As Americans we have always been taught that one of the greatest things about being an American Citizen is that we are protected by the First Amendment in the United States Constitution. We pride ourselves with having the ability to speak without fear of retribution and to make sure if injustices are occurring, we have the ability to addressing them.
However somewhere between the United States Constitution and modern day education reform in America, teachers have lost their ability to speak up about injustices without fear of retribution.
According to the Cornell School of Law, the First Amendment Freedom of expression consists of the rights to freedom of speech, press, assembly and to petition the government for a redress of grievances, and the implied rights of association and belief.
Despite the US Constitution being a “living document,” there are educators who are petrified of speaking out against the wrongs we are currently witnessing in education today. To demonstrate how freedom of speech is non existent in some schools, walk into any school and ask a teacher to go on record to discuss the ills in public education. Instead of getting an abundance of answers you will be met with a deafening silence. Silence not because teachers don’t have an opinion, but silence because their words many times are used to hurt them professionally. Apparently, the first amendment does not apply to teachers.
As a pretty opinionated teacher, I am always full of ideas and speak out regularly against practices that are unjust or not beneficial to students. However, time and time again I have been “scolded” by more veteran teachers who warn me that being vocal would quickly get me “blackballed” in the district. This fact was even more evident last Saturday when I was invited to a private screening of a new documentary in Atlanta, Georgia entitled “Scapegoats“. The film uses teacher interviews to examines how teachers have historically been made to be the scapegoats with anything bad that occurs in education. While I was in total agreement with what was being said in the document, I was dismayed that more than half of the teachers interviewed opted to have their face (and voices) distorted so their administration would not retaliate against them.
As I listened to teachers to recall the atrocities that occur in public education, it was evident that these educational “pundits” and politicians have made it nearly impossible for teachers to exercise their first amendment rights. Teachers are terrified of voicing their opinions because many times it not only makes them a target but could possibly make them not get their contract renewed for the following year!
Instead of forgetting my feelings and just chalking the film up to that how things are, I got angry.
So in addition to falling wages and increased demands, teachers are now forced to hide our feelings? Why are we forced to secrecy in order to address the social ills we see daily in our schools? Are we telling falsehoods ? Of course not, but the truth is painful to hear and see. To admit that public education is failing at the hands of politicians and political pundits, then they would have to admit they are not the experts in education. Instead they would be forced to admit that the only way to improve public education is to allow the real experts speak about what they live everyday of their lives, the classroom teachers.
In any other profession, professionals are not retaliated against if they speak out about issues in their respective fields. If a physician remarks that more patients are coming in with Diabetes, no one tries to stop him from working in the hospital. If an attorney remarks that the amount of personal injury cases are quickly increasing, and gives strategies to help potential clients, they aren’t “blackballed” from the profession. We are the only profession where the real experts, teachers, literally have no voice!
When I started this magazine, I approached several teachers to write about their expertise from the classroom but many were scared that their principals would be upset if they wrote about anything that happened in their classroom. I was floored. When did it become okay for administrators, school boards and district offices to decide what OUR truths were?
The truth is hidden while the public is made to believe that lies are the truth. Truth be told, the majority of teachers loathe standardized testing. Truth be told, the people who make policies about education don’t even have their kids enrolled in public schools. Truth be told, the people who run the school districts are usually not equipped with the pedagogy or experience to actually lead a classroom in 2013. Truth be told, federal programs like No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top are just programs to further destroy public education and allow private entities to take our tax dollars.
Now what do you think about that?
Despite the deafening silence, there are many educators who are getting angry and speaking up with no regard to the possible consequences. You have district administrators like John Kuhn who say “enough is enough” and write eloquent pieces like “Exhaustion of the American Teacher.”
You have teachers who decided to make the film “The Inconvenient Truths Behind Waiting for Superman” and expose the policies that hurt our students.
You have the teachers in Chicago that courageously decided to strike to ensure that their voices would be heard.
Times are changing, and I for one am glad. The truth is no longer being hidden by our deafening silence. There are more teacher in the world than people who might want to silence us. So speak, act, march, discuss and demand to be heard. Apparently, we might have the 14th Amendment on our side.
If you’re tired of teachers having no voice, please sign our petition here.