March 6, 2024

Tyger Songbird: Oklahoma’s culture wars killed Nex Benedict. They’re also why I quit teaching.

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Former teacher Tyger Songbird writes about the toxic atmosphere that some have created in Oklahoma. Songbird had been a committed, hard working special ed teacher who went the extra mile time after time.

Teaching is never an easy job in America, with teacher shortages, low wages, student misbehavior, students struggling to learn due to food insecurity, mass shootings, large class sizes, and working on average 53 hours a week.

It’s especially never easy in Oklahoma, where culture wars essentially make teaching walking on eggshells.

Oklahoma is currently ranked 49th in education. Oklahoma has seen a precipitous decline in education over the past two decades under Republican governors Mary Fallin and Kevin Stitt. In 2018, teachers across the state of Oklahoma walked out and protested for two weeks, calling for changes in funding and for more support for student needs. Teachers had made posts about textbooks that were decades old, schools running out of soap in bathrooms, school buildings with mold infestations. During the teacher walkouts, then-Gov. Mary Fallin said that teachers were like “teenagers asking for a better car” as a way to dismiss our requests.

While a pay raise was agreed to after a two-week strike, the conditions and environment surrounding teaching in Oklahoma only grew worse, particularly thanks to elected leaders like State Superintendent Ryan Walters.

Walters was hand-picked by Gov. Stitt to state superintendent, and he would later become Oklahoma’s secretary of education, despite having no experience in school administration. From the moment he was in office, Walters has gone on a crusade against everything he considers “woke” in education. In his signature car rants, he has decried everything, claiming books like The Kite Runner are “pornography” to claiming language learning programs are Chinese propaganda infiltrating public schools.

However, the biggest target for Walters has been LGBTQ+ rights, especially those of trans and nonbinary students. Walters and the state’s Republican party have introduced measure after measure restricting trans and nonbinary students’ personal freedoms.

In 2022, Oklahoma passed a measure sponsored by state Sen. David Bullard (R) that would force trans and nonbinary students to use the bathroom associated with their sex assigned at birth, fear-mongering that trans kids would prey on cisgender students in bathrooms (despite evidence showing trans kids are more likely to be the victims of assault in bathrooms).

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