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It’s time to stand up

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So with all of this recent hubbub surrounding President Obama’s speech about education, I’ve come to a conclusion: it has never been more important for teachers, journalism teachers in particular, to be adamant in making sure their voices are heard alongside and in opposition to those calling for speeches like the President – any President – made yesterday to be taboo in our classrooms.

In fact, if we don’t push back at this with just as much furor and vigor as those parents do, I’d say it is tantamount to an abdication of our First Amendment rights. In my classroom, I teach the First Amendment and sing its glories as often as I can. If I fail to tell my administrators my beliefs as a teacher about what has happened and fail to push back against these type of crusades, then am I not failing my students as a role model, as someone who is a vigorous protector of First Amendment rights?

Since the day our guidelines for dealing with the President’s speech came out, I’ve been incensed, and it is not because of my political leanings. It is because I am a teacher. I was hired to teach the curriculum of my courses because I have the proper certification and experience and because I am a professional. That means I have been entrusted with taking the district approved curriculum and teaching it to the best of my abilities and how it best suits me and my students. While I am happy to have input from parents about their child’s education, it is my belief as an educator, I am well-suited to determine whether or not a speech by the President of the country in which their child lives in is appropriate material for my classroom.

As teachers who run publications grounded in the First Amendment, we have all dealt with someone who has been unhappy with something the newspaper, website or yearbook has published, or that the podcast, news show or radio station has broadcast. We have heard opposing viewpoints from all sides of an issue and it makes our publications stronger for this feedback.

I’m happy to know the parents of students in my district are aware of what’s going on and feel so moved to contact our administrators and voice their opinions. Debate and dissent are essential to the functioning of a democracy. However, I’m well beyond dismayed that our administrators are so lacking in backbone when it comes to standing up to the slightest whiff of criticism. Criticism is the crucible that makes our schools better. As the President said on Tuesday, “Some of the most successful people in the world are the ones who’ve had the most failures.”

Our nation’s best schools will be the ones who stand up and try new things and let their teachers, administrators, students and parents discover, together with input from the whole community, what works best, not just the voices of an overly motivated and loud few.

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