Monday, April 2, 2018

Oklahoma Teacher's Walkout: A Perspective

Today my wife and thousands of other Oklahoma public school teachers descend on the state capitol in an effort to remind the Oklahoma legislators who they work for: the people of Oklahoma.

Executives of the fossil fuel industry do not work for the people of Oklahoma. They work for their stockholders. Their job is to maximize profits for those stockholders, and one way to do that is to convince state legislators to pass laws that help the stockholders get rich. And for many years now, corporate lobbyists have succeeded in doing just that. It's not their fault. They're just going their job to make as much money for the stockholders as they can.

Of course, the state legislators don't work for those stockholders but for all the people of Oklahoma. And they are called to think long-term, to care about Oklahoma's future and not just the stockholders of this or that company. Nothing is more central to the welfare of Oklahoma going into the future than a vibrant public education system, sufficiently funded to help each student achieve their highest potential.

But Oklahoma legislators, it seems to me, have lost sight of this truth, starving public education for years in order to give corporate tax breaks, primarily to fossil fuel companies. Those tax breaks don't serve the people of Oklahoma. The fossil fuel companies aren't going to leave the state for a lower tax rate elsewhere, because the fossil fuels are HERE. They want access to them--to the natural resources that belong collectively to the people of this state.

Paying their fair share to support the collective future of the state, ensuring that an educated workforce is available for them and every other business, should be part of the price of admission. Of course, it's the job of big business executives to get as much for free as they can, including not paying the price of admission, not doing their fair share to support Oklahoma's long-term survival.

It's the job of Oklahoma legislators to tell them no. But state legislators have instead been acting like employees of these big businesses, starving education in the process.

And so our teachers are saying no. Our teachers are saying enough. Education is the future of this state, and the future is being starved by a legislature that has forgotten who they work for. And so the teachers, who have not forgotten, are rising up and demanding that our legislature remember.

Our legislators have so far responded by saying, "How about we feed you a little better than we have been while continuing to let your students starve? Isn't that wonderful? Hooray for us! You should thank us for such a wonderful proposal and if you don't, you're just being greedy!"

Or teachers have answered, "Our children are still being starved."

Today, I hope, the legislators of Oklahoma will open their eyes, remember who they are and who they are supposed to represent--all the people of Oklahoma, including our children--and do the right thing.

Corporate executives have their lobbyists. The children of Oklahoma have our teachers. Pray that out teachers have the eloquence and resolve to make a difference. Pray that our elected Representatives will be moved to implement real change shaped by the real needs of the people they represent, rather than being constrained by some artificial concept of political expediency shaped by corporate interests.

Let all of us stand with our teachers and say, "Feed our children."

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