Democratic viewpoints on politics, policy and activism

Why Sally Kern Did Wrong

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Satirical image of Sally Kern

Rep. Sally Kern’s recent recorded condemnation of the so-called “gay threat” has attracted nation-wide attention due to the fact that, unbeknownst to her, someone recorded it and made it a popular Internet download.  Many have condemned the speech, and others have wondered what the big deal is all about.  After all, wasn’t Sally simply exercising her right to free speech by expressing a personal opinion?

In order to understand problem with Sally Kern’s speech; let’s put the shoe on the other foot for a second. Suppose a gay politician got up and said that the “straight agenda” was a great threat to America than terrorism. Or that “straight people are trying to “indoctrinate” our two year olds. Or straights had “infiltrated” our city councils. Surely, people would think that they are listening to a nut who deserves to be ignored and certainly should never be trusted with a public office. Well, now may know how gay people feel when someone sees them as a “threat” for asking for the same human rights we all enjoy.

One might say, though, that while the speech might be offensive, it would not constitute threatening “hate speech.” Straight people might be insulted or angered by such talk, but certainly not threatened. True, but then again straights are in the majority in our society. So let’s change our hypothetical situation a bit.

Now imagine that a white couple, living in some country where they are a definite minority, say some place like Zimbabwe, hearing a recording of a black politician from that country expressing similar views to Kern’s except that this time instead of using the words “gay” or “homosexual”, he used the word “white.” Now “white people are greater threats than terrorists” and “white people must not be allowed to indoctrinate our children” or “the white agenda” must be rooted out and opposed by all available means. Wouldn’t in this case, the feelings of this couple go beyond merely being offended? Wouldn’t the fact that these words might incite someone take direct action against this “threat” cause them to feel what gay Americans feel when they hear a politician in Oklahoma make these statements?

I think they would, and this is why Rep. Kern should realize that words have consequences, especially when they come from someone involved in serving all the people.  

Here is my response to Ms. Kern:

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Sally Kern is unworthy to represent the good people of House District 84. Her recent ravings about the “homosexual agenda” being a bigger threat to America than terrorism reveal a woman who has a sick soul. As far as this writer can tell, gay Americans want the same things all Americans want: liberty of conscience, freedom of speech, equal economic opportunity, and security for their lives and property. I wonder which of these rights enjoyed by all Americans does Kern find threatening? Which of these would she deny her fellow Americans? And since she specifically condemned Islam in her speech, how many other Americans would be denied their human rights in Ms. Kern’s world? The Americans in Kern’s district should be the ones feeling threatened by Ms. Kern’s agenda. They should deal with that threat by removing her from office.

Sally Kern was once a social studies teacher at Northwest Classen High School where my wife is currently a teacher. Students frequently complained that their grades often depended on whether or not they agreed with Ms. Kern’s political viewpoints. One student in particular found herself at odds with Ms. Kern because the student was Jewish and did not go along with Kern’s fundamentalist views on American history and culture. The student’s mother had to intervene on behalf of her daughter; otherwise, Kern’s grade would have seriously impacted the student’s GPA.

The School Board/Porter Ordeal as Tragedy

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Just recently, the district moved through a very difficult time due to a fallout between the board and former Superintendent John Q. Porter.  I had hoped for some type of conciliation between Porter and the board.  I imagined a scenario where wrongs would be righted, lessons would be learned, and all would be reconciled one with another.  

I knew the scenario was almost impossible, and it was: the board settled with Dr. Porter and he, along with school board President Cliff Hudson, resigned. The outcome I hoped for only really happens in comedies.  What happened was a tragedy, but that doesn’t make it all bad if we understand what a real tragedy is.  

I teach Language Arts in high school.In literature, a tragedy, and I’m talking about those found in the works of Sophocles and Shakespeare, often comes about because good people do bad things because they are human and therefore flawed.  I believe that in this case, we had many people, basically good, who made bad mistakes.  The school board made the decision to hire Dr. Porter believing that he would be able to continue the progress begun with the MAPS for Kids project.  Dr. Porter came in and made decisions based on flawed assumptions of board policy. He also made enemies unnecessarily because of his personality and management style.

Both can be blamed for their errors, but both, I believe both parties acted in good faith. Both exercise the best judgment each had.  Both suffered the kind of fall that happens in a tragedy.  Those of us given the awesome responsibility of educating the children who are our students must pick up the pieces and go on.

So, where do we go from here?  In a classic tragedy two things happen which may provide us a model for how we must respond: recognition and catharsis.  In a tragedy, those involved recognize their faults and take responsibility for the situation those faults have created.  School board members, administrators, principals, teachers, and school patrons must recognize how we got here and how we can move forward. Ignoring the lessons taught by a tragedy catch one in a tragic cycle.

We must also rid ourselves of the angers and animosities this situation may have created. That’s what catharsis means: cleansing and renewal.  We will have new leadership in the district.  We should not saddle that person with our old divisions.  Instead, we must take upon ourselves the responsibility of being agents of healing and change, For Our Children’s’ Sake.

OK GOP House Proposes Abolishing OK Human Rights Commission

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The Oklahoma GOP House(Oxymoron Alert) leadership has proposed abolishing the Oklahoma Human Rights Commission as a “government efficiency” measure. Their plan would to turn over all duties of the HRC to the Attorney General. This would insure that enforcement of human rights in Oklahoma would be a political football. Imagine any politician wanting to get on the bad side of the so-called “special rights” issue.

