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Monday, August 15, 2022
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Toby Dawn’s Serious Summer Plans

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Please pray for me, for every year shortly after graduation, my lifelong friend and childhood hero, Toby Dawn McIntyre, attempts to whisk me away for a summer adventure. He once surprised me with a motorcycle and sidecar immediately after graduation ceremonies, “Hop in, Tommy Boy!” He said, tossing me a pair of old aviator goggles. “Summer Vacation starts tonight!” I was wearing a suit and tie, so I passed.  The next summer, he sent me a box full of fish heads as an invitation to join him at an Alaskan fish cannery. Last summer, he begged me to join him as a truck driver in Europe.  They had a serious driver shortage, “And they’ll pay us to see the sites!” he told me. So far, I don’t know what he’s planning this year, but he has been texting a lot of Mickey Mouse memes. 

No one takes their summers more seriously than Toby Dawn McIntyre, but few people can take three months to kayak down the Mississippi, not even most educators, despite the perception that we take summers off.  Mountains of work pile up during the summer, including most of the maintenance and technology projects.  If you have a student, you know about the endless stream of summer camps for everything from STEM to sports to the arts.  Many schools also offer summer school, which often includes busing and feeding children.  

In fact, summer is the busiest time of the year for principals and other administration because we must wrap-up one fiscal year, start another, and hire staff.  Many of the other staff also have summer jobs.  When I was a classroom teacher, I drove a semi, hauled hay, worked at a truck stop, and even worked at a summer camp. (I was a terrible camp counselor – too many spiders.) Those without summer jobs get recruited for stuff all summer long. Visit any Vacation Bible School or summer church camp, and you will find a slew of school staff.  They make summer stuff work when they are not working at school.  

Assuming that educators do nothing during the summer is like assuming that wheat farmers only work during harvest or that tax accountants only work during April.  Summers are less hectic, but the pressure is on for a good school year.  Great athletes are made in the off-season, and so are great school years, so whenever something looks easy from the outside, it probably wasn’t.  Hard workers and gifted people make things look easy, and most “gifted” people are really just hard workers.  All of this applies to students, too. 

Busy kids are happy kids, so put them to work, keep them engaged, and kick ‘em outside once in a while, so they can learn to drink from garden hoses. (Hose water is tangy!) And if you really want happy summer kids, make their bedrooms device-free zones overnight.  Sure, they will kick and scream a little, but within a short time, you might see those Tik-Tok “ticks” subside.  Let them start a summer job or project. I have mad respect for hard-working kids because they grow up to be successful adults. As Toby Dawn says, “At some point, you can’t fix lazy,” and I have rarely seen a hard-working kid become a lazy adult.  

As the 2022 school year wraps up, begin this summer with intentionality, for great summers do not happen by accident, and next school year depends on it.   Whether you are a parent, an educator, or a student, purposely plan now for a great 2022-23 school year. Work hard at having fun this summer, like my friend Toby Dawn, for summertime, like childhood, is fleeting.  Cherish every moment.  And if you see a large red-haired man riding a motorcycle with a screaming man trapped in a sidecar, move out of the way.  If we are also wearing Mickey Mouse ears, you can bet we are headed to Disney World.    

Tom Deighan is superintendent of Duncan Public Schools. You may email him at  deighantom@gmail.com and read past articles at www.mostlyeducational.com

A World of Weary Well-Doers

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Feeling unappreciated, unwanted, or unwelcomed in the post-Covid age?  You are not alone. 

Although this column focuses (mostly) on educational issues, this is not just a school issue. Just about anyone in a “service” position has been tempted to feel this way recently. Service positions include anyone from parents trying to mitigate the soul-crushing influence of social media on their children to business owners fighting to keep people employed during supply-chain issues. Front-line workers might feel the ugliness most, however, as frustrated people can explode over the most trivial of matters. If people rely on you for their livelihoods, their security, or even a fountain drink, you can probably relate. Find an empty corner. Hug your knees. Rock back and forth. Welcome to the fellowship.

