Last week State School Supt. Ryan Walters continued his campaign against public education in Oklahoma (there’s an Oklahoma standard for you) by showing “a taxpayer-funded ‘propaganda’ video that educators viewed as a threat to their safety and livelihoods,” according to CNHI’s Janelle Stecklein.
Jennifer Palmer at Oklahoma Watch reported the video shows “teacher unions as enemies and the state Education Department as (the) students’ savior, escalating his incendiary rhetoric against teachers and their professional organizations.”
She explained, “The dramatized production contains foreboding music interspersed clips of Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters’ appearances on Fox News with sound bites of National Education Association President Becky Pringle, Vice President Kamala Harris and others.”
One clip, Palmer says, includes, “(s)peakers at a National Education Association convention…advocating for supporting students of all identities.”
It is likely the video did not include this from the NEA’s mission statement:
“Public education is the foundation of our democracy, and educators believe in a strong, inclusive public school system that ensures all students can succeed, regardless of their ZIP code. Private school vouchers – and similar schemes like tuition tax credits and education savings accounts – take scarce funding away from public schools and give it to private schools that are unaccountable to the public.”
There’s that dangerous inclusiveness, of course, but NEA and Oklahoma teachers’ opposition to stealing taxpayer funds for private education and religious indoctrination is the heart of Stitt and Walters’ attacks on education. In their world, political debate does not exist. Opponents must be demonized.
This is textbook fascism, according to Lawrence Britt’s “14 Characteristics of Fascism.” Number three on his list is the “identification of enemies/scapegoats as a unifying cause.”
What makes public school teachers “enemies?” Their desire for proper funding for starters. Then, too, many of them recognize that actual state of the world with its diversity of people and ideas. This runs afoul of the fascist “disdain for the recognition of human rights” – another identifying trait, according to Britt.
If there’s one thing Walters, his puppet-master Gov. Kevin Stitt and their idol Donald Trump oppose it is treating all people with equal dignity. Attacking minority populations and ideas is a key to their campaigns.
With Walters having called teachers’ unions “terrorist organizations” earlier in the month, there were some teachers present at the meeting. Stecklein caught up with Allyson Helm, an OKC teacher – and registered Republican – afterwards:
“There were tears,” she said. “People were shaking…And it is nothing less than propaganda. It reminds me of wartime propaganda.” She added, according to Stecklein, that the video tried to “draw an insulting line between pedophiles and pornography and educators.”
Jami Jackson-Cole of Duncan told Stecklein her first thought was “this is fixin’ to get someone killed.”
Rightwing Republican rhetoric is constant inspiration for some of their less stable followers.
And, lest we forget, teachers were among the first targets when Franco’s Falangists advanced into new territory. Teachers were guilty of educating students away from Spain’s 19th century social order.
At the time of Walters’ “terrorist” attack, KFOR-TV reported that Oklahoma Education Association’s Vice President Cari Elledge replied, “It’s not OK to call educators terrorists, especially when you’re trying to do everything we can to recruit and retain the brightest and the best.”
Walters later said he was referring to local schools’ efforts to save lives during the pandemic when official Republican policy was a complete disregard for the health of Oklahomans.
In a bit of understatement, KFOR felt the need to add: ”The FBI labels terrorism, in part, as ‘violent, criminal acts.’
“The OEA has disagreed with Walters’ rhetoric since he took office earlier this year, but the organization has never turned to violence.”
That this needs to be said indicates the progress Walters is making to demonize the opposition.
Jackson-Cole and Helm both see Walters’ attacks as an attempt to bully teachers to his way of thinking.
And while Walters and Stitt try to mask their bigotry with a faux religiosity, we can remember, too, that the intertwining of religion and government is yet another of Britt’s identifying characteristics of fascism.
Fascists force freedom-stifling conformity upon all within their reach. Liberty is too precious to be shared. They decide correct conduct and then persecute heretics who dare to think for themselves.
The goal of Walters’ lesson plan is crystal clear.
(Gary Edmondson is chair of the Stephens County Democratic Party.)
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