Dangerous Lessons

Wartburg Castle, above Eisenach, Germany; ID’d by Brooks Williamson.

Linda and I survived our old person adventure in another country where the people were friendly, the scenery was nice to look at, the food was good and our walks were pleasant, just like we enjoy in our own city and state.  After a week of getting caught up with tasks, enjoyable and not, I took a peek at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs website to see if maybe they have improved while we were out of the country and found a September 1 post under “Educational Freedom” titled “Dangerous Distractions” by their President Jonathan Small.  Of course “dangerous” can make your mind go to “lions and tigers and bears, oh my!”  But we’re talking the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs so my mind went to what silliness is documented Limited Thinker (Onward to the Past and The 64 Million Dollar Question ) Small up to this time.

Here is his argument in a nutshell:  Everyone knows the Oklahoma City Public Schools are terrible—just look at all the F grades they get from our state legislature.  But instead of working to make the schools better, the OKC school board is worrying about schools named for Confederate soldiers.  They need instead to figure out why, over the last 25 years, they’ve wastefully hired all those non-teachers who obviously don’t help kids learn.  And, almost forgot, just give the money to private schools and for-profit charters and the students will instantly be better educated.

Wow; that’s some deep thinking about what’s “dangerous” for the students in Oklahoma City.  About the F grades and the school choice arguments I don’t have any comment today except to refer you to three other Oklahoma bloggers who have written extensively about these topics including how Oklahoma’s school grade cards are more about zip codes and income than about school effectiveness:  okeducationtruths.wordpress.com   viewfromtheedge.net and fourthgenerationteacher.blogspot.com

I will comment on the Confederate soldier names for schools.  I agree with Small that naming schools is not as important as assuring that all our children have access to a quality and safe education.  However, school boards are called on to set policy for a wide range of matters that may seem peripheral to the core function of education, like competitive athletics, candy sale fundraisers, facilities use agreements, dress codes, school building designs, etc., and naming schools is one of them.  I attended Celia Clinton Elementary, named as best I recall for the daughter of the man who provided the land on which the school was built, Eli Whitney Junior High, named for the cotton gin inventor, and Nathan Hale High School, named for the Revolutionary War patriot (of his new nation, not his state) who courageously gave his life for his country.  I remember the names but those are just the places where my education took place and if the Tulsa School Board, in its wisdom, were to re-name any or all of them I would not object.  Both Nathan Hale and Eli Whitney will long be remembered as part of our nation’s history regardless of whether these or any other buildings are named for them; and the family and friends who may remember Celia Clinton do so because of their relationships with her, not the building named for her.

Many school names have disappeared and changed in Tulsa, usually as with Lincoln, Pershing, Barnard, Irving, Horace Mann, etc. when the buildings are destroyed or no longer used as schools.  Others, like the former Wilson (where I taught in the early 70s) and Nimitz Junior High buildings, are renamed for new uses, now Mayo and Eisenhower Elementary schools, respectively.  Did those names disappearing or changing constitute “dangerous distractions”?  I think not.  And also I am among the many who understand that naming public buildings is not in and of itself “history”, nor does changing a building’s name change “history”.  Rather naming public buildings should be about who we, through our elected representatives such as the OKC school board, choose to honor and hold up to students and the public as examples of citizenship.   An interesting and inspiring choice in the Tulsa system is Memorial High School which, if my memory is correct, is named in honor of our service men and women collectively who have given their lives for our nation (not our state).

Yes, in grade school I read the biography of Robert E. Lee and understand that he was a man of courage and ability.  I have also since read that he was asked to serve as a military officer for the United States of American in defense of an armed rebellion against our nation and he declined, instead choosing to join that armed rebellion which cost hundreds of thousands** their lives.  I was born in Oklahoma, have lived here over sixty of my seventy years, and will most likely die here, but I have never considered myself an Oklahoman first above being a citizen of our great nation.  No, I do not think we should honor those who took up arms against the country they had once taken an oath to serve.  Changing a school name does not alter history; it is the relatively unimportant prerogative of each generation of school board members to do or not as they deem appropriate and doing so is not “dangerous”.