We tend to focus on the more visible “servants” who have been targeted with meanness lately, but this fellowship transcends all professions and positions to include all servant-leaders. You feel called to not only do your job well but to also make people’s lives a little easier. You might just be doing your duty, but you treat people with grace and gentleness. In our post-COVID age, anyone who does this stands out, and if this describes your heart, you are a servant-leader.

You do not expect pats on the back. You find satisfaction in meeting the needs of those depending upon you. Whether that means getting someone’s coffee or processing an insurance claim or serving in a volunteer position, you find joy in the service, but it is increasingly harder to escape the temptation to feel unwanted, unappreciated, and unwelcomed. You never expected accolades or recognition, but you also never expected to be attacked, vilified or demonized. I have never witnessed this happen on such a grand scale. 

Remarkably, this can happen simply because someone works in a particular business, position, or profession. People put on their Cable News Goggles and just assume they have the right to dehumanize you. Consequently, many servant-leaders grow weary of well-doing. Losing faith in their calling. Questioning their value. Wondering if it is worth it. That’s scary, for when our servant-leaders weary of well-doing, then we face a world devoid of grace. 

If you currently feel unwelcomed, unwanted, or unappreciated, please know that you are not alone. Others like you are tempted to feel this way as well, and while that may be little comfort, I hope you realize that in times of darkness, grace abounds even more. Your kind word in the drive-thru lane. Your cheerful voice as you answer your company phone. Your gracious reply (or non-reply) to an email. You never know what may keep another person whole for a little while longer, for they are hurting, too, and hurt people hurt people. In time, the seeds of grace you faithfully sow may sprout eternal fruit in them, just as seeds of grace planted in us by others sustained us through tough times. The more you feel unwelcomed, unwanted, or unappreciated – the more you can certainly know you are needed, perhaps more than ever!  

Please do not weary in well-doing, servant-leaders, and whenever possible, make sure other servant-leaders know how much youwelcome, want, and appreciate them. They may not expect pats on the back, but the touch is welcomed, and everyone deserves to be noticed occasionally. In time, the bread you cast upon the waters will return to you for a feast of joy and reconciliation, kind of like a reverse supply chain of joy. You have been called for such a time as this, but if you must occasionally hug your knees and gently rock in the corner, that’s ok, too. You are in the best of company. 

Tom Deighan is superintendent of Duncan Public Schools. You may email him at  deighantom@gmail.com and read past articles at www.mostlyeducational.com

Easter: The Emptiest Holiday

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Marshmallow Peeps are the epitome of dietary emptiness – pure sugar, whipped into a fluffy puff, then dipped in more sugar. Confection perfection!  Peeps are my favorite Easter candy, and they cap off The Season of Eating that starts in late September and sweetly saunters on for the next six months. Halloween . . . Thanksgiving . . . Christmas . . . Valentines . . . and finally Easter. And candy is at the heart of it all!   Those empty, barren calories with no nutritional value. The more we eat, the more we want. The Fattening Five offer an uninterrupted stream of dietary nothingness . . . and I love every minute of it, especially Easter, because we save the best candy for last. 

Halloween candy impresses due to sheer volume, but the good stuff is gone too quickly, that is, if the trick-or-treaters even get it. If I am guarding the candy bowl, you can be sure the good stuff goes in my bag, but before Thanksgiving arrives, we are picking through the last of the candy-corn and Dum-Dums. Unfortunately, Thanksgiving is a bit of a bust on the candy front, but thankfully, chocolate Santas start hitting the shelves. And if all else fails, pumpkin pie satisfies in a pinch. 

Christmas and Valentine’s Day candy are much better than Halloween candy, but they fall short of perfection for one simple reason: gotcha candies from those fancy gift boxes. When I bite into a chocolate, I should not be surprised, much less with raspberry crème. All the leftover candies with small exploratory dents or bites are an annual public health hazard. There should be a Surgeon General’s warning on any so-called chocolate with crème filling. We might as well fill them with ribbon candy.

But Easter candy, simply the best!  Almost all of it has chocolate, peanut butter, caramel, or marshmallow in it. Amazing Peeps, giant Reese’s Eggs, chocolate covered marshmallow bunnies, and the mysterious Cadbury fluid, and who knew that MM’s taste better in pastels?  The only way it could get any better is with it all combined into some sort of chocolate bunny dipped in sugar. As a matter of fact, the worst candy Easter has to offer is the colorful jelly bean. Not too shabby, Mr. Easter Bunny. 

