BY SHARON MARTIN
We throw things away in Oklahoma.
I worked for a principal once who would check kids out of school if they had missed too many days. They weren’t going to graduate anyway – too many absences – so he’d send them to get their GED, though I know of none who did. They were throwaways in the name of Annual Yearly Progress. No one considered what these students might have learned if they had stayed in class, even if only part time.
We throw away those who learn differently. As a former alternative education teacher, I know that many alternative ed students are gifted. Most are hands-on learners. Some have special needs. One of my hyper seniors was able to do his work after I brought in a rocking chair to satisfy his need to move.
Who needs alternative education anyway? Why don’t you ask another of my former students who now teaches math in Oklahoma? Ask the electrician, the pipeline welder, the soldier, and the sailor who graduated from the program.
We throw away teachers. We demand they cure all the ills of society, from absent parents to chronic hunger. They must teach the child to read who has never held a book in his hands, and he must be on pace with the child who has her own library. If all our students aren’t above average, the folks who don’t understand statistics cry foul.
Politicians preach merit pay. They promise teachers that if they will spend two or more years of their life becoming National Board Certified they will be rewarded. Almost 3,000 teachers in Oklahoma took the challenge; the Legislature, with the blessings of our state superintendent, reneged on their promise to them. Master teachers are throwaways, too.
We throw away adult learners. One of my students who got her GED in the spring told me, “I didn’t drop out. My dad checked me out.” She came back on her own initiative because she and her husband have four children to support, one who is autistic. She is now a certified caregiver for those with special needs.
The Legislature threw away its ability to fund adult education and other programs when it promised $22 million for private school vouchers. They sent a message, loud and clear, that scholarships for the haves are more important than giving second chances to the have-nots.
In Oklahoma, those who have enough are keepers; the rest of us are throwaways.
– Sharon Martin lives in Oilton, OK and is a regular contributor to The Oklahoma Observer