We Make the Road by Walking – Chapter 3

This post is a contribution for an online book club reading of We Make the Road by Walking by Paolo Freire and Myles Horton. Here’s the reading schedule and my notes from Chapters 1 and 2.

I took the day off after the election. I wanted to spend it with all of my girls. I have two young daughters, one of whom has started in the public education system this year.

Every culture has negativeness and positiveness, and what we have to do is to improve the positive and to overcome the negativeness. (134)

I live in whatever the opposite of a swing state is. When it comes to presidential elections, you can bank on Oklahoma turning red. Now to all my U.S. friends in more liberal areas of the nation, I want to be very clear that it’s actually fine to live in red state. I’ve done it my whole life and I love my home. But it can feel hopeless knowing that their are certain conversations that aren’t worth having with people because, to them, the world is very white or black, whereas most of the world I inhabit is the space between.

I remember I learned a lot from being a father. (138)

When Katie and I found out we were going to have our first daughter, I was turning to male mentors I had to ask what it is like to be a dad. One guy here at OU gave me really good insight that I will never forget and that I continue to pass on to other people becoming parents. He told me that when you become a parent, your life changes instantly because every single decision you make requires a new question to think through. Every question and every decision you make has positive and negative consequences on this new person who is dependent on you and it will change the way you think.

And it, indeed, changes the way you think. As a parent, I want nothing more than for my children to grow up in a world where they love themselves, love others, and love learning. I want light to be in abundance.

You also learn so many lessons about life through being parent. You learn that you are a very flawed, selfish person. And you learn that even though you want to control each and every outside force–it’s nearly impossible.

Chapter 3 from We Make the Road by Walking is titled Ideas. I love the title in that its bold. I also hate it in the same way I hate getting a calendar meeting invitation cryptically titled “Brainstorming.” It’s a bit vague and, for goodness sake, please tell me one meet where it is okay for us to turn off our brains. But ANYWAYS much of the chapter focuses on political and social organization. And while presidential voting in Oklahoma was predictable, there were other issues personal to my heart at stake for our state as well–specifically in education.

On November 8, Oklahoma voted on State Question 779, which was a penny sales tax that would fund state education. Of the money raised, 60 percent would provide a $5,000 salary increase for every public school teacher. The rest would be divided between public schools (9.5%), higher (19.25%), career and tech ed (3.25%), and early childhood ed (8%).

You see, Oklahoma ranks 48th (soon to be 50th as both South Dakota and Mississippi are raising pay) in K-12 teacher pay and our teachers have not had a raise in eight years. In fact, this issue isn’t even a Republican or Democrat issue. Democrats actually controlled the Oklahoma Senate until 2005, yet we dropped from 41st to 48th between 1980 and 2000 and the Republican-controlled Senates have kept us there. The state legislature in its totality has failed at providing adequate pay for teachers for decades.

Of course, a penny sales tax doesn’t necessary look the prettiest on paper. They’re regressive, which means that the tax increase will affect low- and moderate-income households more than wealthier households. Plus, Oklahoma sales tax is already high and this would make it the highest in the nation. But, according to the initiatives biggest supporters, it wouldn’t and it shouldn’t have ever got to this had the state legislature figured out a way to fund education. This felt very much like a last ditch effort Hail Mary.

The only way teachers have to demonstrate to the students that they are serious sometimes is to ght-to ght in order to get a better salary and then to begin to become more competent. (60)

It was ambitious and a long shot and everyone knew it from the beginning. But momentum began to build and with it came hope in the eyes of teachers with many of them signing on. State Questions require a little under 125,000 signatures to make the ballot. It received 300,000. Early polling showed it at about 60% to pass.

And then it failed. 60% no / 40% yes. The state of public education is no longer just a failure of the Oklahoma legislature. This is now a failure of the state to either put forth the correct plan or pass this one. I, too, share in this failure.

It’s the structures of society that we’ve got to change. We don’t change men’s hearts. (103)

The day after Oklahoma decided to not give teachers a raise but did decide to elect donald, I took my daughters to school, and had to look the teachers in the eyes.

Every day at my daughter’s school they have a school-wide morning assembly. The Friday of election week was Veterans Day and a handful of the fourth graders were sharing poems about freedom. They had been learning about similies and metaphors. “Freedom is  _______.” I felt a little heartbroken but also moved.

I pulled out my phone to quickly type out some of the lines and immediately a student read: “Freedom is the feeling of victory and hardship.”

It’s so true. And, as much as I want that perfect environment to magically materialize for my girls–as much as I want them to see with their own eyes that they can be and do and love so long as they love–I know that it’s also true that, as a wise fourth grade once told me, freedom is equal parts victory and hardship.

That day I felt an immense amount of guilt for not campaigning harder for the state question; for not campaigning with the teachers. For believing for it in my heart but never publicly letting it leave my mouth. This is a feeling I’ve felt so much more as I’ve grown older and is arguably my largest personal struggle. Why–so often–do I allow myself to be controlled by fear? I could have done something to advocate for it and I let my pride get in the way.

Reading Horton has given me courage. It reminds me to speak out and to stand up. It reminds me to look at my community as a place where their exist people like teachers, the most undervalued public employees, need me to speak up.

It is cultural and historical, and if it is cultural and historical, it can be changed. And if it can be changed, it’s not unethical to put the possibility of change on the table. (132)

Not all hope is lost. It would be hard to imagine State Question 779 will be the last teacher raise proposal in history. It would be hard to believe that ground can’t be made in education both locally and nationally. And you better believe that I won’t miss the opportunity to particpate–to organize–again.

I also want to add that has given me much as well. Specifically, more thanks for Bryan Alexander for organizing, Kristen Eshleman for organizing the Twitter chat, John Stewart for giving me someone to talk through it out loud, and Amy Collier for giving me the drive to write better. And thanks to anybody that’s reading this. It’s working.