Oklahoma Republicans under fire from Republicans


Unsurprisingly, Ryan Walters stated that while he was championing a role that would give him power over the public school system, Oklahoma schools would not “wake up” under his leadership. Many conservatives champion so-called “parental rights” and claim they must protect children from learning about issues such as race and gender.

But since he won the election and took over as superintendent of public education for the state, his plan to implement his agenda – to attack teachers and claim they are the linchpin of indoctrination in schools – has unsettled many people, including the Republicans in his state.

The Oklahoma State Superintendent is the head of the state’s Department of Education, overseeing the school system and influencing the implementation of policies that govern the operations of schools.

Walters used to be a teacher himself. He taught high school history before Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) appointed him Oklahoma Secretary of Education in 2020. He remained in that capacity until April, overseeing the state education board and advising the governor on education policy, including during his first few months as superintendent.

Since his swearing in, Walters has made several appearances on Fox News, calls Oklahoma teachers ‘Marxist’ about their support for pay equity and the decisions they make about what books to have in their classrooms, arguing that “parents will be in charge of our education system, not these ‘bright’ teachers’ unions.” He has likened teachers to terrorists and told staff at the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) that they gets fired when they “leak” to the media.

A handful of Republicans have accused Walters of being more concerned with fighting culture wars than working on actual policies and budgets — things that could improve education in Oklahoma, a state that ranks nationally (the most recent ranking available ) finished 49th. according to a 2021 EdWeek report. Some rural schools in the state have introduced a four-day school week to save money. Lawmakers recently approved a pay rise, but the education system isn’t there yet faced with a teacher shortage.

“I would have thought that he and I would agree on 80% of things. … His ego got in the way of who he really is,” said Republican Rep. Mark McBride, chairman of the Oklahoma House Subcommittee on Education.

“I don’t have the luxury of fighting culture wars,” McBride said. “I have to do my job. I focus on funding, on money.”

So did Republican state senator DeWayne Pemberton said Enid News & Eagle in March that he felt Walters was too focused on “cultural issues” and that “everything he says is divisive.”

“I would like him to calm down and actually start talking about literacy and math and how to view test results and how we can make things better for teachers,” Pemberton said.

Since Walters took office and began directing OSDE, the department has lost several employees, including those responsible for applying for government educational grants from the US Department of Education. At a May meeting of the Oklahoma House subcommittee on education, McBride said he was concerned the agency had done so left money for low-income families on the table and that some schools could lose their funding. When he asked Walters if his department had applied for the grants, Walters denied that his office had not applied for grants and blamed his predecessor for the problems his agency was facing. (The status of the federal grants remains unclear.)

He also quickly took to attacking teachers.

“I don’t negotiate with people who would sabotage our children” said Walters. “This is a terrorist organization in my opinion.”

That kind of rhetoric goes too far, according to McBride. “I have aunts, sisters and so many family members who are teachers,” he said. “He calls my family terrorists and that bothers me.”

The Oklahoma Education Association — the teachers’ union — objected to his inflammatory rhetoric.

“In less radical times, it would be shocking if the state Superintendent of Public Education labeled the educators working in our public school classrooms as ‘terrorists,'” the union said in a statement. “However, this inflammatory and demonizing rhetoric continues to escalate in ways that endanger our educators and undermine public education.”

At an OSDE meeting earlier this month, Walters showed attendees video of a “public awareness campaign” that teachers said made them fear for their safety.

The video featured clips of speeches by the national teachers’ union urging its members to fight for the rights of LGBTQ children, as well as footage of pages from Maia Kobabe’s Gender Queer, a memoir about gender identity that has become the target of conservative anger is . Between those clips were clips that allegedly showed teachers defending child sexual abuse — which many teachers took as a warning that if they supported LGBTQ+ students, they would be considered child abusers.

“It literally brought me to tears,” said a teacher named Jami Cole said a local Fox affiliate about the video. “The only message I saw in it was, ‘I’m coming for you teachers,’ and I felt threatened. I think that’s the majority of the teachers in this room, we all felt directly threatened.”

Hearing that teachers were uncomfortable didn’t deter Walters. “Liberal activist teachers have infiltrated the classroom and prefer to indoctrinate our children rather than educate them,” he said in an email to HuffPost. “Oklahoma has great teachers who don’t force social justice points on the kids.”

“I’m not concerned about weak RINOs endangering our families instead of fighting for our Constitution,” he wrote, using a term that referred to “Republicans in name only.” “They sold their assets to the radical teachers’ union for 30 pieces of silver. They would rather ignore porn in schools than stand up for our children.”

Walters’ claim that there is porn in schools is at the center of an ongoing fight to ban books in the state.

Across the country, Republican officials have promoted the misconception that books featuring LGBTQ+ characters and themes are actually sexually explicit. Walters is no exception. He has supported bills that would allow for the removal of books from classrooms, as well as a Measure adopted in 2021 This prevents educators from teaching that any race or sex is superior to any other. This law specifically prohibits “critical race theory” — a college-level academic theory about how racism has shaped public policy — in Oklahoma schools.

At a hearing last month, a Republican told Walters that the principal was overly concerned about the threat of CRT in classrooms.

“I don’t like critical race theory, but it’s neo-Marxist — it’s highly technical,” said Congressman Marcus McEntire called. “It’s a literary criticism, that’s it. I’m concerned that your use of CRT extends it to things it isn’t.”

After months of allegations by Walters that school libraries had porn, the OSDE passed a rule banning sexually explicit material from schools without defining what constituted a violation of the rule. In April, Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond said The agency had exceeded its limits by not going to the legislature to enact rules and the new rules failed to come into force

“It’s a talking point and I don’t think that’s happening in Oklahoma, but I don’t know if it is,” McBride said a local Fox affiliate At the time, he was referring to schools that allowed pornographic material. “Show me. I want to see it.” He formally invited Walters to a meeting of the House Education Subcommittee to show McBride the materials that were troubling him. Walters did not do this.

Like many counties across the country, Oklahoma schools already have a protocol for contesting books, and parents are allowed to deny their child access to certain materials. McBride said he believes there is some censorship in schools – but the existing guidelines are sufficient and Walters’ tactics are unnecessary.

“You can talk about books but you don’t have to talk about them on Fox News,” he said. “You don’t have to tweet, you don’t have to call teachers terrorists.”

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