The race for Oklahoma Superintendent of Public Instruction took a negative turn about two weeks ago after having been a pretty classy campaign until then.
Both candidates, John Cox from the Democratic Party, and Joy Hofmeister from the Republican Party, have been traveling the state holding debates just about anywhere that people would invite them in. It is a rare person in the state who can say that they wanted to hear them debate in person without getting the chance to.
The ugly begins
But this campaign became ugly for the first time when two Republican Oklahoma legislators decided to jump in and “help” Hofmeister, the Republican candidate.
Rep. Todd Thomsen, R-Ada, and Rep. Lee Denney, R-Cushing, criticized Cox for what they thought was a lavish salary with his serving such a seemingly small school district. They questioned just exactly why he was getting paid that much. It was later pointed out that of the 539 superintendents in Oklahoma, 428 were paid MORE than Cox. Oops.
The Chair of the Oklahoma Republican Party raised a number of questions that centered around the alleged mistakes and failings of filing reports with Cherokee County and not having the right information on their web site.
So, then, Hofmeister could have distanced herself from this; but, she didn’t. Instead her tone and approach shifted about that same time to attacking Cox on these issues during the debates.
Attack of the blog!
The crowning blow of people trying to “help” Hofmeister came with an anonymously-written blog that criticized Cox again for his many HUGE misdeeds. And, by the appearances of this blog, the real problem was that he earned a salary that was apparently way too big for someone leading what seemed to some to be a small and insignificant district.
The site is a real gem that looks to have taken the whole of about 15 minutes to get up and running. The largest impact is from it’s out-sized header photo which is a screenshot of a street view of part of the school from a distance as seen on Google maps.
Here is my screenshot of that part of the page:
Wow! What a bad looking place. Desolate isn’t it? That Peggs School looks like just one building off in the distance. It almost looks like a barn.
The site started gaining a lot more notice as a long-time right-wing Oklahoma City blog passed that post through:
This reformatting for their own publication shows a little better the caption to the huge banner photo on the site.
Ooohh…it’s a “forelorn stretch of Hickory Road in Peggs…population 813”. Kind of makes it all seem like a scene from a Steven King movie, right?
But is it that “forelorn”, isolated and bad-off?
In real life, beyond the anonymous attack blog world, this is the real geography of Peggs Public School as it is situated in the town proper of Peggs:
And here is a closer view of the campus. Notice just how different it all looks compared to the grainy street view that we get on the attack blog:
Hmmm. Nothing “forelorn” looking about this. Oh, and the school sits at the “end” of that road because it is actually a dedicated drive into a well-organized campus.
In fact, this doesn’t look a whole lot different than most of the well-maintained small schools in Oklahoma: There are classroom and admin buildings, a gym, a baseball field, a track, and a football field inside of it.
This campus looks a whole heck of a lot better than Piedmont Public Schools did way back when I grew up there long before it became a fast-growing suburb of Oklahoma City.
So here is a photo of older elementary kids playing football in Hofmeister’s Tulsa suburb of Jenks, right?
Uh, no. This is a game in the Oklahoma Rural Elementary Schools Division III playoffs just this October. The field and facilities were so good that Peggs hosted this event.
With just a little bit of Google work, it is easy to find that there are a considerable amount of low income families in the heavily rural parts of Cherokee County where Peggs is located.
But this campus, the academic, and athletic accomplishments of this school show that it is the pride of it’s community. That’s an important role that public schools play that private investors in huge charter corporations don’t get, and want you to forget. It is also something that some misguided supporters of Joy Hofmeister want you to forget.
Poor students = substandard leadership?
The later stages of this campaign for Superintendent of Public Instruction have revealed many prejudices that we have about the poor in general and the rural lower economic classes in specific.
According to Cox, his school has a heavy concentration of Native American students. It also has a large percentage of the student body on some level of the free and reduced lunch program.
Whoever it was who built and paid for the attack blog assumed that if we were presented with a mental picture of an isolated, rundown, rural and poor school that Cox was leading, that would be enough to discredit him. It would be enough to keep at least some suburban voters from voting for him and tip the balance to Hofmeister.
There is an assumption built into this whole line of attack that anyone who is a part of teaching lower income or poor children must be substandard in some sort of way. Anyone who is poor or connected to the poor must not have anything going on or they would be teaching/leading elsewhere besides in a public school that serves the poor, right?
It is why we believe that it is OK for the wholesale private charterization of New Orleans schools that I wrote about in this post. That line of thinking justifies the state takeover and private charterization of Detroit, as I described in this post, or Newark, as I pointed out in this post.
Be careful about those attitudes toward the poor!
I have had several good conversations with Joy Hofmeister as I have with John Cox. And, I can’t believe that Hofmeister would have agreed with this particular prejudicial attack. But it does represent the prejudices of the core of her supporters in the heavily-Republican suburbs.
It is to John Cox’s credit that he has not been embarrassed or defensive about his leadership of a small, rural school that serves some poor and disadvantaged children. It is the mark of a public school leader who has been at it for a long time and loves it.
And it says much about our attitudes toward the poor. It’s time to become much more conscious of those attitudes and consider changing course. Our children in this state deserve it.