Next week, after I eat the last jellybeans and marshmallow chicks, I will be sad to see The Season of Eating end. I will not only miss the sweets, but I will also need to shed five pounds and to recuperate from six months of shameful, regretful calories. But that is not the only emptiness Easter has to offer, for it is the emptiest holiday of all!  

The most amazing emptiness in history occurs on Easter: the empty tomb, from which broken and ashamed people have emerged forgiven and repurposed for two-thousand years. In its emptiness, we discover fullness of joy and redemption. For just like Easter candy, Christ also saves the best for last, sometimes following our darkest despair. On that spring morn so long ago, He conquered death and the grave, forever exchanging our heavy sorrow for the joyful emptiness of His tomb. So, no matter where you are or what you are dealing with, let Easter remind you that He always saves the best for last, and transforms sorrow to joy. Unlike the empty Easter candy we love so much, however, the emptiness of Easter fills us with joy unspeakable and full of glory. 

Tom Deighan is superintendent of Duncan Public Schools. You may email him at  deighantom@gmail.com and read past articles at www.mostlyeducational.com

The Right of Parental Input and Output

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I have never visited a hot dog factory, but I have been warned against it by people who refuse to eat hot dogs afterwards.  Apparently, lots of stuff can go into a hot dog, and none of it looks like something you would slap on the grill, so the input does not match the output. I rarely buy hot dogs because I ate too many in college. (Seriously, the cheap ones were sometimes four packages for a dollar!) Nevertheless, toss a few on the grill, and I still find them hard to resist.  Something about animal lips and mustard!

Come to think of it, schools are like hot dog factories because the tiny tots that entered Pre-K do not always resemble the graduates we produce, but there is a clear difference between hot dog factories and schools. It is a matter of input and output.  Factories have full control of whatever enters and exits the manufacturing process, but schools can never exercise complete control over input or output, for those are ultimately parental rights.  Parents have the right to know everything introduced into their children’s education, and they also have the right to everything their child produces during that education. No individual parent can unilaterally decide policy, curriculum, or library books for everyone, but when it comes to your child, you have the ultimate right of input and output.  

Regarding input, nothing should ever be taught, introduced, or presented to school children without parental access to the information, parental knowledge, or parental assent.  Parents rarely demand to preview everything, because they are busy, but everything should be available if they ever ask for it.  And above all, parents should always be notified beforehand if something is potentially controversial, sensitive, or age inappropriate – to ensure parents can opt out their children for religious, moral, or cultural reasons. 

Likewise, parents always deserve full disclosure regarding the output. Anything a child says, produces, or discloses in a school must be provided, available, or accessible to the parents. This includes not only classwork but also potentially harmful or sensitive issues, so parents can be involved in the solution. One of the biggest mistakes an educator can make is withholding sensitive information from a parent, even if the motive is good. Parents have a right to know information about their children that is uncovered in school, even if it is unpleasant or difficult to discuss.

Of course, in extreme cases involving the safety of the child, parents may be temporarily excluded from input and/or output, but this is the exception and not the norm, and it involves the appropriate authorities. Normally, all parents deserve full access and disclosure to both input and output related to their children. When this happens, schools run well, and parental rights are upheld and respected. Parents and educators trust each other. Furthermore, when parents have access to all input and output, they can make the best educational decisions for their children, based on factors that only a parent can know. Thankfully, most parents and educators understand this partnership, despite what you may see in the news.  

Making hotdogs and making graduates are both messy processes, but unlike hotdog factories, schools do not fully control the manufacture of their future graduates.  Our “hot dogs” also enter the factory cuter than when they exit, so I suppose schools are backwards hotdog factories.  They enter as bubbly cuties and exit as moody teenagers!  

Another big difference: our factories are open for inspection by parents. You really should see your hot dogs being made, every darn step. You will not always like or agree with everything in your local school, but when it comes to your children, you can expect full disclosure about the input and the output.  It is a fundamental parental right, and if schools ever forget that, we have lost our way.  On the other hand, if you start demanding to know what’s in your hot dogs . . . well, you’re just asking for trouble.  Sometimes, ignorance (or mustard) is bliss.  

