Free speech for teachers has been muzzled

By Danielle Arnold-Schwartz, leader of PAA-Suburban Philadelphia

I am grateful to live in a country where we have had First Amendment rights since 1791.  “This clause prohibits the government from banning speech because it does not agree with the message… James Madison pointed to freedom of speech as a vital aspect of a healthy republic. While originally written to apply to actions of the federal government, the Supreme Court incorporated it into state governments through the Fourteenth Amendment in the case Gitlow v. New York  (1925).”

It seems that many teachers and administrators are scared to speak up about the national discourse on public education. In this opinion piece by children’s author & freelance writing teacher, Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, the silencing of teachers and administrators is brought into the light of day. The piece then focuses on the people who need to speak up: the parents. Of which I am one.

VanDerwater reports what she hears while working in the schools:

“One special education teacher tells of watching a 9-year-old English language learner with special needs take last year’s ELA test. He colored in the circles, “A-B-C-D-C-B-A” until he reached the end.”

“A fifth-grade teacher tells how her school has instituted “play therapy” for stressed-out kindergarteners. So now, instead of playing, they take tests. Then, they go to therapy.”

“A local middle school has seen a great increase in students who need therapy, students who are worried, afraid about their numbers. Some primary children make “goodie bags” for upper-grade testers.”

“One Western New York district has decided that first-graders no longer have time to put on class plays. There is too much testing to be done. Goodbye, tradition. Goodbye, arts.”

She continues, “I never know what to say. But I listen. For these teachers and administrators cannot tell everyone their stories. To speak honestly on this issue places a public educator’s job on the line. Free speech has been muzzled.”

As a teacher and a parent I see both sides, as do many teachers.

It can feel scary to speak up, and I can’t pinpoint how or when that happened.

VanDerwater writes, “Therefore, it is parents’ voices we hear: parents who do not wish for their children to spend countless hours preparing for untested tests and untested standards, parents who believe in kindergarten play, in recess, in addressing childhood poverty before focusing on purchasing one-to-one computers (The Gates Foundation has invested millions in the CCSS) for testing. Some parents may not see or may not mind the educational shift toward data and away from children, may not wish to read about it in the paper or know that this spring, children whose families opt out of tests may be allowed to read books (except in districts with a “sit and stare” policy). Yet this is what makes a democracy powerful – the willingness of some individuals to speak with their actions, to make decisions others will notice, to attract attention to a concern.”

Whether one is speaking up about standardized testing, the common core standards, philanthropic foundations & corporations dictating our children’s educational experiences, or opting out, it is their right to speak out. My late colleague, the brilliant, sweet, and passionate, Todd Marrone, posted this on his blog last spring:

VanDerwater speaks the truth when she states, “It is the riskers who make change: the revolutionaries, the abolitionists, the suffragists, the school integrators, the marchers in parades, the ones who opt out. The riskers make changes for all of us; in order for change to happen, someone must be willing to go first.”

Something is wrong when somewhere along the line a political decision is made to convince the public to distrust the very people charged with caring for and educating our children each day. We send our five and six year olds off on a bus and watch them wave at us through the back window, trusting that we would never put them in harms way. Though public schools are not perfect, they are vital. Not every teacher is a perfect match for each child; that holds true in private, parochial and charter schools, as well. Though the politicians and hedge fund managers want us to distrust the teachers, we should know better. I send my kids into the safe harbor of public school classrooms daily. I would never leave them under the charge of a politician for 180+ days a year. Absurd, right?

If you have friends, neighbors or relatives who are public school teachers,
ask them what they think.

It is time.

(Please go to Danielle’s site to see the great illustrations!)





Posted on by Julie Woestehoff Posted in Misc

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