It Is Easier to Tear Down than to Build Up

Oklahoma State Capitol
“Main Entrance Closed” for years now. Closed in other ways, too?

It is far easier to tear something down than it is to build and maintain it in the first place. It’s true with physical things and it’s true of government, too.

Wrecking Public Services the Oklahoma Way

Earlier generations of Oklahoma politicians and voters worked hard and paid taxes to provide schools, parks, roads, bridges, and in education, the scaffolding for developing an educated citizen of a democracy.

But over the last ten years, a small executive, wealthy class of people have snookered conservative Oklahomans into believing that they needed to vote for politicians who would tear down the parts of the government that were put in place for the benefit of all residents of the state no matter what their economic or cultural status.

And in the last four years the tearing-down has gone on at a fast pace because it is easier to tear them down than it ever was to build them up in the first place. What we see is a particular kind of contempt for what earlier generations in this state have built up.

Under the leadership of Republican Governor Mary Fallin, and with a legislature heavily dominated by the Republican Party, we have seen

  • state parks being sold off,
  • laws passed that would take autonomy away from municipalities who might choose to establish their own minimum wage,
  • roads being allowed to crumble along with bridges,
  • Barriers blocking the South steps into the Capitol Bldg. Supposedly for "safety", some see this as symbolic
    Barriers blocking the South steps into the Capitol Bldg. Supposedly for “safety”, some see this as symbolic

    the Capitol Building, the main symbol of rule of the people, being allowed to crumble and literally stink with sewer water,

  • taxes being lowered for a wealthy minority of Republican campaign donors as other taxes and fees that all of us pay are increased,
  • worker protections that have been in place and worked well for years being eliminated,
  • public school administrators, teachers, and staff all being openly attacked by the Legislature, Governor, and remarkably, the Supt. of Public Instruction herself,
  • promotion of ideas that would give away to private interests land and public school buildings paid for by earlier generations of taxpayers,
  • denying public health care dollars to the poor to serve a national right-wing agenda to destroy a health care system for all that millions have dreamed of for generations.

Clearly, the party that says that it is in favor of smaller government only wants government to be small about things their wealthy donors don’t like such as protection of workers, public spaces, and services that support all citizens and not just a small privileged class.

But, when it comes to things that they want to control and destroy, they end up exercising the biggest of big-brother government.

Hodge Buidling, SDE Headquarters
Hodge building, SDE Headquarters
Burnt-Out State Department of Education

Having been a teacher for close to twenty years now, and a public high school teacher for the first 16 of that, it is a sorry sight to see the wreckage that a very cynical Janet Barresi, Superintendent of Public Instruction, has done in the name of “reform” and “improvement”. Instead her administration has been about destruction.

The agenda has been quite easy for her: destroy whatever has been going on. Get it out of the way. Then turn the state’s education responsibility over to private interests so that they can profit from tax dollars that they don’t have to account for and leave the poorest and neediest children behind.

After years of huge efforts to make public education stronger in Oklahoma and to fund new efforts and research that would improve the education process for new generations of our children, the State Department of Education has become a burnt-out, neglected, and mismanaged skeleton of what it once was.

It hurts for any of us who knew and respected competent staff being fired for mere suspicion of not being loyal to Barresi. It hurts to see how empty and lifeless the SDE building seems now compared to only a few years ago when the entire place was buzzing with meaningful activity of creating and training for new models of education for decades to come.

Much has been invested in the past in developing a deep and broad reservoir of knowledge and expertise for educating Oklahoma’s children. And honoring those who have worked so hard was important to professional educators, even though it obviously wasn’t to one particular dentist.

A typical scene at the current SDE, this is where the OEHF portraits used to be. Credit: Rob Miller
A typical scene at the current SDE, this is where the OEHF portraits used to be. Credit: Rob Miller

And so we have seen two sorrowful posts from well-known education bloggers Rob Miller and Claudia Swisher in the last week about how a dignified photo display of Oklahoma Education Hall of Fame inductees has been moved from a prominent place at the SDE to a side hallway behind doors that keep the public away. This flap isn’t about the items themselves, it’s about the symbolism of disrespect, even contempt, that has been shown for the true depth of contribution to education that has been made in this state.

Simply put, this seemingly small act is not so small because it matches up with the overall contempt that our state superintendent has shown to any and all education professionals in the state.

Take Action

This is not just a Janet Barresi problem. It’s deeper and far more stubborn. Barresi was a part of a package that was delivered in 2010 that promised to wreck state government in the name of austerity and some sort of  fuzzy anti-government gobbeldy-gook.

That “package” includes Governor Mary Fallin, Lt. Governor Todd Lamb, Attorney General Scott Pruitt, Supt. Janet Barresi, and at least 3/4 of the Legislature. They all ran and won as a package, and they should all be opposed and voted out as a package.

It’s the only way that government in Oklahoma will be for and by the people once again.

Photo credits:,,
Photo credits:,,