A few weeks ago Drew and I had a chance to visit our grandchildren’s school in Arlington, Virginia. Andrew’s teacher had invited Drew to talk about his efforts to protect the rivers and lakes of Oklahoma from pollution, because the class was studying the environment and how they can help take care of it.
Our grandchildren, Andrew and Catherine, are twins. They attend a typical public school, full of colorful art in the entry and hallways. Every child in the school has colored and cut out a drawing of his or herself, and they were all displayed on the walls of the lobby. The title of the display is “Better Together.” Beautiful.
The third-grade classrooms are in temporary buildings behind the main building. The day that Drew visited, the sun was shining as the kids came in and sat down. They pulled out books to read until class started. Then Catherine’s class came in to listen. They sat on the floor as Andrew introduced his granddad. It was a proud moment.
Drew told them about how chicken poop (Yes, he said the word!) from giant poultry houses is spread on pasture land and rain washes the waste into the rivers and streams of eastern Oklahoma. He then explained how the nitrogen in the poop causes algae to grow in the water, using up the oxygen and making it hard for fish to stay alive. He showed them pictures of the beautiful clear Illinois River and also the dirty brown water with algae growing. He asked them questions about the Table of Elements and wrote symbols on the board. He then explained that when he was Attorney General he filed a lawsuit against the big poultry companies, which were causing the pollution, to protect his state’s rivers, citizens’ health and the lives of the fish.
The kids were attentive and had lots of questions. I loved their interest and earnest concern. The best question was “What is important for us to remember about what you’ve said?” Granddaddy Drew had to sum it up and was happy to do so.
Back here in Oklahoma, we have our own questions about what is important for us to remember and what we need to focus on going into this year’s elections. Many of our questions center on education and our collective future. Oklahoma families are justified in their worries. With the teacher shortage and prevalence of four-day school weeks, many worry whether their kids are getting the classes and instructional time they need to succeed. If more rural schools are consolidated, many worry about the time and distance their kids will have to travel to school each day. And it seems everyone is anxious about whether an Oklahoma high school diploma will be good enough for their kids to be ready for college or work after high school and whether eight years of budget cuts and tuition hikes have priced college out of the budgets of middle-class families.
So “what is important for us to remember” about all of this, you might ask? It’s that change is absolutely vital to our future. Oklahoma can and must do better. Just as Drew showed when he took on big poultry, we need leaders with political courage at our state capitol. And we must really scrutinize the motivations of anyone seeking elective office who tries to convince us the status quo is OK and we are better off now than we were eight years ago.
We aren’t. And on Election Day, it’s important for us to remember that.