“We expect teachers to reach unattainable goals with inadequate resources.
The miracle is this: They often do.”
State 36: Oklahoma - April 3, 2018
We woke up at a Walmart in Oklahoma City rejuvinated and excited for a new day. Yesterday, we visited the town of Wakita where the 1996 Blockbuster Movie “Twister” was filmed, and we could not wait to see what adventures lie ahead! The first task of the day is to drive across town to tour the Oklahoma Statehouse. When visiting a state capitol, I never really know what I will encounter. Most of the time, I see empty buildings and vacant legislative chambers, but occasionally I find myself thrusted into the most unexpected environment. My visit to the Minnesota Capitol Building was such an experience, which you can read more about by clicking here. However, my visit to the Oklahoma Statehouse would prove to be the most shocking of my cross country trip!
My first clue something was off kilter was I could not find a place to park Rosie for a 1-mile radius around the statehouse. After finally finding a spot for Rosie, I began my mile long walk towards the capitol building. Along the way, I passed a few people carrying handwritten signs, but did not think much of it at the time. The number of protesters steadily grew the closer we got to the statehouse, and by the time we arrived at the capitol building they numbered in the thousands! People were screaming, “WHAT DO WE WANT?? FUNDING!!! WHEN DO WE WANT IT? NOW!!!”, and, “WE’RE NOT LEAVING!!!! WE’RE NOT LEAVING!!!” Who were all these people? What were they protesting? I began to read the signs these protesters were holding, and was left speechless! The protesters were Oklahoma Public School Teachers! Please see the pictures below of what we saw upon our arrival to the Oklahoma Statehouse!
What in the world happened in Oklahoma to launch a mass exodus out of the classroom and into the streets surrounding the capitol? What was the straw that broke the camel’s back? Oklahoma public teachers are the 49th lowest paid in the nation, and many work 2nd, 3rd and even 4th jobs just to make ends meet. However, the teachers were NOT on strike for a raise, or for a lucrative benefit package. They were protesting their state's gross underfunding of education! Oklahoma ranks 50th in the nation for funding education! I heard stories of teachers and students bundled up in their winter coats because their classrooms did not have heat. Science teachers were digging up worms with spoons behind the schools with their students, because no funding existed for specimens to be purchased. Teachers were bringing in their own laptops to show movies to their students, because the school's audio visual equipment was broken, outdated, or non-existent. Due to classroom overcrowding, some students did not have desks, and were forced to sit on the floor! Some schools went down to a 4-day school week, because there was no money available to keep the lights on! One History Teacher's picket sign read, “According to the history book I am teaching from; Clinton is President, 9/11 has not happened, and Pluto is still a planet”. However, The Cross Country Couple's favorite picket sign of the day read, “You know a state is messed up when librarians are out protesting” Please see the pictures below and read the signs the teachers held, as they bravely and selflessly fought for funding simply to be able to perform their jobs!
I took my place in a long line winding halfway around the Statehouse, and two hours later I finally entered the building! From the perspective of a visitor, the Oklahoma Capitol Building was an abomination! Not only was the building over run by thousands of protesters, it was undergoing a major restoration. After passing through security, I finally made it to the tour guides desk only to discover the guided tours of the capitol had been canceled! I was handed a self-guided booklet, and was off to begin my exploration of the Oklahoma Statehouse. I was unable to visit both the House and Senate chambers, because the lines to enter each were ridiculously long! Between the hundreds of teachers chanting, and construction workers using heavy equipment, it became clearly evident my attempt at a self-guided tour was a futile endeavor. Instead, I found myself passionately marching and chanting alongside the teachers for their cause. Please see the pictures below of the scenes inside of the statehouse during our visit.
I came across a sign posted outside of the Governor’s Office, which read, “Meeting in Progress; Please be Quiet”. Clearly, the sign was unenforceable, and being ignored. A few of the protesting teachers expressed their detest for lack of funding with written messages on post it notes adhered to the Governor's door. Please see the picture below.
Teachers are often vilified, underappreciated, overworked, and underpaid, but most disturbing of all, teachers have become scapegoats. America's educational system ranks 36th in the world. However, overcrowded classrooms, poverty, technology, bullying, threat of, or actual violence, No Child Left Behind, lousy parenting, social inequity, inadequate funding, and poor public policy, are all complex and challenging issues to address. To make everything easier, let’s just place the blame upon the shoulders of the one component of the educational system functioning properly: the teachers!
Today, teachers wear more hats than ever, and often find themselves as a: surrogate parent, assessor, shoulder to cry on, disciplinarian, clerk, referee, counselor, dress-code enforcer, conductor, philosopher, collaborator, entertainer, therapist, cop, event planner, travel agent, tour guide, bookkeeper, first aid giver, critic, boy or girl scouts leader, cheerleaders, Mcgyvers, where the buck stops, and so much more! I almost forgot to mention, teachers are also educators!
Ask anyone who is their favorite cop, lawyer, plumber, produce clerk, banker or politician, and be prepared to receive a blank stare. However, ask anyone about their favorite teacher, and you are certain to hear an inspirational story. Furthermore, there would be no cops, lawyers, plumbers, produce clerks, bankers, or politicians if there were no teachers. From Armstrong landing on the moon to Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, all of humanities greatest triumphs were achieved by standing on the shoulders of teachers.
Our visit to the Oklahoma Statehouse exemplifies the reason I visit each capitol building of a potential new home state as it is amazing what can be learned during even a brief visit! For example, Oklahoma ranks 2nd in the nation for spending on penitentiaries, and ranks 50th in the nation for funding education. Such polar differences in funding reveals the Oklahoma’s legislatures perverted priorities. I could not help but laugh when I encountered one of the teacher’s picket signs which read, “Perhaps I should move my classroom inside of the state prison so my students can get new textbooks.”. I would rather move back to Connecticut than live in a state, which invests more in their convicted criminals than their children’s education! Oklahoma WILL NOT be the new home state of the Cross Country Couple! To all the Oklahoma teachers, their spouses, children, and students I marched with, your bravery is admirable, your cause is just, and I wish you success!
After departing the Oklahoma Statehouse, we drove across town to the library to catch up on some computer work. While intently typing my next blog post, my concentration was broken by a very large, very belligerent, and VERY drunk man yelling all throughout the library, and thankfully someone called the cops. Ten minutes later, an out of shape Police Officer who appeared old enough to collect Social Security arrived to address the situation. To make a long story short, a public verbal standoff ensued between the passive old cop, and the large screaming drunk man. The police officer politely asked the disruptive drunk to leave the library, but he flat out refused to comply with the cop’s request. They continued to banter back and forth over the next 15 minutes with escalating verbal onslaught!
Out of the blue, the tiniest and oldest librarian I had ever seen sprung up from her chair, marched around the counter, stood right in front of the large belligerent drunk man, put her finger right in his face, and in a loud and stern voice she said, “YOU NEED TO LEAVE RIGHT NOW!”. Without saying another word, the drunk man turned around, and walked sheepishly out of the building! In a matter of seconds, this librarian accomplished what the cop could not in the past 15 minutes! I wasn’t sure if I should crack up laughing or stand up and applaud!
I have visited hundreds of library’s all across America, and most librarians have bent over backwards to help with whatever I needed. Librarians are an asset to our communities, so please make a point to treat them with courtesy and respect. The moral of my story; Despite librarian’s persona as meek and passive people, if you give a librarian shit... Watch Out!
After departing the library, we drove across town to a Walmart where we spent the night.