. His famous “Ah-cha-cha-cha-cha” and self-references to his own nose as the “Big Schnozzola” always brought the house down.

In addition to his “Inka Dinka Doo” skit, one of Durante’s most popular routines originated in 1935 when he appeared on Broadway in the play, Jumbo. In the play, Durante was working for a cash-strapped circus that had more creditors than customers. When the sheriff appeared to seize the assets of the circus, Durante attempted to save his beloved pachyderm, Jumbo, by removing the animal from the circus grounds. As Durante led Jumbo across the stage, the sheriff asked, “Where are you going with that elephant?” and Jimmy responded with the immortal line, “What elephant?”

The skit was performed repeatedly by Durante for years after the Broadway show had closed and from the first day that the audience laughed at the elephant that Jimmy Durante desperately wanted to be invisible, “the elephant in the room” has been a metaphorical idiom for an obvious truth that is either being blatantly ignored or goes unaddressed.

Unfortunately, Oklahoma’s K-12 educational system has two elephants in the room, unfair evaluation and a disgraceful lack of funding.

Faced with a debate over how to improve our schools, the dialogue has been hijacked by partisan division and destructive rhetoric. Forces whose goal is to undermine public education pit parents against teachers and instructors against administrators. Standardized testing mandates rob students of a broad and enriched education. A culture of high stakes testing and antagonistic demoralization robs gifted and talented teachers of their spirit to serve our children.

Eliminating high stakes and non-stop standardized testing will eliminate the need to “teach to the test” and help improve our educational system. The result will be that Oklahoma’s quality teachers would be able to provide a more complete learning experience to their students.

Remember, teachers are not afraid of evaluation or accountability. They want the public to know what they do and how well they do it. Oklahoma’s teachers simply want to be assessed in a way that accurately reflects the job they are doing.

While Oklahoma’s public schools are performing as well or better than schools in other states that are comparably funded, that is like being proud of receiving the highest D in the class.

In other words, Oklahoma students are “blowing the socks off” students from other states that are also in the bottom funding tier. That is not good enough for my children and grandchildren and it is not good enough for my neighbor’s children or grandchildren.

State aid funding for Oklahoma’s schools has not recovered from 2008 levels. In fact, the K-12 budget has decreased by $224 million, more than any other state, over the past five years while the student enrollment has increased by more than 32,000.

A new study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities validates the existence of the draconian cuts and focuses on dollars used directly in Oklahoma’s K-12 classrooms. According to the study, an estimated $810 per student is cut each year, mostly affecting teacher salaries and shrunk school budgets.

The Oklahoma Policy Institute reports that Oklahoma will soon require children who do not pass a reading test to be retained in the third grade; however the state Legislature zeroed out more than $6 million in funding meant to help students meet these new requirements. That same organization reported that $3 million was eliminated from Literacy First, a proven program for reading instruction.

The elephant does not stop there. OKPolicy also released numbers regarding Oklahoma’s student-teacher ratio. Class size limits in place since 1990 have been suspended because schools cannot afford to meet them.

There is strong evidence that smaller class sizes promote student achievement – particularly in the early grades and for low income students. Many schools are cutting teaching positions to cope with budget cuts. Statewide, the number of students per teacher has increased from 13.7 in the 2007-08 school year to 16.0 in 2010-11.

Get the facts. Engage in the debate. Be vocal. Hold your elected representatives accountable. Let them know your priorities.

Jimmy Durante and Ms. Calabash may both be gone, but the next time you see an elephant in the room, tell it that you want our children’s education properly funded.

David Perryman, a Chickasha Democrat, represents District 56 in the Oklahoma House of Representatives



  1. We are already running into this issue. The student response to increasing the rigor has been to stop doing the work. I have been at school until 9:30 or 10:00 all week grading whatever work I can get out of them, calling and mailing parents, and trying to find something that will pique their interest enough for them to actually do it to review for upcoming testing. I have never seen apathy this bad in over 20 years of teaching. If they are this “checked out” during testing, I might as well start looking for a new career since the scores are becoming part of evaluation.
    I used to teach entertaining layered units covering multiple skills. I have former students nearing their 30’s who stop me and comment on certain things we did. My kids today couldn’t begin to do what I used to do with younger children than they are back before education “reform”, And due to lack of available technology, the year is over half over and we haven’t been able to get into the computer lab yet, How can we make our kids tech-savvy like the state wants when they won’t fund the technology?

  2. I hope citizens across the state of Oklahoma realize that the student to teacher ratio isn’t nearly as low as the reported 16.0. That number includes special ed teachers, librarians, music, PE teachers, as well as any faculty with a teaching degree. Walk into any public school in Oklahoma and you will find that actual class size is closer to 23-27 students in each class. In 16 years of teaching I have yet to have less than 23 students and with most years 25. Sixteen students in a class would be a dream!

  3. Well said, David. I could no read until the end of the second grade. I failed the standardized test thrown at me because I could not read simple words and there was talk of my being “retarded” and placing me into special education classrooms. But I had a second grade teacher who refused to give up on me. She spent recess and after school time with me. At night she created “worksheets” to help me learn basic words. One day it “clicked” and I have never looked back – graduated summa cum laude from a private woman’s college and cum laude from law school. Thank you Ms. McDonald for being a teacher who didn’t “teach to the test” or follow some “formula” of teaching. Thanks for being a teacher who found creative ways to reach her students – for being brave enough to stand-up to the principal and refuse to quickly label me a “dummy” because I couldn’t pass someone’s idea of “intelligence” based on standardized tests.

  4. Everything u stated is soooo true!! And teacher moral is lower than I have seen it in 34 yrs!! Teachers are leaving faster than we can graduate them!! I hate this because ALL I EVER WANT TO DO WAS TEACH!! I do not encourage any one to go into teaching any more. I used to talk to my students starting in the 3rd grade that teaching was a wonderful career to chose, NOT any more!! Oklahoma is KILLING public education !

  5. I have a few friends that are young teachers, and they are regretting it now. They are forced to use outdated material. They are having a hard time getting students to want to show up and learn. Teachers need to be more hands on and creative. But I think lack of funding is keeping them from that. More money should be given to teachers to help them really teach.

Arnold Hamilton
Arnold Hamilton
Arnold Hamilton became editor of The Observer in September 2006. Previously, he served nearly two decades as the Dallas Morning News’ Oklahoma Bureau chief. He also covered government and politics for the San Jose Mercury News, the Dallas Times Herald, the Tulsa Tribune and the Oklahoma Journal.