Guest Column: Free speech empowered

By Jane Hayes

The Eiffel Tower dimmed its lights in Paris in remorse, and the world responded. More than a million people united in solidarity for the deaths of 12 journalists from Charlie Hebdo (Parisian satirical magazine), five Jewish citizens from a kosher grocery, and female and Muslim police who lost their lives during this tragedy. Senseless acts of violence from extremists in a civilized society that united global citizens for Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité! (Liberty, Equality, and Brotherhood).

Perhaps it’s my background as a French teacher in several school districts, my intense interests in pluralism, or just maybe it’s much closer to home. The painful truth is my father fought for freedom on the beaches of Normandy, and my maiden surname is French. Whatever the reason, the cause is justified and right.

Senseless terror and bullying have always offended my sensibilities, whether they are in the Rockford Public School system or in the City of Lights in France. When the lights are dimmed, the public must be mindful of the problems. I nearly gave up highlighting the seemingly insurmountable problems throughout our school system, but Watch the Corruption online keeps me aware of the challenging situations.

For instance, after having several days off as a result of inclement weather, will our students still be forced to sit attentively at their desks in their coats and mittens because of no heat? Will our children still be denied a free lunch? Will they be denied the experienced teachers because nepotism rules in District 205, placing unqualified teachers in positions as favors? Will the administration continue to grow when it is two to three times as large as it was under former superintendent Dr. LaVonne Sheffield?

People, wise up! Should The Onion, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Family Guy or The Simpsons be outlawed from our society because they highlight and mock problems within our world? Cartoons criticize legitimate concerns. Unfortunately, investigative journalism is a lost art at the Rockford Register Star that aligns with the problem makers instead of the reformers. They refuse to inform the public of problems within, such as heat and window problems throughout the district, when we have state-of-the-art field houses, difficult to access for the physically challenged at Auburn High School.

Thanks to The Rock River Times, which still publishes both sides of arguments. Is it that Rockfordians don’t want to know the truth? Is it that they are so encumbered by daily life that problems in the public schools don’t interest them? I had nearly given up on my commentaries; however, my French roots showed me the way back to defiance and legitimate questioning.

Je pense, donc je suis! (French philosopher Descarte’s rallying cry, I think, therefore I am!) brought my pen to life. Society cannot break the pens of journalists or cartoonists who show the fallacies of our societies. Both mirror the truth through satire, just as editorials and investigative reporting. Pity to be lost in civilized society.

Therefore, je suis Charlie to align with the values of free speech!

Jane Hayes is a member of Watchdogs for Ethics in Education (WEE) and Rockford Educators Advocating Civil Treatment (REACT).

From the Jan. 28-Feb. 3, 2015, issue

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