Teaching in the inner city is tough, and it can be as exasperating as it is joyous. Nobody is perfect, and I could recount a long list of mistakes I made in the classroom (starting with my first day on the job when I followed an argumentative student to get in the last word).

These last few months remind me of my worst failing as an educator: I’d continually surprise myself by patiently ignoring outrages in the building and insults dumped from above. Then, I’d blow. I’d shout out the anger I thought I could suppress. My students would forgive my outburst(s), and I’d try to “go to school on it” and do a better job of handling future stresses.

I think that is what we’re all doing now in Oklahoma City. To paraphrase my favorite principal’s words — which she would utter during the rowdiest of times — we’re each “on our last nerve.”

The anger being released in OKC has been a long time coming. And the people we should really resent aren’t in our schools; they are the corporate elites who push competition-driven reform. We’ve got to regain our tempers and then try one more time to offer high-quality schools to all of our kids.

Hostility grows at community meetings

At a March 21 meeting, the OKCPS board had authorized a series of community discussions regarding the expansion of the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) charters and others (potentially).

Public assumption seemed to be that those discussions would provide fair and equal opportunities for examining the pros and the cons of KIPP expanding. It was also assumed that reports/rumors/statements about other charter expansions would be addressed in a forthright manner. So, the patrons who addressed the OKCPS board were predictably livid about the way community meetings seemed biased toward a takeover of their neighborhood school.

Community meeting — Edgemere PTA

“Are charters the only options for improving our public schools?”

6 p.m. May 9,
Edgemere Elementary

Meanwhile, it is also time to stop quarrelling over tangential issues such as the cost of the board’s and the superintendent’s trip to a Boston conference. The $25,000 price tag would have been a bargain if it had contributed to a civil discussion of the issues but, regardless, OKCPS can’t afford a fight over trivialities.

All roads lead to Code of Conduct

OKPCS has made plenty of mistakes, but they are mostly foul-ups attributable to a culture of compliance, which is pervasive in school systems across the nation. As a result, all roads to our current battles lead back to the hurried implementation of the new Code of Conduct.

After OKCPS was investigated for racially disparate disciplinary practices, a new disciplinary system was needed, but implementation was rushed. The not-ready-for-prime-time code produced the bitter battles that opened the door to the charter initiative. Supporters of KIPP and other choice schools are sincere, and they truly seek to help at least some poor students of color, but they play political hardball. They took advantage of the divisiveness caused by the failure of many schools to maintain order and attacked the union and the district while they were fighting each other.

Blame where blame is due

If there is any to go around, the real blame lies with the federal government’s test-sort-reward-and-punish mandates and the Billionaire Boys Club, i.e the Gates, Broad and Walton foundations and their surrogates.

That being said, we should all also look ourselves in the mirror and ask whether Oklahoma City pulled its weight as the rest of Oklahoma rose up against high-stakes testing and the no-holds-barred competition between charters and neighborhood schools.

Regardless of the answer, now is the time for everyone associated with the OKCPS to take a deep breath, slow down and de-escalate conflicts. The conversation regarding charter expansion should be completely restarted, this time with clear guidelines that ensure a neutral presentation of relevant information.