Monday, April 28, 2014

Freedom of Speech, Whistle Blowing and Democracy

     In recent years, Americans have had the opportunity to learn about the
mysterious culture of Persia, Iran, due to the stories of individuals who
immigrated to the United States after the Revolution that have served to
enlighten Americans about what really happened during the Shah’s reign
and why a country whose traditions go back to one of respecting religious
freedom of all groups would turn against their Constitutional Monarchy
and establish a repressive religious Islamic Republic. As more information
about what it was really like under the rule of the Shah becomes available,
a sense of perspective about what happened begins to emerge.
      One of the most comprehensive stories in this collection of books is the memoir written by Sattarah Farman-Farmaian entitled “Daughter of Persia.” Ms. Farman-Famaian was the daughter of a Persian prince who ruled over vast lands much like a feudal lord during the early part of the Twentieth Century. Her father lost power after the creation of a Constitutional Monarchy in 1906. The backdrop for “Satti’s” formative years saw the first overthrow of this democracy and the rise of the first Shah with the help of Great Britain after World War I in an effort to seize control of Persia’s most valuable asset –oil. Satti was sent to the United States to go to school during World War II and then returned to what was now Iran (land of the Aryans) under the rule of the second Shah who rose to power with the help of the United States in 1953.
                While in the United States, Satti discovered what she believed to be the key to changing the deplorable conditions of poverty she knew existed in her country and had existed for centuries. The power of free speech.  She had experienced a university education where people were talking openly about social problems and dialoguing with one another to find a workable solution. Satti states that she learned …”if you could talk openly, you could discover what to do about a problem.” She saw this as the way people developed initiative in order to solve their own problems. This was the way to creating a stable, successful Iran. She set about establishing her school of social work and while trying to help alleviate poverty, she also worked toward instilling initiative and creative dialogue among the students she served in the School of Social Work. The thing that worked against her and led to the collapse of her school and her flight from Iran in 1979 was the repressive nature of the Shah’s so called rebuilding of Iran.
                While the Shah was touting all the wonderful achievements of the westernization of Iran, his secret police (SAVAK), whose members were trained by the United States CIA and Israel’s MOSSAD were watching trade unions to prevent strikes. SAVAK members also monitored the universities and publications critical of the Shah and some of his policies. Many fled to London but weren’t safe even there. A vocal Islamic cleric named Ayatollah Khomeini was also exiled for his criticisms of the Shah’s regime.  Free speech was non-existent and in the end everything fell apart and chaos ruled allowing an even more repressive regime to take over Iran. The right of free speech cannot be denied if a society is to move forward and create meaningful, lasting change.
                The whistleblower’s law passed near the end of the Twentieth Century was recognition in this country that even without a secret police to murder and torture, free speech can be inhibited by those who don’t have military power (yet), but those who control the economy and the delivery of goods and services in this country. I became familiar with this law in 2003 when I naively took on this role in my I position as a teacher at Camp Florence in Florence, OR.
     I had moved to Florence in 1998 after being hired as a classroom teacher for this small, transitional facility that served adjudicated males ready to move back into society. I was eager to take on this challenge after teaching in a middle school in Albuquerque, NM for ten years and being part of a dedicated team of professionals who were making a difference in the barrio school on the West Mesa. Although I received numerous awards and acclaim from my colleagues as well as the community, my biggest reward was knowing that I had been a part of a team that was making a difference. We talked; we communicated. We listened to one another with respect and encouraged each other and never sacrificed the benefit of the community we served just for the ego’s satisfaction of being right. Our team leader never listened to gossip generated from unhappy students or other teachers, but brought people together to talk openly to discover the root of the problem and how to handle it. It was my stellar resume along with enthusiastic recommendations that made me the candidate selected for this challenging position.
      After the passage of Measure 11 in Oregon a new educational paradigm was being established. For the first time, juveniles were now spending most of their high school years incarcerated so detention facilities were now creating schools that were accredited by the state to issue diplomas. I couldn’t have been more excited about being a part of this, and had a wealth of ideas and expertise to bring to the job.