What is dangerous?  I did some quick and dirty searching on the word along with some Oklahoma state budget related topics and here’s what I found.

  1. This 2013 USA Today article “States with the most dangerous bridges” lists Oklahoma as the second worst, and the only state among the 10 worst that had more dangerous bridges then than two years previously. I wonder how Oklahoma fares today after four more years of failed budgets due to the fiscal policies urged by the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs.  Now this is scary.


  1. This from the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety website in March of this year:

OHP Chief Rick Adams said, “The perilous security environment created by a 15 percent budget cut places citizens at increased risk, local law enforcement at risk and our troopers’ lives at risk. This is a gathering Public Safety Crisis that can only be fixed by adequate funding, and everyone will feel the impact. Further triaging of resources, further cuts in mileage and no manpower replacements – all at a time when 26 percent of the OHP is eligible for retirement – makes this evolving situation far more sinister than budget crises of the past.”

You can read the rest of it and then decide which is more “dangerous”, these cuts to Oklahoma Highway Patrol services and capacity or renaming some schools.


  1. And this from Oklahoma News 4 story “Oklahoma Department of Corrections: prison overpopulation becoming dangerous”:

According to the DOC, there are 26,619 inmates being housed in state-run and private prisons or halfway houses; 32,564 being supervised on GPS monitors, community supervision or by probation and parole officers; and 1,829 in county jail backup.  Corrections Director Joe M. Allbaugh said the numbers are a sobering reminder of how overpopulated and dangerous the state’s prison system continues to become.  “We are beyond the tipping point,” Allbaugh said. “The staff and the public are at risk every day when we operate at this capacity. We are critically understaffed in facilities that weren’t built to house inmates. Some of these places are over a century old, causing the agency to hemorrhage money. Statewide, our prisons are in need of more than $2 billion in infrastructure repairs.  We have individuals working in the agency who qualify for food stamps and an astronomical turnover rate close to 40 percent, which is leading to money spent on perpetual officer academies and training for new employees,” he continued. “The inefficient practices inundating the agency for decades must end.”


Again Small demonstrates that he is a Limited Thinker by focusing on the inconsequential, school boards changing school names, as being dangerous, when his “Think Tank” has prescribed the very “tax cuts increase revenues” fiscal policy that has left our state unable to take care of basic state services, like having safe bridges, adequate state law enforcement, and prisons that increase our safety instead of putting corrections officers and the public at risk, thereby making our state truly a more dangerous place to live.  If the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs were truly interested in helping our public policy discourse then they would do real research instead of echoing the same old stories like this statement in his post:

From the 1992-1993 school year to the 2013-2014 school year, OKCPS saw student increases of just 10 percent and teacher staff increases of just 11 percent, according to the SDE. That same time period saw non-teacher staff increases of 24 percent, or approximately 545 additional non-teachers.

As I’ve pointed out in Purging the Surge , A Dirge for a Surge and Return of the Surge , if the OCPA is truly concerned about this data then do the hard work and let’s see how many of those 545 are teacher assistants due to the expansion of early childhood education, how many are cafeteria workers due to the expansion of the school breakfast and lunch programs, and how many are mandated because, duh, Oklahoma City’s student population has changed with more special education students, more students for whom English is not their primary language and more students living in poverty.  Each of these categories mandates more staffing than was the case in 1992.  But no, the OCPA isn’t interested in discerning the truth, they are only interested in pushing the narrative dictated by their funders—government bad, private always better.

As always lunch on me to the first to ID where the photo was taken, a place far away where long ago a real thinker found refuge from real danger.  My friend Brooks Williamson Id’d the photo; thinking of school names I have to pay tribute to his grandfather T. D. Williamson who was a loyal supporter of his beloved Central High School in Tulsa and his support continued even when the school board did the “unthinkable” and moved it outside of downtown Tulsa and out of its wonderful building that is headquarters now for AEP/PSO.  Loyalty to schools and education is not about names or buildings, it’s about caring for next generation and the future.

**I originally posted “millions” without fact checking.  One reputable source says about 600,000 deaths.  Unlike the OCPA I will correct my errors when found.

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