The teacher walkout is a demonstration of the freedom of assembly, a right which should not be berated by state officials.
The Oklahoma teacher walkout continued throughout the last week as teachers fought for more education funding. After receiving a pay raise of 6,000 dollars and 50 million dollars toward school funding, teachers continued to strike to receive more funds for education in the future. The largest teacher union in the state, Oklahoma Education Association, called an end to the strike on Thursday. In response to this effort, official figures spoke out feeling that the continued efforts of teachers after receiving the pay raise was not beneficial to the citizens of Oklahoma.
On April 3, Mary Fallin made the comment, “Teachers want more. But it is kind of like having a teenage kid that wants a better car,” and stated that she felt that the anti-fascist group Antifa had been involved in the organization of the walkout.
In addition to these claims, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos argued that Oklahoma teachers “should keep adult disagreements and disputes in a separate place.” While it is understandable that parents and officials wanted students to be able to head back to school, the ability to fight for one’s beliefs is a cornerstone of democracy. By ridiculing teachers and calling them petulant children for their actions, state officials undermine the important tools of democracy.
Fallin and similar opponents felt that these teachers were not thinking about the students who were missing out on school. By removing students from the classroom for an extended period of time, teachers were reducing students’ opportunity to learn and receive a proper education. Teachers were not thinking of the ramifications of their actions. This involves not only students not receiving a proper education but also the burden placed on parents who now have to find a suitable place for their kids during the walkout. Poorer families in the community may not have the resources to spend on these expenses when their kids would normally be in school. It also potentially caused a problem for students who receive their major meals of the day at school due to their inability to have food at home. Proponents of this view feel that this extended teacher walkout caused a larger issue in the community that the teachers disregarded for their own sake.
Some representatives, such as Kevin McDougle, felt that the walkout went against common decency and proper procedure in government. In a now removed video concerning the walkout and the recent revenue bill, McDougle stated, “It took us a year and a half to pass it. And now they come into this House, they want to act this way. I’m not voting for another stinking measure when they are acting the way they are acting.” McDougle would later apologize for his statement, arguing that he would support the rights of teachers even if he disagreed with their methods.
The problem with the teacher walkout and march on the House Floor for some is that it sets a dangerous precedent for civil discourse in the state government. Some would argue that by promoting such a form of communication, we incentivize people to halt the work being done in the state legislature to get what they want. Instead of talking to their representatives and through bipartisan efforts, we are throwing the system into potential chaos in which nothing can be done.
The inherent problem with these comments is that they are attacking fundamental tools of our democracy. Citizens, no matter their job title, should be allowed to voice their opinions to their legislators in the forms that they feel are most effective. This does not mean there should not be limits, such as the prevention of violence or overt and dangerous aggression. By calling these teachers stuck-up children, state officials are directly attacking one of the most important parts of our democracy, which is the freedom of speech and of assembly.
The process of democracy is not always clean and tidy, but that does not mean that the actions themselves are wrong. American history is built on these turbulent events that have shaped the landscape of the country. From the Women’s Suffrage Procession of 1913 to Martin Luther King, Jr’s March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963, our history has been undeniably shaped by these actions. While there should be always be discussion about the best courses of action and its potential ramifications, demeaning one’s fellow citizens for using their First Amendment rights is a shameful activity. Instead of demeaning our fellow individuals if we disagree with them, we should provide our own ideas and be involved in fruitful discussion.