Until the mid-1970’s, public education in Louisiana, like that in much of rural America, was solidly and successfully based on traditional methodology and philosophy, which emphasized academic excellence, an honest curriculum, discipline, and civic responsibility.  Administrators and teachers considered themselves to be true professionals with an accompanying moral obligation not only to provide quality education to the children of the state but to strengthen those children in their appreciation of knowledge, patriotism, and civilization.  As professionals, educators were prepared to sacrifice time and effort, during school hours and after, to ensure the success of their students.  As did the virtus of the Roman republic, civic virtue in Louisiana depended on the dedication and selfless devotion of the state’s teachers.

Louisiana’s teacher organizations at that time reflected the legacy of racial segregation.  The Louisiana Education Association (LEA) consisted primarily of black teachers and administrators, while the Louisiana Teachers’ Association (LTA) was chiefly made up of white educators.  In New Orleans, a sociological morass often ignored by the rest of the state, the Louisiana Federation of Teachers (LFT), an affiliate of the AFL-CIO’s American Federation of Teachers, had gained a foothold.  In 1976, the leadership of the LEA and the LTA proposed a merger of the two organizations.  The LEA was affiliated with the excessively liberal National Education Association, and it eventually became clear that all members of the new “Louisiana Association of Educators” (LAE), which would result from the merger, would be forced to join the National Education Association, whether or not they agreed with its political and philosophical views.

The majority of LTA members were fundamentally conservative and, despite the pleas of the organization’s “progressive” leadership, twice rejected the merger proposal because of the NEA membership requirement.  Many Louisiana teachers were fully aware of the National Education Association’s left-wing political agenda and wanted no part of it.  The NEA was a major contributor to the McGovernite national Democratic Party; it had opposed the American military effort in Vietnam; it advocated counterproductive education doctrines that seemed to be part Rousseau, part John Dewey, and part Governor Moonbeam; and, most damningly, the NEA acted as a union—not as a professional organization.

Machiavellian manipulation by the state officers and staff of the LTA, which included the “busing in” of pro-union teachers from the New Orleans metropolitan area, resulted in a victory for the merger when a third vote was taken in 1977.  The LEA and LTA were superseded by the Louisiana Association of Educators, which, indeed, required that every member pay dues not only to local and state organizations but to the National Education Association as well.

Conservative educators in different regions of the state refused to surrender their professional dignity and independence to the LAE or, for that matter, to the LFT.  In northern Louisiana, near Shreveport, the Bossier Parish Teachers’ Association declared independence and offered membership and tort liability insurance to teachers in other parts of Louisiana.  Shortly thereafter, J.P. Johnston, the president of the Bossier Parish group, along with a few other conservative teachers, visited Tyler, Texas, for a meeting with the leaders of the new Texas independent teachers’ organization.  Inspired by the Texas example, the Professional Educators of Louisiana came into existence in 1978, with a membership of 1,200 teachers concentrated in the northwestern and southeastern parts of the state.

Later, in a separate development, independent-minded conservative teachers from East Baton Rouge, West Baton Rouge, Pointe Coupee, Livingston, and Acadia Parishes also rejected the LAE/NEA and formed the Association of Professional Educators in Louisiana.  Dr. Fred Smith of Louisiana State University was appointed executive director of this organization, which published a newsletter called, appropriately, The Professional Teacher.  Representatives of the two nonunion educators’ organizations soon began to confer; since their goals and philosophies were virtually identical, a merger was approved in 1987 under the name Associated Professional Educators of Louisiana (A+PEL).  The new organization had a statewide membership of over 4,000, a regularly published newsletter, a professional staff, a board of directors, elected state officers, and numerous local chapters.  Fundamentally and forthrightly, A+PEL stood for independence in action and philosophy and genuine traditional professionalism, and it offered itself as a positive alternative to all forms of teacher unionism.  By its very existence, A+PEL declared that teachers did not have to accept the partisan doctrines or the bullying tactics of the unions.

