Now Is the Summer of Our Discontent

I’ve attended sixteen NEA Annual Meetings. Two seem to me to have been more important than the others; both took place in New Orleans.

  • In 1998, NEA delegates rejected the “Principles of Unity,” which would have set us on a path toward a merger with the American Federation of Teachers. Along with a majority of the Ohio delegation, I supported the Principles, and it’s possible that the RA’s failure to adopt them helped set the stage for the second.
  • This year, RA delegates finally began to confront three uncomfortable truths that we should already have known. First, support of any candidate is a marriage of convenience: any office-holder will sacrifice virtually any ideal if it means being re-elected. Second, many Democratic officeholders have accepted the three basic tenets of Republican doctrine on public education: accountability, school choice, and the obstinacy of teachers’ unions. Third, public educators can rely on no one but themselves to understand and support their issues.

This RA was the least hopeful and the most angry of the ones I’ve attended. The delegates’ discontent is fueled by two realizations.

  • We are politically alone. The Democratic Party uses us and the Republican Party hates us.
  • We have so far been unable to energize our enormous membership base and realize more than a fraction of its political potential.

I don’t believe for a moment that we are wrong. Accountability and school choice are disastrous doctrines that, left unchecked, will destroy American public education. The teachers’ unions, far from blocking their members’ desires for reform, are accurately voicing concerns shared by the overwhelming majority of public educators.But I do believe that wishful thinking has dominated our internal dialogues and delayed our actually doing anything about the critical issues I have outlined here. In the weeks ahead, I am going to post an analysis of the issues I have raised here. I invite interested readers to come back from time to time and to post their own comments.

Author: StgCoach

Retired teacher and public education leader. Pastoral musician, community activist, parliamentarian, and photographer.