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Freedom of Speech

Posted by on in Leadership
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I know thousands of educators in this country. I don't know any that are not experiencing disgust, anxiety, anger, and many other emotions now due to the direction of our country. We are working within the confines of racism, misogyny, classism, and intolerance to educate our students the best that we can. But are we doing enough? Could we be doing more? Are our voices truly being heard?

A lot of these educators are doing the best they can in their respective classrooms and schools, but that is often where the activism stops. See, many of us work in conservative districts where expressing ourselves and thoughts on social media and to the world is a negative. We are afraid to get too involved because we do not want our involvement to come back to haunt us. 

Did you know that as public school educators, the First Amendment protects us as long as we are speaking outside of our official duties in the interest of the public (Garcetti v. Ceballos)?  The ACLU published a must-read piece, "Government Employees Get to Have Opinions, Too", that details how we can voice our thoughts without fear of retribution.  Basically, don’t speak about your specific, official duties outside of school and you will be fine. If you do experience any issues with your employer, reach out to the ACLU right away. 

In the current state of our nation, freedom of speech is arguably the biggest right that we have to battle a dictatorial administration. It is our ability to speak out against policy decisions that do not benefit us as Americans. It allows us to join in solidarity to make our voices heard. Without it, America is no different from any other authoritarian regime.

Currently, Republican lawmakers all over the country are introducing legislation to crackdown on protestersThey frame it as a safety measure and to stop paid protesters. In reality, the design of this legislation is to discourage and strike fear in the hearts of those who take a stand. In Arizona, the proposed bill would allow state government to seize assets of people involved in a protest that turned violent. In Oklahoma, a bill was just signed into law by the governor that includes felony charges and massive fines on protesters. 

These are attempts to silence our voices. Protests and dissent are vital for any true democracy to work. This is how we let our government and elected officials know what and how we think. How far these bills attempt to go with actually restricting our Constitutional right to free speech remain unknown.  Regardless, the people in charge are nervous. Look at the Women’s March and the Climate March as recent examples of how strong our united voices are.

When we join together as citizens, we can enact change. There is power in numbers. We accomplish so much more when millions of us scream out in unison. Look at the confirmation hearing and Senate vote for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos.

Educators from around the country jammed the phone lines, email servers, social media pages, and mailboxes of our Senators. We reached out en masse and accomplished something that has never been done in United States history. Because of our efforts, the vice-president had to break a tie vote on the confirmation of DeVos.

It might seem like a small, insignificant step to turn 2 out of 52 Republican Senators and have them vote against party lines, but it is not! This is our issue. This nomination impacts how our schools run. It determines the direction of our schools. We understood that and we used our freedom of speech to defend public education.

It has been a few months since the confirmation of DeVos. Some of the educators that stood up vehemently against this nominee are still making their voices heard, but I feel that these people are in the minority. Honestly, how many of us went back to business as usual with the mentality of “at least we tried”? I do not blame you, but I need you to listen.

There are 193,140,100 adults in this country between the ages of 18-65 (Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation). According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, there are about 3.6 million educators (3.1 public school). That means that about 1 in every 54 people between the age of 18-65 are currently employed as an educator. This does not include retired and aspiring educators.

Let that sink in for a second. Do you see the power and ability of educators to help shape the path and future of our nation? I know that we do this daily in our schools, but our reach goes well beyond the walls of our schools and classrooms. Assuming, we embrace this power and all that goes with it…

Do you remember what your social media feeds looked like during the DeVos confirmation hearings and voting process? Educators everywhere were raising concerns and awareness within their network, especially to non educators. Our voices were loud, recognizable, and determined.

Can we bring that to all the areas that impact our schools and students? Police brutality, civil rights, criminal justice reform, health insurance, environmental issues, drug reform, economic concerns, raising the minimum wage, debt-free college, student loan reform, racism, equality, and whatever else we can think of. These are all issues that impact educators and our students every single day, regardless of where we teach. Isn’t it our job to raise awareness and spread knowledge to help educate others?

As someone who is planning a run for a major political office, I have made this my mission. It is one of the key components of the #OurFutureFirst movement. This is something that I must do. Not just to help carry out my goal, but because this is the kind of advocacy that our schools need.

We are in this together. There are too many of us in this country to sit silently and watch everything that we work to build be destroyed. We have a strong, powerful, and resilient voice. We have shown that before and we need to continue to show that.

It is time to ditch the mentality that you’re “not into politics” or want to “stay out of political talk”. If that is the mindset that we embrace, then we are voluntarily silencing ourselves and reducing the impact that we can do for the greater good of all our students.

I need you. We need you. Most importantly, your students need you. We are in this profession to genuinely make a difference. Will you step out of your comfort zone to make sure your voice is heard? Will you put #OurFutureFirst and unapologetically advocate for students in every way that you can?

Use your freedom of speech. If not, it might be gone before you know it...




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Born and raised in Cumberland County, New Jersey, Sean has grown his career and family from his native district. Sean again resides in the same county with his wife and their two young sons. He recently concluded his candidacy for the Democratic nomination for United States House of Representatives in New Jersey's 2nd Congressional District. Sean currently serves as an administrator at a school in Camden, NJ, where he focuses on the growth & development of teachers and building social & emotional skills with students. A Rutgers University graduate, Sean studied Communications. He later completed a graduate degree at the University of Scranton in Educational Administration and has spent almost a decade working in education.

As a result of connecting with people of all ages, ethnicities, cultures, and beliefs, Sean has learned how to listen and represent the interests of everyone. In order to help unite parents and educators, Sean is adept at innovating to solve problems.

Sean is an unwavering advocate for positive youth development and education. Growing up, Sean faced challenges financially and emotionally. The product of an unstable household and battling a significant learning disability, Sean has overcome many obstacles. School became both a place of refuge and a source of trouble for Sean. If not for certain extraordinary teachers and school faculty encouraging him, Sean would not have pursued higher education and would not have been able to impact his students the way he does today.

Throughout his career as an educator in New Jersey, Sean has based every decision solely on what is best for his students’ future. He has worked to create new, effective programs as well as supports for students and parents addressing social issues. Sean has demonstrated his student-first approach by never being afraid to privately and publicly question decisions that impact teachers, students, and the educational process. As a result, he has been able to create strong, lasting relationships across our state with the students, families, and communities that he has served.

In May of 2018, Sean and his community suffered the tremendous loss of a former student, Maurice Lewis, to senseless gun violence. After countless conversations with his friends, family members, and members of the community, they decided that they had to do something to honor his memory and the good that he did in his life. The idea of Reese's House, a whole-child youth center focused on the academic, physical, social, emotional, and mental well-being of kids with a strong emphasis on innovation and entrepreneurship was born. To accomplish this, Sean created an educational 501(c)(3) nonprofit called Our Future First. The goal of the organization is to offer affordable professional development and growth opportunities in schools for educators and students while putting all profits to the purpose of creating Reese's House in our hometown of Millville, New Jersey.

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Guest Sunday, 26 May 2019