Tom Deighan is superintendent of Duncan Public Schools. You may email him at  deighantom@gmail.com and read past articles at www.mostlyeducational.com

Okies Want Oklahoma Solutions

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When I rely too heavily on one news source too long, I tend to see everything in life through my Cable News Goggles,and it’s terrifying!  Regardless of which “lens” I choose, I walk away wondering if I need to build a bunker. Sometimes, so I can pretentiously claim to be unbiased, I flip back-and-forth between opposing news sources. This only makes things worse, and I am absolutely certain that I need a bunker, but that’s tricky in Oklahoma. How do you build a good bunker that simultaneously protects against climate change and the impending takeover of the CPC in a place with porous clay soils beneath and tornadoes above? 

Clearly, our Cable News Goggles are not always accurate or healthy lenses on the state or local level. National news feeds provide excellent, far-away perspectives, but they also offer more opinions and less helpful information. Consequently, we rarely have consistent information about COVID or the ice sheets in Antarctica, but we always know what “experts” think. Instead of news, it has become my daily affirmation that my views are not only rational and healthy but also absolutely correct. Eventually, I no longer tune in to hear what “my side” is thinking; I tune in to hear what I am supposed to think. Like driving a car through binoculars, that’s when Cable News Goggles become dangerous. We cannot confidently use faraway, partisan lenses when looking at state or local issues.

In recent years, Oklahoma seems to increasingly make local and state decisions based upon or in reaction to national politics, and education is a prime example. National Democrats fight for more money for ineffective programs, and National Republicans fight to subsidize private schools without any accountability for the public funds. Simultaneously, both suffocate schools with unproven regulations and cookie-cutter solutions that change as often as the graduating class. Advocates for smaller government want bigger class sizes schools – for other people’s kids. And advocates for bigger government want more untested programs – for other people’s kids. 

Just as Oklahomans don’t like faraway strangers telling us what to do, we don’t always want national, partisan solutions to local or state issues. Okies want Oklahoma solutions, and thankfully, most Oklahoma legislators are still Oklahomans first. Even when they are undeniably Republican or Democrat, they are first Oklahomans, and they will work together – against national narratives – to find an Oklahoma solution. We have seen that so far in this legislative session related to the complex issue of school choice. Yes, Oklahomans support school choice, but they also support Public Money, Public Rules. The money may need to follow the kids, but the rules must follow, too. 

The national cookie-cutter solutions being offered in Oklahoma today are no better than the national cookie-cutter solutions implemented in 2009 through SB2033 that brought us Common Core and other stuff. Ultimately, those did not work because they were not Oklahoma solutions. Common Core was as hastily ratified as it was hastily canceled, by mostly the same legislators. We are living through that again as some hastily adopted reforms have quickly created more problems than fixes. This is what happens when we force Oklahoma into national templates – from either side of the political spectrum. 

The issue of school choice is a truly difficult but solvable issue, as long as we take off our Cable News Goggles and look at it as Oklahomans. I applaud our Oklahoma legislators, regardless of their stance, for truly looking at this complex issue as Oklahomans first. What is needed in Gotham City may not be needed in Oklahoma; likewise, what works in a faraway state may not work here. Local Okie parents and educators know their communities and public schools best, and they are not wearing their Cable News Goggles in the classroom. Local and state issues are not nearly as terrifying as they look in our newsfeeds when we look at them as Oklahomans. Nevertheless, we should probably still build those bunkers, but we can just call them fancy tornado shelters for now. 

Tom Deighan is superintendent of Duncan Public Schools. You may email him at  deighantom@gmail.com and read past articles at www.mostlyeducational.com

The Grapes of Wrath: A Modern Version

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In John Steinbeck’s classic novel, The Grapes of Wrath, the Joad family finally reaches the end of its rope.  Setback after setback, loss of their livelihood, and finally, loss of their land force the Joads to reluctantly leave the only home they have ever known for the promised land of California.  Oklahoma proves to be as indifferent to their absence as it had been to their presence.  The Joads quietly leave everything they have ever known behind, but as backward and misunderstood as they and the countless other Okies were, they never left their dignity.  They never once presumed the world around them would bend to their needs.    

