Since the National Education Association describes itself as "America's largest organization committed to advancing the cause of public education," is it not fair to ask why it spends so much of its energy on political issues having little to do with education?
It would be ludicrous for the NEA to deny its political activism. In 1996, it employed more political operatives than both major political parties combined. It would be just as ridiculous for it to deny its liberalism, but it does, claiming to be bipartisan. But since the NEA established its Political Action Committee in 1972, it has supported and endorsed every Democratic presidential candidate and has overwhelmingly supported Democratic candidates at the congressional level as well.
During the first week of July, the NEA held its annual weeklong convention in New Orleans, where it considered more than 300 proposed policy resolutions, many concerning controversial issues not remotely related to education.
A review of the NEA's consistent stances on these issues provides further proof that whatever else it may claim to be, it is clearly a political arm of the left wing that endorses the liberal position on such issues as abortion, homosexual rights, capital punishment and gun control.
The NEA is also fully supportive of what are called the "multicultural" and "diversity" agendas. In two resolutions issuing from its 1999 convention it affirmed its commitment not only to "diversity"-based curricula, but urged that it be introduced in early childhood (from birth through age 8) education programs. One of the resolutions stated "that a diverse society enriches all individuals." Part of this enriching diversity, it said, is people with differences in "sexual orientation."
On Feb. 8, 2002, the organization went further, adopting a plan to make schools safe and hospitable for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered students and education employees. The plan was ostensibly targeted at punishing "harassment" and "discrimination."
The NEA's press release promoting the plan said the union would endeavor "to provide students, education employees and the general public with accurate, objective and up-to-date information regarding the needs of, and problems confronting gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered students." Any such information, according to the statement, would be "nonjudgmental in terms of sexual orientation/gender identification." This is how the NEA organizes its education priorities. One is left to wonder what "objective" information educators would provide under the plan, not to mention the import of the word "nonjudgmental." Did it mean what it usually does: that those with opposing views would be denied their voice?
This year's convention saw some fireworks when a group of pro-life delegates appealed to the NEA to stop promoting abortions for teenage students. "We'd like it if the NEA would stick to education issues and not promote abortion with the words 'reproductive freedom'" in a resolution concerning family planning, said junior high school language arts teacher Judy Bruns.
But the NEA has been less than forthcoming about its position, denying the plain meaning of the language in its resolution. The family resolution states, "The National Education Association supports family planning, including the right to reproductive freedom. The association urges the government to give high priority to making available all methods of family planning to women and men unable to take advantage of private facilities ... "
David Kaiser, an elementary school guidance counselor from Fort Recovery, Ohio, pressed the NEA Resolutions Internal Editing Committee Chairman to explain the meaning of "private facilities." Chairman Shirley Cherry evaded the question. "I am not prepared to answer that question to you at this time," she said.
Mrs. Cherry, however, justified the NEA's habit of political advocacy, saying, "As educators, everything is related to our children, and we have to look out for the best interests of our children, students and educators."
The federal and state governments continue to pour more and more money into education with pathetic results. When are politicians (and parents, for that matter) going to wake up to the fact that the education establishment is shirking its primary duty of promoting the education – as opposed to the social transformation – of our children? Is it any wonder more parents are turning to homeschooling and private schools?
There are still many, many outstanding public school teachers who do a superb job at educating despite the obstacles, distractions and interfering political agendas of the education establishment. But it is no thanks to the NEA, and the more that word gets out the better for the students and the cause of education.