The doorbell rang shortly after sunrise. Barely awake, I scurried to the door, but no one there . . . just a faint burning smell that I recognized a split second too late. Pop! Pop! Pop!  And so it started, my annual fireworks battle with my lifelong friend and childhood hero, Toby Dawn McIntyre. He loves Independence Day, and each year, he starts his surprise attacks with a bang.  

Toby has booby-trapped doors, trash cans, and even my sock drawer.  Roman candles in the grill . . . whistling chasers tossed from moving cars . . . and, somehow, underwater fireworks.  No place is safe. Once he tethered a fishing line to my back porch and hid in my neighbors’ tree as he ziplined explosive after explosive to our peaceful cookout. When our neighbors let their dogs out, however, Toby was stuck, and we had great fun with our garden hoses. Don’t worry, no one ever gets hurt except Toby Dawn.  “Eyebrows grow back, Tommy Boy!”

As I celebrate Independence Day, however, I worry about the political fireworks ahead this fall. Predictably, new and terrifying strains of COVID are surfacing, but this year it is exacerbated by an incredibly divisive political season.  The familiar mask-or-no-mask battleline is already forming, and if history repeats itself, we can expect renewed calls for schools to close sometime later this month. (Just a hundred weeks or so to flatten the curve.) I am not sure if this slow fuse leads to a lady finger or an M-80, but if history repeats itself, the start of school will be the opening salvo. For the kids! 

The topic of education has never been more relevant or more divisive. Parents are being told to put on their Gotham City Shades, assured that everything bad they hear about in faraway big cities is also happening in their evil neighborhood schools.  Educators are being told to irrationally resist any changes in public schools, because of course, all public schools are perfect (or would be if we had more funding.) 

Meanwhile, rational parents and educators know better, despite the dire warnings of the Evil Public Schools or the Pollyanna Public Schools crowds. The radical one-percent of extremists, from both sides, continue to set just about everything on fire.  “I warned you about those Flaming Pennies;” Toby reminds me often, “they will burn the world down this election season to make a point!”  Common sense parents and educators, however, are starting to recognize much of these arguments as duds, because neither message describes many of our schools.  

I recently received fifteen fliers about candidates in one day, but none of them were sent by the candidates. In a year of unprecedented dark money impacting state and local elections, I have been fearful about the fireworks to come, but Oklahoman’s have impressed me.  We are stubborn, and we do not like faraway activists telling us how to vote.  A few high-profile dark money campaigns were effective, but overall, Oklahomans have made up their own darned mind.  Nothing makes an Okie bow-up faster than someone from Gotham City telling us how to vote, even if we agree.  

Yes, the fireworks will begin full force with the start of school, leading to a grand finale in November, but maybe, this season will reveal a brighter and more hopeful brand of fireworks: Oklahomans lighting up all this dark money with common sense and thoughtful determination. Oklahomans are too smart to vote locally while wearing their Cable News Goggles or Gotham City Shades. 

According to Toby Dawn McIntyre, “Anyone can blow stuff up, but only a skillful person can use fireworks to bring people together.”  Of course, this wisdom comes from a large red-haired man with only one eyebrow.  Nevertheless, as Fourth of July fireworks fade away, get ready for the real light show as school starts. All this dark money will surely make the fireworks brighter and more dazzling. Lets’ just hope all these flaming pennies don’t light some really destructive fires in our state, for they won’t be around to clean up the mess.     

Tom Deighan is author of Shared Ideals in Public Schools. You may email him at and read past articles at