NEA Continues...The Education Agenda is a War Agenda...

The Education Agenda is a War Agenda

By Rich Gibson

Reporting and Analysis of Days 4 and 5 of the NEA RA

There is considerable comfort of the idea that we are all in this together. It’s an appealing idea, nice. Educator culture, on the face of it inside NEA, is nice.

*We are all in this together in the world.

*We are all in this together in our nation.

*We are all in this together in our state.

*We are all in this together in our profession (really, job).

The desire to please and fit in seems to seep from school kids into this school union, and while the former is innocent and kind, the latter is a myth, a cover for real cruelty at every level.

We are not all in this together in this world. Every continent is either at war or sending participants, typically children of the poor fighting the children of the poor on the behalf of the poor in their homelands. Myth.

We are not all in this together in this nation. We witness a full-out attack of the rich on the poor with the rich using the government as their executive committee and armed weapon while the poor are taught there is no class war in the USA–and asked to enlist. One nation under a myth. In the states, we see state competing with state for jobs, to be rid of or purchase prisoners. State unity — an opportunist’s myth.

To our present point at the Representative Assembly of NEA, witness the repeated references to ”our profession, our education family, our association (and sometimes our union.)” Myth, at every level. Educators are not professionals who determine the nature of their work, set their hours, wages, and benefits–except when we are called upon to purchase books and supplies for our kids. No. We are workers who have opposing interests with our employers. The education family is an abusive one at best; administrators abusing teachers, school workers abusing kids with high-stakes exams. Fear is pervasive in schools, undermining the honest project of gaining and testing knowledge–which requires a relatively free atmosphere. NEA is more than 100 years old. Over time, the organization developed a culture reflecting its industry, as most unions do, including hierarchies that are denied in both schools and the union–“the education family” myth. NEA’s RA’s are notorious for their rarely contentious, breezy, atmosphere. Delegates wear funny hats: corn-heads from Iowa. Lots of Cat in the Hat hats. American flag hats. Floppy hats. MJ hats. Bourbon Caucus hats (yes, an officially recognized fund-raising bourbon caucus from Kentucky). Beer is Food hats. Even so, the delegates are a disciplined bunch. They show up. They attend early morning caucuses even if, for some of them, who looks best for the night is the key question. They come to the RA, a huge arena. They sit. They attend, more or less, many reading mystery novels. Many of them do exercises on the floor — more exercise is a good notion for more delegates than less. But they are there, probably extending on the past as the good students in school. Delegates face a dizzying array of pages of resolutions, amendments, by-law changes that most of them never saw before they arrived. They pay attention and work through, piece by piece. That too is NEA culture. It is, at the least, hard tedious work. Some are there eyeing union jobs, but most are not. They care about what is up. They watch the screens and check their leaders, fast, when they feel those leaders overstep bounds of propriety–but they do it respectfully. Sad to say, the delegates pay heed to the parts, like “NEA should support adult education,” but never, as far as I can see, the whole: Why are things are as they are? The education agenda is a war agenda.

NEA’s long life means the organization can identify, organize, and mentor new leaders. And they do. Perhaps it is the demographics of teaching that cause me to think that far less than 10 percent of the RA delegates are under 35. The vast majority are white even though NEA does promote a systematic affirmative action program that, at leadership levels, places people of color, women, disabled people, in positions that they might be locked out of in other organizations. That does not mean, however, that those who are moving up to higher positions are honest. That, at lower levels, is an open question. At the level of national leadership, I say it’s settled.

Day Four of the 2009 NEA RA

On day 4, however, Dennis Van Roekel (DVR) regained his footing from a terrible outing during his opening speech. DVR is not much of a public speaker, but he is a good fit for a chair of the NEA RA. It is a grueling job demanding great stamina. It’s full of annoyances, particularly stupid and arcane questions from the floor, answered and repeated two or three times within a matter of minutes. Van Roekel handled this all affably, almost easily, using the authority the delegates lend him in some cases, good humor in others. If his goal is to keep the delegates in line with the Obamagogue agenda (keeping the essence of NCLB but not the name, charters, merit pay, no mention of single payer health, militarization) and make them feel they chose that course, almost happily; it’s working. Delegates become pleasant instruments of their own oppression.

