For the first time in memory, teachers refused to be intimidated by the National Education Association’s leftist leadership. At their annual convention in New Orleans on June 30, a large contingent of teacher-delegates insisted the NEA drop “reproductive freedom”/family planning from its voluminous list of resolutions and stick to topics actually relevant to schools and teaching.
Over the years, the NEA has amassed some 300 policy positions, itemized as annual resolutions and set out in a published legislative agenda. The publication purportedly reflects all educators’ beliefs on assorted issues, from homosexual advocacy and criticism of capital punishment to abortion “rights.” Parents, religious leaders, and even many teachers have winced at the increasingly bellicose demands of NEA leaders, who, since 1948, have consistently taken the most extreme positions on domestic and international issues. Despite sporadic dissent, however, the NEA consolidated its hold through a rigid, three-tiered membership scheme in the early 1970’s, trammeling the rights of any heretic within the profession who dared express viewpoints contrary to the union’s “approved” stances.
From college onward, prospective and practicing teachers have been told that they need to be part of the “professional association” to be considered true professionals. The union, for its part, never took on a teacher’s problem unless it involved a salary dispute or promoted one of the NEA’s pet political causes. For some 30 years, the NEA has been able to run its state and local affiliates with Stasi-like efficiency through such adjuncts as its Uniserve organization, which spies on teachers and thwarts the careers and higher aspirations of any educator reputed to be on the wrong side of NEA wisdom.
This year, however, delegates from such divergent states as California, Kentucky, and New York found their voice. When union leaders claimed that they did not advocate abortion, the delegates read back to them their own demand that government make all methods of family planning available to those “unable to take advantage of private facilities” and then asked for a definition of “private facilities.” The chairman of the NEA’s Resolutions Internal Editing Committee, Shirley Cherry, sniffed that she was “not prepared to answer that question.”
Normally, that would have been that, but not this time. The dissident delegates simply did not buy Cherry’s rationale for the union’s ongoing intrusion into every economic, social, and foreign-policy topic: that everything, after all, “is related to our children.”
With four high-profile scandals this year involving the NEA and its gofers within the education establishment, there is a window of opportunity to defang a leftist bureaucracy that has been churning out good little socialist voters for decades while circumventing laws on political lobbying. Stealing money outright from members, credit-card scandals at the highest levels, and inciting students to protest the “War on Terrorism” in the aftermath of September 11 do not make good press. What better time, now that teachers themselves are expressing dissatisfaction, to pull the plug on the NEA’s tax-exempt status?
The NEA seems uninterested in legitimate educational matters—for example, what prospective educators learn in their college courses. The rationale behind President Bush’s testing initiative is that the building blocks of learning should be emphasized. Regular testing in math and reading is intended to get that message across. Even tests that actually measure progress in these key subjects (instead of fishing for psychological and personality quirks), however, do not analyze why, precisely, a child is not succeeding. The preparing teachers are getting left behind at the university level.
Only seven things can go wrong in learning, per se: visual and auditory memory,
visual identification, spatial reasoning, conceptualization, hand-eye coordination, and thought-expression synchronization. How many education majors are specializing in one of the above? Don’t bother asking around:?You won’t find any. High-priced learning centers, on the other hand, train their staffs to establish this substructure of learning first.
For example, if a child thinks 1/4 is big-ger than 1/2 because 4 is bigger than 2, he probably has a spatial reasoning problem. He will try to memorize his way through math (like I did). And, by fifth grade, he will crash (like I did). He certainly will never “get” tax and budget issues. His memory will only take him so far. (I wound up teaching myself, in adulthood.)
Or, take phonics, by far the best method of teaching reading and spelling. If a child has a significant deficiency in his auditory memory, he will not remember the sound combinations.
Which of the seven areas is most important? None. Nearly all of us are weak in at least one of them. Every one of these deficiencies is remediable, especially if caught early on.
Now, suppose you took a real diagnostic test to find your “weakest link.” Suppose, on day one of first grade, you were matched with a teacher who constructed lesson plans for your whole class around this weakest element. After a year or so, you likely would not have a spatial-reasoning—or whatever—problem anymore.
Does the NEA care that we are slapping stigmatizing labels on seven- and eight-year-olds? That we throw them into “holding tanks” called Special Ed, where all they get are lessons in the three F’s—frustration, fightin’, and fidgetin’? Or that we then proceed to drug the losers who come out of this toxic environment? No, the NEA only demands more money for Special Education.
The NEA and the equally misguided American Federation of Teachers could have been genuine “professional associations.” They could have had at their disposal the insights of thousands of teachers, which might have translated into useful teacher-education courses, productive education research, and better policymaking at the state and local levels. Instead, they chose the lower route of yellow journalism, pitting teachers against management, teachers against parents, and, finally, teachers against students. Now the teacher stands alone, amid an onslaught of rotten apples from all directions. Principals and superintendents no longer go to bat for a teacher; parents neither respect nor trust the teacher; and pupils view the teacher as a glorified baby-sitter. The teachers’ unions frittered away their chance to “make a difference”—first, out of financial greed; then, for political power. Leftist political powerbrokers assumed permanent leadership in a quasisuccessful attempt to alter the loyalties and values of a nation.
As long as every government agency is dishing out grants to accommodate these extremists’ calls for one failed social program or prevention scheme after another, this nation will stay near the bottom of the global academic heap.
It is time for the Bush administration to stop pandering to the left. Instead, it must push for removal of the NEA’s tax-exempt status and direct any educational funding only to incentives for legitimate learning. We must quit throwing tax dollars at failure-ridden social programs and showering money willy-nilly on those corrupt stepchildren of the U.S. Department of Education, the state education agencies.
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