Dr. Tom Deighan

This year’s Leadership Duncan class can confirm that I have lost my mind, but I blame it on COVID. Yes, I wore a Jason-esque hockey mask during my presentation, but only to illustrate where state or federal central planners could easily lead us when we rely on them for local decisions. I have watched this educational machine for a long time, and six steps appear to be constant. Since we are currently trapped in the spin cycle, let’s examine the steps:

Step one: identify a serious and generally unsolvable problem not directly related to education.

Step two: needlessly complicate all reasonable solutions through politicization, bureaucratization, and centralization.

Step three: consolidate power through contrived polarization.

Step four: mandate or regulate local school districts into helplessness.

Step five: market cookie-cutter templates hastily repackaged for administration through ordained consultancies.

Step six: before crisis fatigue creates irreversible backlash, declare the problem a local issue and shame local school districts for not being more proactive. Then, identify a serious and generally unsolvable problem and repeat the process.

On the face-covering/mask issue, we are currently somewhere between step four and five, but step six is just around the corner if the pattern holds. I just cannot predict if it will happen before or after the elections. Eventually, everything COVID related will become an annual report confirming annual training through a federally certified (and expensive) COVID trainer. Meanwhile, local school districts will inevitably do what they would have done in the beginning if left alone. This is not a commentary on the seriousness of COVID, masks, or anything else. Rather, this is an attempt to unmask the noise and confusion that trivializes serious issues like COVID and overcomplicates simple solutions like face-coverings.

As recent months have proven, the machine renders every imaginable argument defensible, often through the same authorities. On one hand, such confusion and contradiction complicates local decisions (like face-coverings). On the other hand, it unwittingly reinforces the wisdom of local control, even with complex issues like COVID. When dueling bureaucracies cancel each other out, local school boards must address the problem guided by local expertise, situations, and needs. Sometimes, it’s harder, but I am pleased to report that it generally works better. For example, we have had about 10 COVID cases result in about 200 students and staff quarantined, but we have not seen any evidence of spread at school. Yes, people are bringing COVID into the schools, but so far, COVID is not spreading during school. I am extremely sorry for people who have been quarantined, but I am also thankful that our precautions are working to protect everyone during the school day.

My hockey mask illustration was not about COVID but rather about how central planning has replaced local control for public schools. Although the U.S. Constitution cedes education to the states, and the Oklahoma Constitution defers most educational issues to local school-boards, we seem to have little local control left. Nevertheless, our founders clearly believed that the best educational solutions exist closer to the need, not in offices far, far away. I think they were right, especially since most decisions are still pushed on the schools after the machine has squeezed out as much power, profit, and political capitol possible. I may sound cynical, but there is a silver lining in this mask, because this just proves that local control is not really dead. It is merely delayed until central planners get bored and move on to something new. No matter how much the machine interferes, educational decisions cannot be dictated at the federal level, ratified at the state level, and implemented by school boards. Instead, states should set standards, school boards should set policy, and teachers can implement things at the kid-level.

Otherwise, we wrestle with needlessly complicated solutions for very practical problems. If you doubt this, central planners are already debating about how to mandate COVID-proof masks for trick-or-treaters, which means my hockey-mask is not too far-fetched. Next week, we will look at the practical implications of a community brave enough to reclaim local control of educational decisions. Meanwhile, please pray for the continued safety of our schools this Second Sunday of the Month.


Dr. Deighan is the Superintendent for Duncan schools. To contact Dr. Deighan, email to tom.deighan@duncanps.org.

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