Dear Oklahomans Who Want to Leave…

By David Postic

Young Oklahomans Want to Leave


I love Oklahoma.

There is something about this state that holds a special place in my heart, aside from it being my home. Anyone who has looked out across the endless plains knows what I mean. The flatness of it all is intoxicating. But even more than the geography, it is the people that makes this place special. Oklahomans themselves are incredibly caring individuals, true salt-of-the-earth, born and bred on an ethic of hard work and on a faith so pervasive that it guides every part of their lives. Ours is a state with an enormous potential for diversity, prosperity, and opportunity.

But we have not lived up to that potential.

The actions of some of our governmental officers and representatives have shown that we, as a state, have either misplaced or misprioritized our values. And it’s something we need to fix. Rather than open our arms to diversity and tolerance, we have passed laws to discourage it. Rather than create opportunity, we have stolen it away from the most vulnerable in our society. Rather than look to the future — both in terms of our budget and our children — we have chosen instead to repeat the mistakes of the past. Whatever a properly functioning government looks like, this isn’t it.

This goes beyond the (embarrassing, in my opinion) events of the past few days (e.g., the continued assault on transgender rights, the admittedly unconstitutional abortion bill, the dishonest and inhumane decisions of the governor’s office vis-à-vis execution drugs). It goes to the heart of who we are as a people. Because although it is our elected officials who have caused these events to pass, it is we who elected them and continue to re-elect them. (I note here that there are more than a few courageous officials who have taken a stand against the rising tide of hatred and irresponsible government, and as a result they are not the subject of this complaint.) That’s on us. Authority without accountability breeds tyranny, and that is precisely what we are beginning to see.

But it is not only the particular representatives of our government that we need to hold accountable; we must hold accountable our system of government itself. Our system is based on politics and politicking, and as entertaining as it is to watch (and as necessary as it may be to some extent), it has become destructive. Politics — in my ideal vision of the concept — is simply a dream of (and a means to) establishing good government. At its heart, and what it most seeks to promote, is the body politic: the people. That is the basis of our democratic republic.

Today, however, politics has become divorced from the good of the people. Politics is no longer concerned with the body politic; it no longer cares. Not about you, not about me. It no longer cares about anything except winning and legacy and airtime and money. I am even convinced that politics writ large does not actually care about making the world a better place. Politics is no longer a solution; it is not a cure. It is a virus that spreads and infects everything and everyone it comes into contact with. Politics is no longer synonymous with statecraft or diplomacy or improvement. It is about maneuvering and brinkmanship and ultimatums. Politics today is more about grandstanding and fearmongering and fundraising and celebritizing than fixing and building and moving forward and helping people.

Why has this “new politics” become the mainstay? How did we get here? More than a little of the blame falls on us, the people. By and large, we do not want politicians to compromise — not on gun control, abortion, immigration, climate change, the budget, or anything else. All we want is for our guy to win, our side to win. Because for some reason, we have created a binary world where there is only right and wrong, winning and losing. There is no room for shades of gray, no room for discussion. And so it is that we as a society have come to view compromise as the antithesis of winning, something we wish to avoid at all costs. The media (and we, the consumers of media) have perpetuated this culture by buying into the hateful rhetoric and by accepting at face value the “facts” we are given. We do not verify, we do not seek the truth. We do not listen to people anymore. We hear them, and we speak to them, but we do not listen to them. There is no dialogue, and consequently there is no understanding. And that is a serious problem. Because if we ever want to work out our differences, we need to listen to each other. We need to understand. We need to care.

I am of the perhaps hopelessly optimistic opinion that our differences are not so great, political or otherwise, that we cannot overcome them. I do not believe that we are forever condemned to this destructive breed of “new politics.” I believe that Oklahoma — and the nation — can do better, and it starts with us. It starts with informed, passionate, caring people taking notice of the injustices and prejudices and wrongs that exist in our society and committing themselves to doing better, and electing representatives that are committed to doing better. We cannot fall victim to apathy, that old friend of oppression. We must do something.

It is no secret that making a better future will not be easy, and I am not going to try to make it seem easier than it is. Balancing budgets and funding schools and fixing bridges and providing health care and helping the poor and reducing violence will not be easy. It will be hard. It will be very, very, very, frustratingly, miserably hard. It will require sacrifice. It will demand our money, our comfort, our passions, our pride, our attention, our differences, and our egos. It will take everything we have.

Facing these large problems, and seeing discrimination and injustice perpetrated by the very government sworn to protect the liberties of its citizens, many young Oklahomans have given up. Oklahoma is beyond repair, they say. It’s a backwards state. They are embarrassed to be from here. They no longer see a future for this state and decide instead to leave it. The politics and politicians of Oklahoma are inspiring a mass exodus of young, talented individuals. This is more than just brain drain. It is passion drainand potential drain. And it is entirely unnecessary. This state has lost many of my friends, exasperated at the seemingly fixed order of things and the insurmountable obstacles ingrained into the very fabric of our government. I try to convince them to stay, to help fix things, but the politics and prejudices of Oklahoma are making my argument increasingly difficult.

But still, I must make it. Because the only hope for a brighter future in this state is a new generation of Oklahomans standing up for what is right and responsible when it comes to government. So to all young Oklahomans considering leaving this state: stay. The problems are big, but so are the possibilities. The path is not easy, but the reward will be worthwhile. Stay, and we can fight to bring this state back from the brink of self-destruction. Stay, and we can find solutions, make progress, and create a better Oklahoma, a better home for us all. We cannot do it without you. The people of this state deserve better. They don’t deserve irresponsible government and bigotry and the kind of politics that doesn’t care about them. Stay, and help give the people of this state the government they deserve. Isn’t that worth something?

