April 12, 2018
First grader shares textbook with Blake Shelton courtesy of shit funding for Oklahoma schools
by Susan Rella
A brush with fame is really cool, particularly when you’re young. It’s not as cool, however, when it highlights that your school’s textbooks are woefully out of date. And it’s even less cool when you’re a student in a state where teachers are actively protesting for better conditions.
So while it was undoubtedly a huge treat for Marley Parker, a first-grader at Ada, Oklahoma’s Latta Elementary School, to see Sexist Man Alive [sic] Blake Shelton’s name in the front of her book, the fact that the country-singer, Gwen Stefani–lover, and judge on The Voice read from the exact same book—in 1982—is appalling.
Marley’s mother, Shelly Bryan Parker, voiced the problem. Earlier this month, the former educator posted a photo to Facebook of her daughter giddily holding up the touched-by-a-famous-person-tome, alongside an image of the interior of the book showing Shelton’s name and the date. “Marley is EXCITED that her ‘new’ reader belonged to Blake Shelton, but I am EMBARRASSED!!!!” She wrote. “I’m 40 and these people are my age!!!”
The book is Look Away (Keys to Reading) by Louise Matteoni, originally published in 1980. And while Shelly told Andrea Diaz at CNN.com that this book is in excellent condition, that’s not really the point. Seven-year-olds definitely deserve better. It’s patently ridiculous that first-graders are using thirty-six-year-old textbooks. “As a former educator, this is very important to me. But as a parent, this is crucial as I want the best education for my daughter,” Shelly told CNN.
The Facebook post went viral, and the story was retweeted thousands of times. Several posters have argued that Shelton should buy new books for that school as a PR move. And although most of the responses have varied between outrage and indignation, there are several detractors arguing that it is difficult for a reading guide to become obsolete. But of course, there’ve been obvious and consistent advancements in pedagogical approaches over the past thirty-six godddamn years, not least among them higher standards for inclusiveness and representation.
Shelton has yet to comment; Latta’s superintendent, Cliff Johnson, confirmed to Diaz that Shelton attended the school “in his younger years,” although he graduated elsewhere.
We’ve written recently about out-of-date textbooks in Oklahoma, which are receiving special attention in light of ongoing protests and walkouts by the state’s teachers. Teachers in many of the state’s largest districts are on strike, following the success of teachers in West Virginia. As Louise Simpson at abcnews.com reports, the teachers are demanding an additional $50 million in funding, the repeal of a capital gains tax exemption, and more. Jeff Stein at the Washington Post goes into the history of the strike, citing years of tax cuts and a decrease in crude oil revenue as reasons for the dire straits. Over the last decade, Stein reports, the state has cut its per-pupil funding by twenty-eight percent — more than any other state in the nation. Oklahoma ranks 49th out of 51 (with DC included) in teacher salaries, according to the National Education Association.
Oklahoma’s governor, Republican Mary Fallin, has offered teachers a $6,100 pay raise, which they rejected. She then compared teachers to privileged teenagers, telling Omar Villafranca at cbsnews.com, “it’s like kind of having a teenage kid that wants a better car.” (Um, no.) Simpson cites the Bureau of Labor Statistics in reporting that Oklahoma teachers are paid close to $20,000 below the national average.
Incidentally, Shelton’s net worth is estimated at $60 million, Fallin has a reported net worth of $3.5 million, and, just to round things out, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is worth around $5.2 billion.
But yeah, that book from 1980 is just fucking fine.
Susan Rella is the managing editor at Melville House, and a former bookseller.