Bernie Sanders, the self-described “democratic socialist” running for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, has long courted Oklahoma teachers. Public records suggest that, for many teachers, the admiration is mutual.
In 2018, when Oklahoma teachers walked off the job to protest at the state Capitol, Sanders was among the group’s nationally prominent supporters. On April 3, 2018, Sanders released a video on his Twitter account praising Oklahoma teachers, saying their activism could politically transform Oklahoma into a left-wing state more in line with Sanders’ own views.
“You know, there are pundits out there who talk about ‘blue states’ and ‘red states’ and ‘purple states,’” Sanders said. “I have never believed that. I think that any state in this country which has working people struggling economically, struggling to send their kids to school, struggling for health care, struggling for child care, that is a state that can become progressive. And I want to applaud the teachers in West Virginia, in Oklahoma, in Kentucky, so-called ‘red states,’ who are helping to lead this country to change our national priorities, who are saying loudly and clearly that we have got to take care of our kids, we have got to take care of our schools, and that is more important than giving tax breaks to billionaires and large corporations. Thank you teachers in West Virginia. Thank you teachers in Oklahoma. Thank you teachers in Kentucky. We’re with you.”
That same day, Anne Beck, digital governance specialist for the Oklahoma State School Boards Association (OSSBA), tweeted to Sanders, “I might only have one shot, so here it goes... BERNIE, it would mean the world to me to post to our #oklaed hashtag!”
Since that time, Sanders has continued to emphasize his commonality with teachers and their unions. A July 2019 press release from the Sanders campaign bragged that the “most common profession” listed by campaign donors “was a teacher.”
According to the website Open Secrets, as of Sept. 30, 2019, teachers nationwide had contributed $3.6 million to presidential candidates. Of that total, $1.2 million went to Sanders.
Public records show that Oklahoma educators and their representatives are among that group, and are repaying Sanders’ past comments with more than social media mentions.
The website of the U.S. Federal Elections Commission shows Sanders has received more than 5,400 contributions from Oklahomans, including hundreds of donations from teachers and education union officials.
The list includes teachers from schools of all sizes, including Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Enid, Bixby, Mustang, Crooked Oak, Stillwater, Edmond, Bartlesville, Catoosa, Lawton, Hominy, and Mounds.
One of Sanders’ more interesting education donors is Priscilla Sanstead, who lists Tulsa as her address and the “Badass Teachers Association” as her employer. The website for that organization states, “We refuse to be blamed for the failure of our society to erase poverty and inequality, and refuse to accept curriculum, assessments, tests, and evaluations imposed by those who have contempt for real teaching and learning. BATs will promote activism and pro-union work that actively fights against attempts to dismantle public education and for positive, collaborative, and supportive work environments.”
The organization’s “social justice toolkit” recommends that schools use lesson plans from the Zinn Education Project, which promotes the use of Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States.”
In 2012, an analysis by Stanford University School of Education Professor Sam Wineburg found that Zinn’s work “was a crusade built on secondary sources of questionable provenance, omission of exculpatory evidence, leading questions and shaky connections between evidence and conclusions.”
In 2016, Sanders won Oklahoma’s primary, defeating eventual Democratic Party presidential nominee Hillary Clinton by a double-digit margin. The 2020 Oklahoma presidential primary, in which Sanders is one of several Democratic candidates on the ballot, will be conducted on March 3.