Much of the world still sees Oklahoma through the Okie stereotype.  We are a fly-over state, insignificant and backwards . . . a place of noble victimhood.  We have become the Joads, not because others have branded us Okies, but because we have resigned ourselves to suckling our providers in the abandoned barns of misfortune.  We are a state rich in resources, strong in character, and unrelenting in resolve.  We have traded that strength for a cheap stoicism.  We have become caricatures of the caricatures created so long ago by a pretentious Californian, but the current state of Oklahoma need not be the enduring state of Oklahoma.  Our next generations deserve better than fatalistic surrender to the self-fulfilling prophecies of a boom-bust economy.  We are not bound to the past; rather, we choose to cling to that which we have known – the way of the Joads – motivated by a misguided fealty to suffering as a rite of passage.   Our challenges may be unprecedented, as some have suggested, but I cannot imagine them worse than the challenges overcome by the generations before us.

Oklahomans are by nature independent, self-reliant, and more than a little stubborn.  When things get tough enough, our Wrath kicks in, and we either deal with it or we quietly move on.  Oklahoma educators are cut from the same burlap.  Your classroom teachers and school support professionals have endured a lot in recent years and will continue to endure . . . until one day they won’t.  When they cannot take anymore without sacrificing their dignity, they will quietly move on to something else or somewhere else.  Oklahoma teachers are following in the Joads’ dusty footsteps.  As intimately as they love this state, other promised lands beckon.  As quietly as Ms. Joad and Mr. Joad plied their trades in our Oklahoma schools, they have been quietly leaving.  And just like Steinbeck’s Okies, the Sooner State is as indifferent to their absence as it was their presence.

If you get a chance any time soon, pick up a copy of The Grapes of Wrath, or catch the movie.  It’s worth the popcorn.  For another option, just visit your local public school to see a modern version unfolding right before your eyes. Today’s Joads, however, are neither destitute nor uneducated.  They have options and will reluctantly go where leaders acknowledge their value and loyalty.  None of us educators are naïve, this is not a problem which can be solved overnight, but neither did it evolve overnight.  Past Oklahomans may have endured the Dust Bowl, but they spent that time addressing the causes so their children would never suffer such calamity again.  Our state suffered from the mass exodus of Okies during The Great Depression, but in the end, we will suffer much more from the current Okie exodus.  Oklahoma educators are choosing to follow the Joads because Oklahomans can give up a lot, but they will never give up their dignity.  And unfortunately, our school professionals are losing hope that our state leaders will abandon the past in order to meet the needs of the next generation.

I originally wrote this article in 2017, shortly before Oklahoma teachers walked out because they felt unvalued, but now in 2022 they feel vilified. Whereas the grapes of wrath in Oklahoma teachers’ souls were once “growing heavy for the vintage,” they have now simply withered on the vine because a profession emptied of dignity quickly becomes an empty profession.

Tom Deighan is superintendent of Duncan Public Schools. You may email him at  deighantom@gmail.com and read past articles at www.mostlyeducational.com

Burp Detectors and Voucher Funds 

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On March 7th, 2022 at approximately 7:23 P.M., during a public board meeting at an undisclosed public school district in Oklahoma, a board member burped very discreetly. No one in attendance noticed, but within seconds, a series of analog reels began whirring in an unmarked basement office in the Oklahoma State Department of Education.  Moments later, a thin sliver of paper emerges. “Broccoli, she had broccoli for lunch,” a federal agent announces. “Log it and document a trace of wasabi. ” Another tiny slip of paper emerges, and he hits a large red button.  “Red alert. We got curry.” Warning lights strobe. “Repeat, curry in section four! This is not a drill.”

Public school board members, students, parents, and staff know that virtually every aspect of their school day is an open record, subject to public accountability, scrutiny, and documentation. And while we hope that burp-detectors are just a myth, no one really knows who reviews all this “data.” We only know it’s on a shelf somewhere, ready when needed. For the record, I also had broccoli last night, seasoned with Ms. Dash. (I respect her too much to call her Mrs. Dash.) I will file the correct forms after Spring Break.