In the years that followed, Associated Professional Educators of Louisiana established valuable connections to civic and business groups throughout the state.  Despite A+PEL’s unwillingness to endorse political candidates, conservative officeholders and office seekers expressed support for the organization’s philosophy and eagerness to assist with its objectives.  A+PEL’s influence grew along with its membership, and members of the organization now serve on a wide variety of state education commissions and committees.  Governors and legislators applaud A+PEL’s determination to “put children first.”  By steadfastly opposing the “laborizing” of education, by rejecting the strikes and demands for “collective bargaining” that characterize the unions, and by insisting that children should not be “held hostage” by those unions, A+PEL established good working relationships with local school boards and with legislators, resulting in major accomplishments and reforms benefiting Louisiana’s teachers, parents, and students.  Acknowledging the organization’s clout, the Louisiana State Department of Education half-jokingly refers to A+PEL as “the Republican teachers association.”  A+PEL has shown that quality education can still be effectively defended at the local and state level.

Polly Broussard, A+PEL’s current executive director and a veteran fighter for independent teachers, has expanded the organization’s contacts with similar groups in other states.  The Texas Association of Professional Educators, which served as a midwife in the birth of Louisiana’s first independent organization, now has 94,000 members; the Professional Association of Georgia Educators claims 46,000; and the Missouri State Teachers’ Association has 42,000.  Smaller—but equally determined—organizations include South Carolina’s Palmetto State Teachers Association, the Professional Educators of Iowa, Professional Educators of North Carolina, Indiana Professional Educators, the Association of Oklahoma Professional Educators, Mississippi Professional Educators, Professional Educators of Tennessee, and the Idaho Association of Professional Educators.  Support groups for conservative, nonunion, independent teachers include the Association of American Educators, the Coalition of Independent Education Associations, and the Concerned Educators Against Forced Unionism, which is part of the National Right-to-Work Committee.

Firm in its belief that an educators’ organization must do more than merely provide liability insurance, legislative representation, and legal services, A+PEL decided to support and promote programs designed to strengthen the subject-matter knowledge and the classroom methodology of teachers at all levels.  A+PEL offers workshops and seminars on a variety of professional topics, and, most significantly, sponsors an annual American Studies conference in Baton Rouge featuring noted traditionalist historians, journalists, and educators from throughout North America.  Attendance is open to all teachers, regardless of organizational membership, and social-studies teachers are given a stipend.  A+PEL has also developed a special Louisiana Studies program and has published a teacher’s guide and research booklet on the state’s history and government.

Today, Associated Professional Educators of Louisiana boasts approximately 6,000 members, with chapters from the Cajun bayous of the south to the red-clay hills of the northern parishes.  Hundreds of A+PEL members can be found in Baton Rouge, Lafayette, Lake Charles, Monroe, and the other cities and towns of the state.  Louisiana teachers who are willing to take a stand for traditional values and true professionalism join A+PEL.  Determined that neither their money nor their hearts will go to the liberal leviathans known as the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, they join A+PEL.  Convinced that teachers must be more than laborers, more than screaming sign-wavers, they join A+PEL.

In recent years, much has been said, especially among conservatives, about the decline and fall of public education in the United States.  Independent teachers and the organizations that represent them share the fears and the concerns of most Americans on this issue.  They, too, have seen the illiterate graduates, the semiliterate teachers who hold on to their jobs through union pressure, the weak and inept administrators, the falling test scores, and the pervasive ignorance that increasingly characterizes the general population.  But, like the biblical remnant, the independent teachers and their organizations are not willing to surrender the field to the forces of “progressivism,” nor are they willing to accept the lie that public education can be miraculously salvaged by expanding federal intervention and increasing federal handouts.  Independent teachers, like those who belong to A+PEL, know that a renewed allegiance to tradition, to discipline, to genuine academic excellence, and to self-reliance is the only means by which public education may yet be saved.