This past weekend I traveled to Washington, D.C. to take part in the Save Our Schools March and Rally. As I arrived at the Ellipse where the Rally was to be held a man with a video camera approached our small group. I was browsing the tables set up along the sidewalk and didn't really hear the beginning of the conversation or the man's introduction.
The next thing I knew the questioning was directed towards me with the statement that he should really talk to me because my bargaining unit the day before had been handed a wage cut. I should explain that my school district is under a governor appointed Emergency Manager who has the sole ability to void or alter our contract or any portion of it he desires. Although the wage cut is 10%, along with step freezes and certification "bonuses" the total of my lost wages will equal nearly 25% of my compensation.
Suddenly the camera was thrust towards me and everyone waited for me to speak. What would I say? I could talk about the Emergency Manager Law that allowed our collectively bargained contract to be thrown out the window. But that wasn't the reason I was in Washington. I could talk about how teacher tenure in our state was "reformed" earlier this summer to abolish last in, first out practices and how teacher evaluations will now be tied to student's standardized test scores. (See previous post.) That wasn't really it either. I could talk about the over-emphasis of standardized test scores and the effect it has on the educational opportunities of students as schools restrict curriculum to assure successful test scores or face closure.
It was then I had my "aha" moment. What I said went something like this:
I would love to talk to you about all the reasons I came to the March this weekend. I obviously have some very strong feelings about the direction education reform is currently taking across this country or I would not have come all this way on a beautiful summer weekend. However, my state - Michigan, has recently "reformed" teacher tenure laws. Because of the changes in this law I no longer feel I have the ability to exercise my right to free speech as I would in the past. After all I have no idea who you are, what your purpose is or where your video may appear in the future. Therefore, out of fear that my employer or future employers may at some time see this and object to what I say, I am not at liberty to discuss my personal opinions with you. My family relies on my continued employment.
This is what it has come to.