My plan was to visit with my State House Representative, Jason Dunnington (D) of District 88, in Oklahoma City on Feb 7, 2017 during the 2017 National Association for Social Worker’s (NASW) Heartland Oklahoma Legislature Day.
What I Hoped to Achieve
I wanted to speak to Representative Dunnington about school choice policy in Oklahoma City and its impact on local schools and marginalized communities. Since Dunnington lives in my community, and like me, is also a sociologist, I felt he would have an interesting perspective on education policy, and what we might do help the children in Oklahoma City Public Schools. Furthermore, Dunnington has two children of his own who currently attend the same elementary school my children also attended a few years ago. This elementary schools is located within Census Tract 1009, which I have been assessing for the General Practice Community Intervention assignment.
The issue with this community, as well as every community in Oklahoma City, is that OKCPS district continues to suffer from the impacts of institutional racism created by segregation, which was only reinforced by white flight after the Supreme Court order in 1972, which mandated that OKCPS district implement cross-district busing policies to desegregate their schools. The OKCPS district lost over half its students (36,000) between 1971 and 1985. In order to attract middle class families back to the district, OKCPS implemented school choice policies. Research seems to suggest that school choice policies reinforce, rather than alleviate, institutional racism, because the process that choice schools use tend to select middle-class white and Asian children who have demonstrated academic achievement. The downside beyond the systemic marginalization of minorities, is that school choice policies weaken the city as a whole, because middle class fa miles don’t tend to live and invest themselves in these communities. It again fails to solve the white flight problem.
There was already a brutally long line of social workers and students waiting outside Representative Dunnington’s office when I arrived. Let me preface this– I am not generally a person who waits in lines. Long lines are to be avoided at all costs, because nothing good comes from a long line. Long lines are bad juju. The people waiting in the line are not at their best due to their wait, and the people who are seeing those waiting are often beleaguered by the demands placed upon them. I usually elect to come back at a more convenient time. However, on this occasion, I made a rare exception and waited to be speak to Dunnington.
After 45 minutes of patiently waiting (I truly gave it my all) it was finally my turn to step into my State House Representative’s office, where I was very surprised to learn that he was not in the office after all. His legislative assistant told me that he had gone down to vote an hour before I arrived. Although we believed we were waiting to see Dunnington, we had actually been standing in a long line to speak with his very nice assistant, who helpfully gave us his business card, and shared some places he might be tracked down in the future.
As I mentioned in a previous post, I really got a lot out of my visit at the Oklahoma State Capitol. With respect to visiting your own State Representative, however, I learned that it is good to know a great deal of background about the person behind the office prior to your visit. What are the issues they are passionate about? What is their educational background? What are their values? I have recently learned through Twitter that Dunnington is very passionate about local education, and although that does not necessarily mean he is against school choice policy, it does appear that he at least cares about the sad state of education for our children, which is promising. I will have to learn more about views regarding vouchers and school choice — issues that are being heavily promoted by many in government. Researching your legislator is essential to having a productive dialogue. Since completing the assessment and intervention of Census Tract 1009, I am now much more prepared to have that conversation with Dunnington than I was in February.
The assistant to the State Legislator is a gatekeeper. I was nice to Meagan Hansen, Dunnington’s legislative assistant, which was very easy to do because she was a lovely person, but if I had been cross with her who knows where the conversation would have led? Hansen gave me very helpful information and encouraged me to write my legislator an email, or have a beer/coffee with him at Capitol Crawl.