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Freedom of Speech

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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 not only has remained, but has continued to grow with his community. He now resides in the same county with his wife and their two young sons. Sean currently serves as an administrator at Camden’s Promise Charter School, where he focuses on the professional development of teachers and building various social-emotional skills with students. Graduating from Rutgers University with an undergraduate degree in Communication as well as a graduate degree from the University of Scranton in Educational Administration helped open the doors to what has now become nearly a decade long career in education.


 


 


 


As a result of connecting with people everyday of all ages, ethnicities, cultures and beliefs, Sean has learned how to listen and meet the individualized needs of different groups of people. In order to help organize parents and educators to come together in academic spaces, it has required him to search for innovative, functional, and inclusive ways to solve problems.


 


 


 


Despite Sean's childhood aspirations of one day becoming an attorney, he has since become an unwavering advocate for positive youth development and education. Growing up, Sean experienced difficulty financially and emotionally in an unstable household while also battling a sometimes crippling learning disability (ADHD). School became both a place of refuge and a source of trouble for Sean. If not for certain teachers and school faculty encouraging him as a young person, he would not have pursued higher education and would not have been able to impact countless 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 youth and their futures. 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.


 


 


 


As a leader in education, Sean has rooted his success in incorporating three major values that he applies to every facet of his life: honesty, integrity, and transparency. All great leaders exhibit honesty regardless of how difficult a situation may be. In these times, we need someone who will honor the trust of their constituents, despite possible backlash. Sean has displayed his commitment to integrity by maintaining a strong moral basis in all decisions, never being swayed by personal gain, and combating corruption wherever it exists. Transparency is also something that is not frequently witnessed in politics. Without it, it is easy for elected officials to lose touch with the people they serve. Having worked in education, Sean understands the power of collective responsibility while encouraging collaboration and the inclusion of diverse opinions to impact change. His unique background matched with his life experiences have allowed him to truly understand the struggles and needs of so many American people.


 


 


 


As the next United States Congressman from the state of New Jersey, Sean promises to apply the most effective policies to positively influence the collective growth of all New Jerseyans and Americans. He intends to only put the best interests of his constituents, state, and country first, regardless of how unpopular that may make him within the political machine. This is how we give politics, power, and our country back to the people. This is how we place our future first.

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Guest Friday, 18 August 2017