Oklahoma is a special place, but it is in dire need of help. Its people are in dire need of help. So what can you do? You can stay. You can care about Oklahomans and about what happens to them. It will take time and patience — ungodly amounts of patience — but a better future is possible. We can make it happen if we work together.

Oklahoma is my home, and I plan to stay here and make it better. I hope you do too.

—–

See this original post on Medium.

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A (Reasonably) Modest Proposal

With graduations happening left and right, I find myself having a lot of emotions.

On one hand, I feel old and sad and depressed that I’m still in school. I mean, I have two different diplomas. Why am I not a grown up yet? (Note: this is why.) On the other hand I feel thankful that I am no longer a pretentious, self-assured teenager. For example, I recently saw a kid post on Facebook, “I am SO ready to graduate!” That made me want to: 1) cry; 2) vomit; 3) murder him; and 4) quit Facebook. Because, seriously, that kid has no idea.

But then on yet another (third?) hand, I feel angry. And you should feel angry, too. Therefore, in the cathartic spirit of mutual anger, let us (only partially) put aside hard data for the next few paragraphs and focus a little on feelings.

The heartbreak of being graduated

Let’s start with why I’m angry: Education is suffering in Oklahoma. Suffering like Dallas Cowboys fans in the 4th quarter. It’s not suffering from a lack of attention, as evidenced by the myriad of statuses, links, and blog posts appearing daily on my Facebook timeline. Obviously, people don’t post stuff on Facebook if they don’t care about it.

(Humorous Facebook interlude.)

Yet in spite of all this attention, education continues to suffer. Here are the highlights: Oklahoma is 44th in the U.S. in per-pupil funding. We are 42nd in percentage of college graduates. We are 43rd in “Chance for Success”–whatever that means. The list goes on. If there’s an educational ranking, my state is probably near the bottom. Even teachers and school district superintendents think things are generally suck-ish.

The problem is made worse by inexplicable cuts to K-12 funding and a state superintendent who is probably about as well liked in Oklahoma as a certain U.S. President. Blaming budget cuts and education officials is easy and—let’s face it—appropriate. But that doesn’t answer the question everyone keeps asking: Why isn’t this problem being solved?

I think the answer is relatively simple: Because no one is solving it. Allow me to explain this arguably-sardonic observation with a theory I just made up–the General Theory of Problem Solving.

The Theory claims that there are three types of people necessary to solve any problem: (1) those who know about the solutions; (2) those who care about solving the problem; and (3) those who can actually do something about it. In order to fix our education problem, for instance, we need those three groups to overlap.

My General Theory of Problem Solving, beautifully represented by this Paint-generated Venn diagram.
My General Theory of Problem Solving, beautifully represented by this Paint-generated Venn diagram.

Now here’s the kicker: those groups are not all equal in composition or authority. So we end up with one group of people (parents and teachers, mostly) caring about the problem; another group knowing about the solution (social scientists and some educators); and another group actually able to implement the solution (legislators). But very few people have all three qualities. Recognizing that the only people who can take action in this case–legislators–are also the smallest group of the three, we find our bottleneck.

Therefore, it seems that the perfect solution to our educational woes is to teach our legislators about education policy so they will recognize the errors of their ways. Problem solved!

Rich men laughing

Now that we’ve had a good laugh, let’s get real: we have about as good a chance of persuading our legislators as this guy does of ever having a good hair day. Perhaps we should take a step back… We can’t influence the legislators of today, but maybe we can influence the legislators of tomorrow. Ride this crazy train with me for a moment.

We teach our students history, even well into college. We teach them math and science (HuffingtonPost says we suck and those too, by the way) and a host of other classes because we deem those “important” for the common citizen to know. But why don’t we teach them about education? Education impacts politics, socioeconomics, even life expectancy. It dramatically affects everyone and everything. Education is basically the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show of subjects. (Note: if you get anything out of this post, I want it to be that last sentence.)

(While we’re on this topic, I would argue that biology is the geography bee of subjects [we’re going meta here], while trigonometry is the amateur competitive eating of subjects. This probably warrants a whole separate blog post.)

So here’s my ideal solution: We require all students to take education classes. Simple as that. Then some day, those students will lose a bit of their sanity and decide to run for office (see: Rob Ford). Now imagine how much differently our legislators would value education if they had studied it, if they knew about it, if they could be intellectual and passionate about it.

There are a variety of roadblocks and pitfalls that come with this solution, of course, but I’m going to ignore them for the sake of brevity. Also it’s my article, so I can do what I want. Bottom line: If 100% of our students learn about education, then 100% of our future lawmakers will know about education. That sounds like a surefire plan I can get behind.

Mission Accomplished

Even though I can rest easier knowing that my groundbreaking Theory has solved a complex social problem, I’m still upset about graduation season. For one thing, it means kids are going to be out of school for three months, galavanting around town and annoying everyone (i.e., me) with their loud music and sideways hats. But more importantly, high schoolers are the epitome of unbridled optimism, and as a college graduate I am trained to be deeply suspicious of that sort of person.

But–and this is a big but–maybe they’re onto something. Maybe we can allow ourselves to be optimistic about the future, but only if we do something about it right now. I, for one, am going to do my part and learn: About the problems, about the solutions, and about what I can do to fix things. I think that’s at least a good place to start. And it’s a good way to keep from crying while listening to Vitamin C’s “Graduation” on repeat.

Youths Gif