During this session of the legislature, the issue of school choice and vouchers have been center stage, and a very curious thing seems to be happening.  Oklahomans are starting to ask if the burp-detectors currently plaguing public schools will follow the voucher funds. Oklahomans are very self-reliant, and we passionately support personal freedom, but we also know how to pinch a penny. We don’t oppose vouchers; we just want to know where the burp-detectors will go in these private schools. It appears that as much as Okies like school choice, they also want to know where their hard-earned tax dollars are going.

No one claims our current system is perfect.  Parents, educators, and students have been systematically alienated in recent years by being forced to choose between either Marxism or Crony Capitalism.  These are false choices, for true school choice does not begin with far-away, out-of-state interests telling us Okies how to run our schools. Local Oklahoma educators are not radicals committed to usurping parental rights, and local Oklahoma parents do not wish to burn down their local schools.  True choice begins at the local level by truly re-empowering local educators and parents.

I have never met a single private or homeschool proponent who wants the government burp-detectors. Likewise, I don’t know any public education parent comfortable with the government monitoring their kids’ cabbage levels.  Consequently, the issue of vouchers has become much more difficult as Okies have begun asking questions about accountability and oversight of “voucher” funds. People can agree or disagree with how public schools spend money, but anyone can review every single penny. Will the same public rules apply to vouchers?

In recent weeks, it appears that what has been good for roasting the public goose is problematic for the private gander. Everyone knows if public schools are serving curry, wasabi, or Ms. Dash, so the same transparency should apply to the voucher goose. I have no clue how to season a goose, but Okies want to know the recipe if their tax dollars are being used. This is not as political as it is practical. Oklahomans wish to avoid another epic scandal with school funds.  Public Money, Public Rules seems to be a reasonable solution for Okies on both sides of the issue. If the burp-detectors are not good enough for voucher funds, maybe we should reconsider them in your local schools. Unfortunately, we all know where this is heading in the future . . . Dateline: August 23, 2025.  Principal Smith sits in his new government-issued chair. Within seconds, a series of computers begin whirring in unmarked basement offices in Washington D.C. . . .

Please pray for wisdom among our state leaders on this difficult issue. Pray for a sense of humor, and above all, please pray for the safety of all Oklahoma schools this Second Sunday of the Month.

Tom Deighan is superintendent of Duncan Public Schools. You may email him at  deighantom@gmail.com and read past articles at www.mostlyeducational.com

A Few Voucher Questions

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Yes, I am a public school superintendent, but I have never opposed school choice, be it charters or vouchers. I firmly believe locally controlled public schools – schools truly in the hands of parents and local educators – can compete with any other structure, no matter how epic. As our state barrels toward vouchers, however, I wonder if we have learned from the epic nightmare that allowed millions of Oklahoma tax dollars to be secreted away by an online virtual charter school. If that stuff happened in your local school, it would be an open-and-shut case. 

I do not fear school choice, because frankly, the traditional educational establishment has alienated ourselves from parents and educators at the local level in recent years.  People wonder why educators do not show up at the polls, and I suspect it is because we have allowed radical national voices to shape our message in Oklahoma. Oklahoma parents and educators are not radicals. In such an environment, I cannot dismiss parents’ legitimate concerns and demands for more options. 

Unfortunately, the radical alternative paints all public schools as evil places. And likewise, few local parents see their community schools as evil (it’s those other schools), and they do not wish to see their local funds disappear into some epic sinkhole.  Local parents and educators want the same thing: Safe, Caring, Healthy, Open, Orderly Learning Spaces where kids can learn (S.C.H.O.O.L.S.).  As long as we continue to allow Marxists or Crony Capitalists to sanction our options, however, your local community schools will continue to be either overregulated and bureaucratized or systematically dismantled and sold to the highest bidders. I don’t believe this is the school choice parents envision, either.

