Book Talk: Just Shut Up and Teach: First Amendment Under Fire by Maggi Smith Hall
People in authority with character flaws have the tendency to use power to advance their personal agenda at the expense of the people they serve. Their subordinates tend to accept the status quo without fuss simply because they are too tired to argue or do not have the guts to probe further. "To live in a country where freedom of speech is not cherished is to cease to live," says vibrant author Maggi Smith Hall, an educator for 30 years who became embattled upfront fighting across multiple fronts. In her narrative, she chronicles her harrowing experience so that people with the same predicament would not forget that—one should muster courage and even brave the odds seeking redress for unfair practices.
One may ask, "What absolute power does she have to seek justice for her cause?" Hall has this to say — The right of public employees to exercise free speech regarding matters of public concern by the power of the First Amendment— is the bone of contention of her well-written discourse.
Hall's eventful journey takes the readers on a rollercoaster ride that kicks off with her desire to venture into living in their monstrous 1895 Victorian dream house that boasts of fourteen rooms, ten fireplaces, and a sprawling porch on a two-wooded acre. This seemingly peaceful aura beckoned her to live in this new dwelling place across the Great Pee Dee River. In 1979, off they went from Florence to Marion County in South Carolina. The family, all set—Ron, her hubby, to begin his teaching career in Philosophy and Religion at Marion College, Maggi teaching elementary to two schools as a learning disabilities clinician, and their eldest daughter Amy, heading to first grade. And a few years later, Erin joined to complete Hall's family circle.
As the family made their way to settle in the new environment, they were in for a great surprise. Trouble started on Maggi's very first day at school when she mentioned the inappropriateness of the instruments used to identify a child's learning disability; in turn, the principal's office called for her. In another case taken, both her children experienced difficulties. Erin's teacher was indifferent to her child in class, and Amy's class was way below her level, and it took almost five months for her to take a level test and have her moved to her rightful place. Further, there was a time when Maggi was late for a meeting, and she got reprimanded on sight without concern — Maggi had been involved in a vehicular accident. Inevitably, readers can conclude that scores of intimidation, coercion, threat, manipulation, and deceit bespeak the school system's power structure.
Based on the narrative, the school system and the school system's so-called leaders expressed their animosity toward Maggi and her children in varied ways. On her part, she sealed her mouth despite witnessing many irregularities within the school district. After a decade of suppressing it all, Maggi can no longer take the "goings-on" in stride.
The moment came when there was purportedly a proposal on the paper stating seven school board members to fly to California at the taxpayer's expense. Some teachers expressed their opposition to the trip. The stark reality strikes—It is unthinkable for the school superintendents to request spending more than $11,000 without remorse. In Maggi's words—"My years observing questionable educational practices and irresponsible spending made me wonder just how much money school administrators wasted on extravagant trips, inflated salaries, and duplicate services." The school could redirect the funds to school building repairs, adequate classroom supplies, more textbooks, children's access to field trips, and low teachers' salaries.
In November 1990, undaunted, vigilant to make people aware of what was going on in the educational system in Marion district 2, Maggi Smith sent a letter to the editor of Star and Enterprise. Her purpose is to open communication for transparency through the South Carolina Freedom of Information Act, which reinforces public agencies' accountability.
One of the factors that make this book impressive is how the author incorporates this narrative into good-natured storytelling of actual events as they happened—her ordeals, obstacles, graces, and triumphs. Those who are keen on political science could find the court proceedings interesting in that detail from the district board hearings, court trials, and the final ruling or the verdict of the legal case —Hall v. Marion County School District 2.
This book manifests that despite Maggi's seemingly unending trials, her passion, vibrancy, and indomitable spirit transcend her love of nature, education, and the land; her multifaceted accolades: the SC State Archives Award for Adaptive Restoration of a Historic Facility, 1993 National Environmental Women of Action Ward, and 1995 SC Wildlife Federation Education Conservationist Award, to name a few --truly make her a woman of substance.
Note: Now Available: Click here
Maggi Smith Hall is a native Floridian from Jacksonville. In 1967 she received a B.A. from Stetson University and in 1976 she graduated Suma Cum Laude with a M.Ed. from Francis Marion University in Florence SC.
Please visit the author's website at https://www.firstamendmentwins.com/