The man elected to lead Oklahoma public schools for the next four years believes the state’s teachers all need remedial education from a conservative evangelical school in Michigan in order to teach “true history” that favors “Judeo-Christian values.”
Republican candidate Ryan Walters defeated Democratic candidate Jena Nelson in this week’s election, following the trends making Oklahoma one of the most conservative of all states in its political leadership. Walters, a former high school teacher from McAlester, had been named to the top education post by Gov. Kevin Stitt after the well-respected secretary, Joy Hoffmeister, resigned to run against Stitt in the governor’s race.
Professional educators and their related professional organizations actively opposed Walters but could not sway the general public to act on their fears that the new secretary holds extreme views that are a danger to public education in the state.
His campaign website listed endorsements from several conservative political action groups and the Oklahoma Second Amendment Association but only one education group, the Licensed Child Care Association.
KOCO-TV news in Oklahoma City reported earlier this fall that Walters had told a crowd of GOP supporters every teacher in Oklahoma needs to undergo training from Hillsdale College, a Michigan school at the forefront of a national effort to shape public schools in the manner desired by conservative evangelical parents.
“Our kids need to know about the founding. They need to know this country was founded on Judeo-Christian values.”
“What we have to have is true history taught in schools. Our kids need to know about the founding. They need to know this country was founded on Judeo-Christian values. They need to know about the Constitution. They need to be inspired by heroes like George Washington,” Walters said.
At an Oct. 25 debate with Nelson, Walters said: “We have to continue to stay vigilant as the far left has decided that they’re going to launch a war for our kids’ minds and convince our young people that they are racist. They’re going to inject this division into the classroom. They’re going to inject this hatred of the Constitution and the values this country was founded on.”
The Norman Transcript reported that Walters wants to install a “God-based history curriculum” in the state’s schools, one that will highlight the role God played in the founding of America.
“Our history is our history” and the founders believed “our rights came from God,” the papers quoted Walters as saying. “It doesn’t matter if somebody else doesn’t believe it came from God. That’s what (the founders) believed so that was their belief and their intention.”
“It doesn’t matter if somebody else doesn’t believe it came from God. That’s what (the founders) believed so that was their belief and their intention.”
The notion that America was founded as a “Christian nation” is a key ideology of Christian nationalism and is disputed by religious liberty groups and professional historians.
Yet Walters calls his view of America “history without indoctrination.”
“This is a very specific vision of Christianity that is not something most denominations share or that most Christians really share,” said Clark Frailey, executive director of Pastors for Oklahoma Kids. “It seems like a very small minority that have this vision of taking it over, but it’s being sold as if Christianity is ubiquitous, it’s all one thing. That’s not really true or we wouldn’t have 35,000 denominations out there.”
Frailey noted a concern that Walters wants to “sugarcoat history” and make it seem like nothing bad happened, like the Trail of Tears or slavery. “That’s really spooky because there’s been some pretty big atrocities that we don’t need to cover up.”
Christian nationalism also embraces the idea of manifest destiny, that it was God’s will that Europeans settle North America and take dominion over land previously populated by native peoples.
Walters has said he wants to ensure Oklahoma educators are teaching American history that is “void of left-wing indoctrination” and doesn’t teach “our children to hate our country.”
In his victory speech at a GOP Election Night watch party, Walters declared: “We believe that we’ve got to reject Joe Biden’s radical agenda right here in the state of Oklahoma. The message was sent loud and clear: In Oklahoma, we’re doing more than any other state in the country to empower parents. … Folks, Oklahoma won’t go woke.”
“Folks, Oklahoma won’t go woke.”
Walters is a proponent of taxpayer-funded school vouchers that would allow parents to use public funds for private or homeschool options for their children.
Walters holds a bachelor’s degree in history from Harding University, an Arkansas school affiliated with the Churches of Christ.
In an interview with the Daily Oklahoman, Walters said he realizes his views may be seen as controversial by many in Oklahoma, but he has a higher goal in mind: What will history say about him?
“I think it’s important to fight for the things that are right, and I think that as time goes on, history will judge folks and their decision-making and the general public will, too,” Walters said. “I’ve always been inspired by people like (Lincoln), Winston Churchill, George Washington that had to make decisions at times that, again, didn’t get 100% consensus, but what you’re going to do is you’re going to try to do the right thing, you’re going to build a coalition and try to get the right thing done.”
So far, that coalition does not include Oklahoma’s teachers.
Writing for Free Press OKC, George Lang warned: “An authoritarian theocracy is upon us in Oklahoma.”
And in an opinion piece published by the Oklahoman, professor of education Dan Vincent warned that Walters was campaigning on a red herring.
“It is time for elected leaders in our state to deal with the real issues in education. ‘Woke teachers’ are mythical figures created to instill fear in residents and to capture votes; they are not the issue. Let’s rally around the real needs of educators and kids in our state. Let’s work collectively to bring respect to the profession; let’s find ways to better compensate teachers; let’s explore ways to address the teacher shortage. In short, let’s put to bed the myth of ‘Woke Schools’ in Oklahoma and work together on addressing the real issues in education.”