Hopefully, our state’s epic journey has taught us that rules for the politically connected and powerful, on either side of the aisle, should be the same.  If that is the case, public schools can compete with anyone. That’s why Public Money, Public Rules must apply to vouchers. This cuts both ways. If the rules are good enough for public schools, they should be good enough for voucher funds poured into private and for-profit schools. Conversely, if the rules are not reasonable for private or for-profit schools, they should not be applied to public schools. I have never encountered a single educator who opposes this logic, for the current rules are killing neighborhood schools.  Likewise, I have never encountered a single private school educator willing to deal with all our rules, tons of cash notwithstanding.

I realize that there is nothing more dangerous than asking questions nowadays, but Oklahomans might consider some as we move forward on vouchers. Will they report four, five, and six-year graduation cohort rates?  Will they be penalized for drop-outs, even if they move to other states?  Must their teachers and principals suffocate under the obsolete, time-wasting TLE Evaluation system?  Will the salaries of ALL staff be reported publicly?  Will their students take all of the irrelevant, state-mandated, federally-driven, Common-Core Friendly standardized tests?  Will they pick-and-choose which kids they enroll?  Will they receive A-F scores? If voucher students don’t “fit,” will these “other kids” be sent packing to their home school district? (As it currently happens.)  Will they return the remaining funds to the home school? (This currently does not happen.) Will they pay their teachers according to the minimum salary? Who will track and ensure the money has been spent appropriately?  How do we avoid thousands of tiny little scandals that could easily create an even more epic disaster for Oklahoma? 

Here’s a suggestion: let’s just pattern the new voucher system after the medical marijuana laws. Let’s invite out-of-state or foreign bad actors to milk the state for all its worth and damage rural communities. When it becomes a political liability, we can courageously and slowly fix those laws to protect Oklahomans.  We could even throw some drug money at the schools (for the kids!). Wait a minute, this all sounds strangely familiar. Perhaps, the real question: Is this some sort of epic template?

Tom Deighan is superintendent of Duncan Public Schools. You may email him at  deighantom@gmail.com and read past articles at www.mostlyeducational.com

Swimming in the Piranha Fishbowl

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Historically, certain professions accepted the reality of living in a “fish bowl.”  Politicians, pastors/ministers, school leaders, and city leaders all signed up for this in some measure.  People in private-sector leadership understand the fishbowl, too, due to social media, as do teachers, law enforcement, and healthcare workers. Swimming in the fishbowl is not just for high-profile leaders anymore.  Nowadays, anyone can find themselves in the public fishbowl, but in the COVID Era, the fishbowl is now full of piranhas. And if you or someone you love has ever been piranha’d, you need no definition.  Find a leader in a fishbowl, add piranhas.  

Many of us signed up for life in the fishbowl, but in the social media age, anyone can unexpectedly take a swim.  No matter who you are or how you found your fishbowl, no one is truly ready for it.  The stress on your family, relationships, and health can be overwhelming under normal circumstances, but add a few piranhas, and life in the fishbowl has become a blood sport. Without warning and without cause, anyone (literally anyone) can be attacked with a thousand tiny bites while the public watches on.

Consequently, joyful jobs like coaching or volunteer positions like school board and city council are rapidly becoming less joyful. Modern technology has devolved into something medieval. Decent people are now publicly piranha’d simply for having a different perspective, a different philosophy, or a deeply held conviction. People are demonized simply because of their profession, titles or labels.  A snap of the jaws, a little blood in the water, and a feeding frenzy. 

When we interject national political vitriol into our homes, churches, schools, and communities, people become caricatures and symbols.  Symbols become targets. Ideas become weaponized, and decent people become dehumanized.  Consequently, piranhas are tossed into our schools and churches and neighborhoods. Before we allow anyone else to be piranah’d, we must remember that these are real people with families, jobs, and dreams.  They are our neighbors. Our doctors and nurses. Our pastors and principals.  

Do people’s titles, positions, or political parties make them more or less human?  Do we really believe local board members and city council members are evil?  Your local teachers are radicals?  Healthcare workers are trying to hurt people? Parents are terrorists? Do we really believe this about each other? 

We may never see our statewide or national discourse return to civility, but at the local levels, we can restore decency by recognizing each other as people, not as symbols. Your local “fishbowl” leaders are often simply volunteers; they do not deserve to be demonized.  People working in the fishbowl do not always deserve praise, but they don’t deserve to be constantly piranha’d, either. 

