Commentary

On Monday, April 2 the teacher walkout in Oklahoma began. How did we get to this point and what role does faith play in what is going on here?

We are both in the field of education (specifically Special Education) here in Oklahoma. Janet has been a Special Education teacher since 1981, working with students with multiple disabilities. All but two years of her teaching career have been in Tulsa. Alan has been a paraprofessional in a class for students with multiple disabilities for the last 3 ½ years.

Over the last 10 years or so the situation for education in Oklahoma has continually deteriorated as one funding cut followed another. Teachers have not had a raise in the last decade, and more significantly, the state had more cuts to education spending than any other state in the country.

What does this mean in real world terms? Large numbers of teachers have either left the state or left the profession altogether, leading to a severe teacher shortage with the gap being filled by people with emergency certification. This means too many teachers with no training in education. Some districts have gone to a four-day school week, class sizes have grown to the point that there are kindergarten classes with 30 students and no assistant for the teacher; multiple disability special education classrooms have 12-13 students (the normal would be six or seven); we see textbooks with pages missing and held together by duct tape, broken chairs that can’t be replaced, technology that is outdated, broken, or non-existent — the list goes on and on.

The teacher walkout is not only or even primarily about raises for teachers. It is about being a voice that speaks for our children, for the hope of our future. The needs of the young people in our classrooms have been ignored far too long.

Some people in positions of power are saying to cut funding for education and human services to enable tax breaks for the powerful and the wealthy. Right before the current walkout, one of our legislators suggested reducing funding for Medicaid to help pay for raises for teachers. Our faith calls us to stand up for the least of these — the children, the disabled, the poor — rather than steal from them to benefit the wealthy. President Lyndon Johnson once said, “Education is the only valid passport from poverty.”

One of the foundations of our country is the principle of free public education for every individual. We believe God intends for every person to seek out their own understanding of Scripture and how it pertains to his/her own life. This can only be achieved through education. The Bible has much to say about education. Proverbs 1:2-7 says, “To know wisdom and instruction, to discern the sayings of understanding, to receive instruction in wise behavior, righteousness, justice and equity: to give prudence to the naïve, to the youth, knowledge and discretion…. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.”

Many politicians run on a platform stating they stand for “Christian principles and family values,” but what should this look like as it pertains to decisions our legislators make about education in our state? Does it mean quality education for all children or just for those who can afford private schools? We believe it means a free quality public education for ALL, regardless of socioeconomic level, religion, race, etc. Does it mean teachers and support staff are compensated equitably for their time, dedication, and skills, or that they are treated as something less than the educated professionals they are? We believe it means education personnel are treated with respect and dignity, and compensated as those who hold the future of our country in their very hands.

So, what do teachers and education personnel need from the community, in order to be fully equipped for the awesome task set before them? It is true that it takes a village. Our vision is for a world where those who educate are the most highly respected and supported workers in the community: where educators don’t have to ask for current teaching resources or supplies, where families and educators work together to provide for the needs of students, where legislators place education at the top of their priority list of services to the community.

This is why we walk. This is why we teach. This is why we’re willing to fight for the rights of our students to have a quality education.

Alan Parker works as a paraprofessional in a class for students with multiple disabilities in Tulsa Public Schools. He is also the Music Director for First Presbyterian Church in Perry, Okla.

Janet Bentz Parker is an Exceptional Student Support Instructional Coach for Tulsa Public Schools. She has a bachelor's degree in Music Therapy/Recreational Therapy from Phillips University, a master’s degree in Special Education from Northeastern State University, and is a National Board-certified teacher. 

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"We're Educators in Oklahoma. Our Faith Compels Us to Walk Out"
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