Abolishing the Human Rights Commission is a sure way to tell businesses that their employees will face bigotry and discrimination in this Oklahoma. Intolerance is the most anti-business condition ever conceived.

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Boren/Bloomberg Just Plain Passive/Aggressive

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University of Oklahoma President David Boren is hosting a bipartisan political meeting that includes former Democratic U.S. Senator Sam Nunn, former Republican Senator Bill Brock, and NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The expressed purpose is to “challenge” the present presidential candidates of both parties “to foucs on serious issues” and talk about “national unity” (Greiner The Oklahman 12/31/07).

Bloomberg has been touted as a possible independent candidate for president although Boren has denied that this is an attempt to launch Bloomberg or anyone else (such as himself) into the presidential race. Yeah, right.

Forgive me, but there is something very Passive/Agressive about this whole arrangement. “You’d better start behaving, or you’re gonna make me run for president.” It seems that Bloomberg wants to claim that he was forced into running for the nation’s highest office to save the country from it’s politicians. Since he is a politician, I hardly see how he can claim any particular virtue over the rest in the field. As far as I can tell, New York City is hardly a haven for political harmony.

Just what assurances would Boren and the rest want from the current presidential candidates? Every politician, including the highly divisive figurehead we have in the White House now claims that s/he is a “Uniter” and the only reason we don’t have more unity in this country is because certain “special interests” just don’t get the message.

Third party cannidates seldom do much good in a race. Usually, they end up denying the country the opportunity to have a majority candidate who can at least have some kind of a mandate to lead the country. Thus it was with Teddy Roosevelt’s Bull Moose Party, on to George Wallace, Ross Perot, and, most of all, Ralph Nader.

We have an opportunity to have a true majority candidate in this election. I hope s/he is a Democrat. But what we don’t need is someone like Boren, Bloomberg, et al to muddy up the electorate’s decision.  

Time for Brent to Quit

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Image of Brent Rinehart

Oklahoma County citizens in District 2 are not getting the full value of their hard earned tax dollars from current commissioner Brent Rinehart, pictured right.  He should resign immediately and turn the job over to someone who can do the job full time without distractions. 

In light of Commissioner Rinehart’s legal struggles due to his indictment for alleged illegal campaign financing and for ignoring an IRS summons, Rinehart cannot do the job that his constituents need.

Commissioner Rinehart has no right to use the money paid by taxpayers to fund his legal fees and court costs.  The job needs to be turned over to someone able to work for the county without the distractions Rinehart has brought upon himself. 

We need a new commissioner for District 2, someone able to adequately perform the duties of the office.

The Myth of Educational Competition

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I have been a teacher in the Oklahoma City Public Schools for 14 years, so I keep an eye out for what is said in the local media about education, especially public education. Lately, I have seen many letters, op-ed pieces and editorials trying to revive the idea of taxpayer-funded “vouchers” for private schools.  The constant drumbeat in these pieces, most of which come from minions of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, is that by encouraging “school choice” and “competition” between private schools, charter schools, and public schools, we will improve educational opportunities for Oklahoma’s school-age children.  The writers argue, “If competition is good for business, then why not for schools?” 

Fair enough.  However, let us remember that competition can only occur when people or institutions play on a level playing field.  If athlete A is allowed to run unfettered while B is required to carry a 40 pound field pack during the race, one can hardly be surprised if A wins most of the races.  So why don’t those harping for competition also demand that school compete equally? Let the public schools do as our private and charter school counterparts do.

* Let public schools require students to apply for entrance into our schools, and let us screen those who apply rather than take all comers.
* Let us require that these students meet academic performance requirements and reject those who don’t measure up.
* Let us require that these applying students’ records be free of discipline problems, or admit any “problem children” on the condition that they exhibit good behavior.
* Let us turn down “special needs” children if we feel they will require too many modifications, too many resources, or too much money for their care (a major reason why private schools can educate students at lower costs).
* Let us require that parents sign contracts requiring that they give 20 hours or more of “volunteer” service to the school or risk having their child expelled from our institutions.
* Let us require that once they are admitted to our schools, students must keep their academic performance at a required level or face being expelled without recourse to any mandated due process rights.
* Let us require that students conform to all of our rules and codes of conduct or risk expulsion, again without recourse to due process.
* Let us administer to special needs children free from federal laws mandating low class sizes (10 or fewer students per class), teacher aides, and special equipment thus eliminating special needs students from the public arena.
* Let us be free from the need to administer required state tests or the need to report on our academic results.

Private schools and charter schools do not follow all of the above policies, but all follow several of them.  At the very least, all private/charter schools demonstrate what is really meant by “school choice”: the schools get to make the choices.  And if the student does not perform, then the school gets to choose to leave the child behind for someone else, the public schools, to pick up the pieces.  Public schools, by law, have to honor all students’ right to an education, and they cannot simply kick disruptive children out of our schools. The process for dismissing students from our schools is long and cumbersome because if we send the kids out, there are not too many places, this side of jail, which will take them in.

In light of all this, the surprising fact, shown by study after study, is that when students from similar demographic backgrounds are matched, public schools out perform all other forms of school-age education with the possible exception of home schooling.  We do out race them, 40-pound pack and all.

Just remember this the next time you read someone extolling the “virtues” of educational competition.

Respectfully yours,

R. Lynn Green
English Instructor
Oklahoma Centennial High School

Note: There seems to be a coordinated effort to make vouchers a live issue in Oklahoma. I’ve noticed about a half dozen essays on the subject in various media outlets.