Our children are watching, and how we treat each other as adults teaches them volumes about our world.  Our little Mayberry can either nullify or affirm the world’s ugliness. We can model true tolerance – accepting people even when we do not agree with them – or they can see a world full of bloody fishbowls, where our online profiles or likes determine our worth as people. 

National civility will never be restored until we restore it locally, in our own communities, our own churches, and our own neighborhoods.  We must model it for our children, whether online or in person, and maybe what starts locally could spread statewide and infect our whole nation.  Make no mistake, however, it starts in our own fishbowls, and it starts with us. Enough of us have the scars, so we know what to look for. Let’s no longer permit colleagues and neighbors to be piranha’d. Sure, it may still happen in faraway places, but not in our local fishbowls. Not in our Mayberries.    

Tom Deighan is superintendent of Duncan Public Schools. You may email him at  deighantom@gmail.com and read past articles at www.mostlyeducational.com

Bystanders and Upstanders at the Seat of Scorn

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Once upon a time, a powerful ruler publicly humiliated a simple woman.  He invited her as a guest of honor to an annual celebration, but instead of honoring her, the ruler heaped ire and abuse upon her, attacking her character, honor, and integrity. She helplessly endured it in silence while her friends and colleagues silently watched. No one spoke up or even stood beside her. Her seat of honor at a celebration was instead a seat of scorn.

Those same friends and colleagues privately came to her afterwards and affirmed their love and support for her.  The ruler also visited the woman and apologized very sincerely for his hurtful and unfair behavior and invited her to another celebration. She was not attacked this time, but the previous injustice was ignored, and she left more wounded than ever, because private praise rarely heals public wounds, and neither do secret apologies. Such a broken heart simply festers.

I share this little parable because I am often asked how people can affirm support for their local educators, and I believe it is how we choose to respond when someone sits defenseless in the seat of scorn. Like the simple woman in our parable, local educators often sit alone and humiliated in the public eye, but this is not just happening to school staff. Police officers and healthcare workers have been targeted mercilessly, and likewise, volunteer elected officials like school board members and city council members. Still yet, the seat of scorn is not limited to these leaders or professions. 

Ask the men and women at the drive-thru windows and convenience store counters how often they are cussed or insulted lately.  Ask your bus drivers, your cooks, your custodians, or your school secretaries how people often treat them.  Ask the tellers at the bank, your servers, your pastors.  Ask your friends and family, and ask the person in the mirror, for you probably have felt it, too. Yes, local educators currently feel isolated and humiliated at the seat of scorn, but they are not alone in regard to feeling so alone.

Such treatment is often face-to-face, but nowadays, anyone can be abused publicly by petty tyrants on social media.  Simple folks retreat to social media for a celebration with friends and family, but they quickly find themselves sitting ducks in the virtual seat of scorn. Despite dozens and dozens of “friends” looking on, people rarely stand beside them publicly. An avalanche of support may pour in privately, but private praise and secret apologies never heal public wounds; they just make it worse.

I am often asked what our local educators need, and it is the same thing everyone else needs right now: someone . . . anyone . . . brave enough to stand beside them at the seat of scorn.  Whether online in social media or in line at the store, people should not suffer alone when someone browbeats them for the higher cost of a fountain drink or for simply being a healthcare provider, police officer, or educator. We should never return bad behavior with worse behavior, but we can always walk across the room and stand beside them, so they know they are not alone. I wonder how many times I have personally been guilty of being a bystander.

When schoolkids receive anti-bully training, they learn that being a bystander simply fuels the bad behavior.  As a result, children learn to be upstanders.  Simply standing up with the person often neutralizes the bully, and the person is no longer alone.  Instead of silently watching when someone is humiliated in the seat of scorn, we should be like our children. We should stand beside them, whether online or in person, because private praise and secret apologies afterwards never help.  We all know the hot seat of scorn, so let’s be upstanders rather than bystanders when it happens in our communities. Please pray for restored civility in our communities, the courage to stand with each other, and above all, the safety of our schools this Second Sunday of the Month. 

Tom Deighan is superintendent of Duncan Public Schools. You may email him at  deighantom@gmail.com and read past articles at www.mostlyeducational.com