The Wind Has Indeed Come Sweepin’ Down the Plains: An educated commentary on the widespread teacher walkout

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The first time I heard the song “Oklahoma” play over the intercom I was in kindergarten at Northridge Elementary in northwest Oklahoma City. There was something about the brass crescendo that struck me. The way the thunderous beat hit as the word “Oklahoma” was elongated right before the battle cry of “Yeow! A-YIP-I-O-EE-AY!” sent chills through my small body. “We’re only say-in you’re doing fine Oklahoma, Oklahoma, OK!” 

I was educated in a great state, but as I moved on the land of plains and prairies became an embattled state of poor decisions. Its political system turned a blind eye to its constituents. It became a place where education looks like broken chairs, tattered textbooks, overcrowded classrooms, and teachers working for pennies on the dollar. It’s a state where funding per child, per year, falls short by over three thousand dollars compared to the median national average. What’s worse is Oklahoma inmates have greater funding and resources than the children. Sadly, the dear place I called home, the place my parents still live, is far from doing fine. 

My workday consists of bringing awareness to the declining literacy rates in America. Somewhere between writing, radio interviews, and news hits, I find myself researching and seeking resolution. It’s my passion—a passion fueled by what I’ve personally witnessed in our classrooms. As an advocate, I’m here to tell you our current system is in decline. I’ve listened to our children utter words like, “I don’t need to learn how to spell. That is what Siri, Google, and Alexa are for.” Or, “I don’t like to read. There is nothing good out there.” Sadly, these same words have been repeated in the richest districts and the poorest. 

Each time I speak I turn to our teachers and ask the same question: “Why?” The answer is always the same. “We don’t have resources.” “I’m being forced to teach for and to a standardized test.” Our teachers want better for their students. 

It was only a matter of time before they took to their feet, signs in hand, and feverishly rallied. West Virginia’s battle cry, their very own “Yeow! A-YIP-I-O-EE-AY!” stirred educators. I applaud you, West Virginia.

Your victory moved the masses to the Oklahoma State Capitol. Record numbers are still flooding the halls as the days tick away. Children have taken it upon themselves to set up outdoor classrooms on the lawn. Overwhelmed officials have taken to acting badly on social media while chastising the teachers. These hymns and chants of change will carry on until someone folds. I hope it isn’t you, dear teachers. You have Arizona and Kentucky hot on your heels, rallying, marching, and gearing up for their showdown. 

“Yeow! A-YIP-I-O-EE-AY!”

There is more at stake than pay raises, more than just a need for new textbooks, and new ceiling tiles. This is about tomorrow. Federal budgets and programs concerning education are on the chopping block for 2019. States continue to favor big business and mega-giant corporations, who continue to put their feet to the fire seeking over-the-top tax breaks and incentives to locate new facilities. Seek and you shall receive seems to be an agreeable mantra on the government floors. These and other such baubles are not nearly as good of a state enticement as keeping quality teachers and raising the bar on education. Let's not forget that these breaks are in place for years, which swiftly creates mass deficits.

If we want a future of greatness, our focus must return to creating an atmosphere where our children have a better chance of gaining a great education and succeeding in life. Where we stand now, 19% of seniors are graduating lacking basic reading and writing skills. Most are not prepared for college, and our least educated public is 43% more likely to pull from social services than those above the remedial line. Adults, you aren’t doing much better. 44% read and write at a 4th-grade level. That is 30 million people. When does the dam break?

If widespread marches stir this nation, then march. March proud! March strong! It’s time to fix our educational system one dollar, one student, one parent, one citizen, one desk, one textbook at a time. Will it happen overnight? No. Can more money make a change? Yes. Will it fix all the problems? No, it will not. But, if we demand change, create change, we’ve got a fighting chance. 

As for my home state, thank you for sweeping the winds right down those plains. As the song says, I sure hope that “soon you’ll be livin’ in a brand new state.” That is my wish, my work, and my focus for every child, in every state, that walk through the school doors each day, all 51 million of you. We’re trying to do better, kids. Hang with us. As for you, I have one last question: How can you create change? 

About the author: Danielle A. Vann is a former television personality, the author of the sixteen-time international acclaimed “The Whizbang Machine” young adult series of books, and works as a national literacy and education advocate. More information can be found at www.danielleavann.com or on Facebook @AuthorDanielleV

Danielle is available to answer questions from print, broadcast and internet outlets in her effort to help alleviate a growing education crisis in America.