     For three years ideas flowed freely and programs were created. I joined the Alternative Educators Association and began to be asked to speak and do workshops at professional meetings. Our program that tied vocational training to the classroom was written up in the Eugene “Register Guard.” I wrote a lesson plan that was incorporated into a text entitled “Powerful Teaching”  published by the – a forerunner in the use of Asset Based (instead of  problem based) approach to teaching youth.
     Beginning in 2001, I began to notice some disturbing methods being used by my teaching partner. I started to speak out first to my direct supervisor, my principal who was based in Albany and then, at her request to the Director of Camp Florence who worked for Oregon Youth Authority – the agency that held the contract with the ESD that I worked for.  I never dreamed the two year nightmare that ensued that would lead to my resignation under duress. There are more ways to get rid of someone than actually firing them, I learned.
     All communication stopped. I was isolated, my character was questioned and I felt totally alone and unable to trust no one. When the decision was made to transfer me to another location that might suit my rigid personality better and be placed on a Plan of Assistance, I obtained a lawyer. After that, I had a racial harassment complaint brought against me for singing “La Bamba” at a professional in- service, was relegated to teaching computer classes, taken from the Independent Study Program, denied attendance at IEP (Individual Educational Planning meetings for students in special education) and virtually any contact with students that was not monitored by other classroom teachers or Oregon Youth Authority Staff who reported anything they believed I said that was “out of line” and causing the dangerous situation among the student population at Camp Florence.
      When I protested through my attorneys once again, I was placed on paid administrative leave while these charges were being investigated. For one entire semester I sat at home with no one contacting me for lessons plans, etc. to direct the student activity for the substitute hired to fill in for me. At the beginning of the semester when the “investigation” was complete, I was called back to work under a “letter of reprimand,” the first step toward  a disciplinary action that would lead to firing. The next was to put the results  in my personnel file – another step toward firing. I resigned under duress and exercised my right of free speech and filed a lawsuit against Linn-Benton Lincoln ESD and the Oregon Youth Authority. The only thing that gave me the courage to do this was that I believed, given my professional history, I could find another job with no problem at all. I had an emotional breakdown and serious illness after learning that if I resigned without a sixty day notice, I would lose my teacher’s license. After twelve weeks of medical leave and lots of therapy, I negotiated with the school district to allow me to keep my teaching license and resign.
                I felt invigorated and renewed. I knew I would find a job by the fall of the year and that would sustain me through the difficult court process that lay ahead for me for the next four years.  During this time, I found out what others who weren’t so na├»ve as I already knew and learned the reason for their lack of support – my teaching career was over the minute I spoke out against the “system.” 
     Today, I don’t consider myself a “victim” and I have forgiven everyone involved in what happened.  Although I lost my house, my retirement and almost my health, I would still do the same thing today that I did before. I write this story now at the urging of my conscious that has learned to see a bigger picture and friends associated with two other people in the community who have spoken out about problems in their work environment and have suffered much the same consequences. The most recent was a good friend of mine, Dr. John Egar. I cannot sit back and hear what has happened to him without offering my insights about the overall world situation and its connection to what happens on an individual level too often in the workplace and communities throughout this country.
                Dr. John, as we lovingly call this physician who worked at Peace Health and had over 1,000 patients, was recently fired for writing letters to the editor informing the local community about the way medical costs were handled in Florence as opposed to Eugene. In speaking with John, that is what I understand. I was appalled to learn that Peace Health, which controls the medical services in Florence, can fire their employees for “no cause.” As I understand it, there is a shortage of medical doctors in Lane County that is affecting the service to the sick here, despite the fact of the supposed success of Obamacare giving people a way to pay for their care. Now, because a corporate monopoly does not want their “dirty laundry” questioned by the professionals who take their roles seriously, 1000 people in need of services are out of luck. Not only that, in this writer’s opinion, we have lost a caring professional because he thought transparency and sharing information is a step toward improving a system that is not functioning to serve the people who use it.  I offer my personal gratitude and support to Dr. John and have decided to share my story once again for all those who may feel caught in the same situation and are fearful to speak up even though in this country we have “freedom of speech” without reprisal either by government or those corporate entities whose economic power can be as dangerous as that of an absolute monarch.