Six or seven lifetimes ago, a young co-worker was telling me about her boyfriend. I complimented the wisdom of her choice as soon as she told me he wanted to be a writer, but was amused when she said her family considered him a “free thinker.”

          With backgrounds in philosophy and English, I appreciated both the designation and the quaintness with which it was expressed. I attributed the old-fashioned terminology to her religious conservatism.

          Thinking about the narrowness of this approach to the world dove-tailed into a mental image of someone facing the horizon with blinders limiting the vision to about 30% of our 170 degree field of vision.

          This is the mindset (using “mind” advisedly) of Oklahoma Education Supt. Ryan Walters. His educational goals are to keep Oklahoma students ignorant and dogma-bound. I guess he hopes that, if he can keep them as indifferent and opposed to education as their parents who elected him, he can achieve continued Republican control of government.

          Walters has launched campaigns against any books that might provide insight into the differences inherent in the world. Personal attacks on librarians for trying to enlighten students? There’s an Oklahoma standard for you.

          Walters has attacked school districts that value a well-rounded education over rightwing indoctrination. One step on this road to fascism is his endorsement of “learning materials” from PragerU into Oklahoma classrooms.

          Contrary to the (deliberate, designed) impression that PragerU is affiliated with any university is the reality that a bunch of conservative propagandists founded it to spread their doctrine.

          At the end of last year, Walters decreed a ban on any public school teaching that might lead to an understanding of the diversity of the student population and that advocated the equal, inclusive treatment of all students.

          Walters has spearheaded Gov. Kevin Stitt’s campaign to steal taxpayer funds for religious schools where the indoctrination can be even more complete.

          On Jan. 10, Tulsa’s Channel 6 reported that Walters was having the State Department of Education “cut ties” with professional groups he views as promoting that too-inclusive-for-bigots “woke” agenda. He announced the state would stop working with the Oklahoma State School Board Association, the Oklahoma Public School Resource Center and the Cooperative Council for School Administrators.

          Yes, the Oklahoma Department of Education will stop working with the association of Oklahoma state school boards, representing every public school in the state. Public schools opposing theft of their funding are certainly no allies of those up to their elbows in the public trough.

          Instead of attending to state school business, Walters would rather hire a national public relations firm to get him more media exposure.

          As with his idol, Donald Trump, Walters is only interested in campaigning. But, his limited vision deliberately limits that of Oklahoma students.

          There can be no thinking if it is not free thinking. Anything else is a scholastic critique of dogma such as flourished in Europe after the fall of Rome. There is a reason that the Renaissance was recognized as the “rebirth” of knowledge, that its development was called The Enlightenment.

          The watchword of Walters and his cohorts is that they don’t want schools to “indoctrinate” students.

          Reading for comprehension: who is advocating indoctrination? Those offering a full field of vision or those seeking to narrow the scope of education?

            (Gary Edmondson is chair of the Stephens County Democratic Party: <> or <>. Longer versions of his columns are often found at The Oklahoma Observer.)

Free free thinking

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