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Standing up for what is right in Missouri: stopping SB54

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So, Friday was a good day.

What Friday demonstrated was that when an injustice – and I know that sounds huge and the slightest bit pretentious – is done, some people are still willing to stand up and do what is right. And the silence from the sponsor of the bill and the complete about face by the governor should tell you all you need to know about this law.

The outcry from teachers – and particularly journalism advisers – in Missouri was a bit of a sight to behold.

Honestly, I think Missouri teachers’ reaction to this bill may have been a reaction to things that have happened in Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan and Indiana over the past year, where teachers have been put in the crosshairs by politicians. And much like in those cases – particularly Wisconsin and Ohio – politicians have learned a lesson the hard way: do not mess with teachers.

Because while we are impossibly busy preparing your – and our – children to be the leaders of tomorrow, we will absolutely, positively no longer stand for this.

Even more impressive was the reaction of students.

Cameron Carlson, a former student at Marquette High School in Chesterfield, Mo., created a Facebook group in the days proceeding its signing into law. In less than a month, it has almost 1,000 members.

Devan Coggan, a recent graduate of Kirkwood HS wrote a letter to her local representative detailing her thoughts on the matter, after posting it on her Tumblr blog.

Students from four high schools across Missouri participated in a Google+ hangout with Aurora Meyer, from the Missouri State Teachers Association, as part of a press conference for their coverage of the issue.

And I can’t even begin to count the number of tweets sent on this matter.

So, lessons to be learned?

First, is that the First Amendment and social media are powerful tools. By taking to Facebook, Google+ and Twitter, opponents of SB54 used a little bit of social media jujitsu to help propel this law back in Sen. Jane Cunningham’s face. The irony of all this makes me smile.

Teachers in all states must be vigilant of what is going on in their state legislatures. I heard about this bill in the middle of July, shortly before Gov. Jay Nixon signed it into law. In the current climate of what is going on in state legislatures across the country, teachers (and their unions, see below) need to be on the ball and prepared to act quickly and decisively when they are threatened, no matter the type of law.

Union members need to hold union leadership accountable. MSTA stepped up to the plate and did its job to represent its members by filing the suit that led to the the injunction against SB54. MNEA did so to a lesser extent, trying to work with Sen. Jane Cunningham, who crafted the law. Honestly though, the offending portions of SB54 shouldn’t have ever made it out of committee, much less to the governor’s desk. There have been several things MNEA has helped stall or kill that many teachers would argue were more important than this bill, but missing this patently ridiculous and obviously unconstitutional portion of this law is a big miss.

Finally, educators – and journalism educators in particular – deserve leadership from the media. All too many of the state’s papers weighed in on SB54 after the heavy work was done.

I appreciate the support of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the St. Joseph News-Press and any other media outlets that have weighed in, but editorial pages are a place to lead. At least that’s what I teach my students.

The fact the state’s major papers maintained radio silence over the course of most of August is shameful, particularly on a First Amendment issue.

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