In the Pursuit of Happiness, Maryland Voters Said It Matters

Issues of social justice and education intersect as educators in Maryland foster students’ understanding of “the pursuit of happiness” and “equality.” On November 6, 2012, Maryland voters said “Yay” to the Maryland DREAM Act and “Yay” to marriage equality.

Two pieces of Maryland legislation, signed by Governor Martin O’Malley and petitioned to referendum, were upheld by Maryland voters. Congratulations go to all the families, students, educators, and social justice advocates who have worked for years to codify the Maryland DREAM Act and Marriage Equality in the state of Maryland.

In the case of Maryland and the two referenda that passed on November 6th, several communities of conscience worked together to stand for the most basic tenets of the U.S. Declaration of Independence:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights that, among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the consent of the governed…”

Francisco Cartegena, Youth Development Coordinator at Identity, Inc., spoke at the Montgomery County Education Association 2013 Legislative Breakfast on January 5th to express how much it means to have worked with youth and supporters of the Maryland DREAM Act to make this law a reality. As he stood flanked by his brothers and spoke to an audience of teachers, legislators, and his parents, it was clear that the challenge met was merely the beginning of the transformation of our community. With a crack in his voice he thanked his teachers saying, “I know I wasn’t the easiest kid to teach.”

At the same event, Mary Wagner, teacher and club sponsor, said, “As a sponsor of Allies 4 Equality and a government teacher, my first reaction [to the vote on marriage equality] was that my students were able to participate in a grass-roots activity and see it come to fruition. They believed in something strongly, they worked toward a goal, and their side won. So I was happy that they could see how our democracy works in this way.” She also noted that she was pleased the voters in Maryland validated their hard work and their ideas.

Just this past fall, Maryland voters answered the call of young people and their co-advocates to support the Maryland DREAM Act. In doing so, Maryland was first in the nation to support undocumented youth in their dream to attend college. Maryland teachers are accountable for educating young people for success regardless of immigration status, and now those who are undocumented have the right to attend a community college in Maryland at the in-state tuition rate. This is important in an age when most jobs now require more than a high-school diploma: It doesn’t make economic sense to limit our youth who aspire to attend our state colleges and universities. Of course, eligibility is based on a student having attended a Maryland high school for three years and documentation that they or their parents have paid state income taxes for those three years.

Delegate Sheila Hixson (D-Montgomery County) spoke at the Montgomery County Education Association’s Social Justice Series panel discussion addressing the Maryland DREAM Act on October 23rd, just prior to the election. She noted that she has been working on this legislation since the early 1970s and emotions can be raw. Although this most recent version of the bill is not an avenue to citizenship, she commented on the economic realities of having an under-educated workforce. Delegate Ana Sol Gutierrez (D-Montgomery County), in a personal conversation, shared that this success should also help Maryland and its diverse workforce become a proactive voice in the up-coming national immigration discussion.

In addition to the Maryland DREAM Act, Maryland voters have supported the LGBT community and its allies in their effort to uphold the Maryland Marriage Equality law that was also signed by the governor and petitioned to referendum. Maryland and Maine are now the first two states to go to the voters and ask, “Yay or Nay for same sex marriage?” Previous wins have been within the walls of state legislatures and subject to negative commentary suggesting that it was not the true will of the people. Now young people in the state of Maryland can see their futures brightening without the shadow of inequality under the law.

None of the opportunities to transform our communities and achieve equality in the law comes without intersecting efforts within and between diverse communities of conscience. Some of these communities are families, friends, schools, churches, professional organizations, and governments. Some of the communities are online, in book clubs, and in recreation clubs. The schoolhouse door does not keep these issues from affecting our students, so the opportunity to make learning relevant in students’ lives is dependent on a facilitative relationship between the students and their teachers. We can not teach a government class without engaging students in finding their own voice in the process. While there are some who would ask us to teach only history and structures, to truly understand how history and structure have worked together to affect our communities and the individuals within them, we must facilitate students’ exploration of personal, political, and economic issues. Paulo Freire would suggest that keeping these issues out of the classroom is not an act of neutrality; it is instead giving power to the powerful.

Learn more about Identity-youth at
Allies 4 Equality is a club at Blake High School in Montgomery County, Maryland. Learn more about their award-winning efforts at


Anne Marie Foerster Luu is the 2013 TESOL Teacher of the Year, presented by National Geographic Learning. Read about Anne Marie in the February 2013 issue of TESOL Connections.

If you’re attending the TESOL 2013 International Convention and English Language Expo in Dallas, Texas, USA (20–23 March), be sure to check out Anne Marie’s session, titled “Best Practices for ELT Excellence.” You can read about the session and find out more details using the convention’s online itinerary planner.

About amfoersterluu

Anne Marie Foerster Luu is currently a National Board Certified ESOL teacher working in a public K–5 setting and serving as an adjunct in a MA-TESOL program. She is the 2013 TESOL Teacher of the Year.
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2 Responses to In the Pursuit of Happiness, Maryland Voters Said It Matters

  1. Popsy Kanagaratnam says:

    Anne Marie, this resonates on two levels ~ we discussed social justice in class last night, and the week before and it’s so important that we understand the power we have together. It’s’ also important because of the power of the speakers at the MCEA breakfast, and the hope that they have for their future. Francisco, but also the young man whose two mothers can now marry, should they wish to do so. We’ve taken a huge step forward in ensuring not just equality but access to opportunities for so many more. Congratulations on Teacher of the Year, by the way, but I knew THAT already!

  2. John Foerster says:

    Very informative. As a teacher of Communications, I find the blog well written, informative, and with useful information. The use of the Declaration of Independence is useful to all us. We need to periodically have a reminder of why our country is so great and attractive to immigrants. Great job.

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