The key RA action agenda is raising money for lobbying. About this, NEA leadership is dead serious. It’s a useful diversion. School kids are told from kindergarten that they live in a democracy, not a capitalist democracy, and their vote really counts–as if the assembled educators could out-bribe the banksters and the $12.9 Trillion they got from the feds in the last six months. The electoral project keeps members involved, busy, and keeps their eyes away from the real key goal of any union—control of the work place, the ability to open and close it, collectively—as if they members devoted themselves to that, they would not need to pay DVR his king’s-ransom salary. They could count on the very definition of union: each other. As of the real Day 2 of the RA, the delegates had already raised 938,839 dollars to give to the politicos. It’s an endless series of hustles, from bingo games to selling chatkas and gimcracks, to the sale of pajama parties and autographed drum sets. Besides the Obama-slogan, “Hope Starts Here,” it may be the most pervasive constant of the RA–a surprise or two about that later.

On Day 4, the NEA-AFT Merger caucus came forth full born with a four page newsletter urging people to their newly formed caucus meeting at the Manchester Grand Hyatt. Usually, NEA is sensitive about things like the MGH. It’s presently under boycott by the many California gay and lesbian groupings as owner Doug Manchester was a prime funder of the campaign to halt gay marriage in the state. But the NEA-AFT caucus, and the entire Indiana delegation (the Indiana EA is bankrupt but they stayed in what is probably the most expensive hotel in the most expensive area of San Diego). In any case, the leadership of NEA has, since 1985, been scheming a merger between NEA and AFT, one that would put the NEA inside the ruins of the AFL-CIO and would adopt the grossly undemocratic AFT structure. Most delegates know nothing about this, believing the merger plot was halted during the “Not Just No but Hell NO!” RA in 1999. There is too much money in the deal for the leadership to retreat, so they hack on.

Through day 4 DVR, added by some remarkable technology that transfers spoken comments to big-screen print simultaneously, kept the delegates well within the leadership boundaries, much like student body governments are kept in lovely sandboxes until they do something important, step out, and must be firmly, gently returned to their pails and shovels inside. Jacqueline Smith, a California delegate planning to introduce an anti-war resolution, looked cheerful in a red, “A War Budget Leaves Every Child Behind,” t-shirt from the Peace and Justice Caucus. Her resolution did not make it to the floor on day 4 and was set aside on day 5 with little discussion. The body voted not to consider it. “NEA is opposed to merit pay.” DVR said that on day 4. Members should throw shoes with that imprint on their soles at him when they see merit pay accepted at NEA bargaining tables, as it has with his pals in the AFT. The motion that passed, interesting, said only that NEA needs to “inform members on the strengths and weaknesses of merit pay.” Lots of speakers opposed using the term. Sadly, an announcement came that the wife of a delegate, enjoying San Diego with her kids, fell out of one of the many, many unregulated pedi-cabs in the city, and was in serious condition. She later died.

The day almost ended on a bright note, a motion from the floor, “I move to recess. It is the 4th of July and my butt hurts.” Much laughter.

"The delegates, at the end of day 4, sang to the pipe organ, not the national anthem, but God Bless America. " But there were more announcements about the ubiquitous fundraising (California alone raised $75,189.63) and then a drawing for a check. Joshua Brown of Iowa who had donated and sat through day 4 won $10,000. Ten thousand dollars. That’s merit pay.

Day 5:

Less that 200 people attended the Peace and Justice program awarding Mike Ferrell of MASH fame a Human Rights award. Less than ten of them were under 35. Farrell spoke movingly about abolishing the death penalty and abolishing life in prison sentences for juveniles. PandJ members also honored David Morales whose principal quashed his right to march in his high school graduation because of David’s activist work against war and racism. On the floor came the ESEA. Following a committee report, DVR riled himself up enough to call it a “crappy” law that needs to be changed. And called for more money to lobby. He seems to forget that it is a bi-partisan law, reflecting the united ruling class’ desire to regulate what people need to know and how they come to know it. That, after all, is a peculiar desire of any nation in rapid decay, promising perpetual war. DVR, though, likes what he said are his monthly meetings with Chicago’s miracle man, Arne Duncan. Beach balls are flying in the delegate sections now. People are using anything they can find for fans. Exercisers are blocking aisles (and good for them).

A 40 minute discussion ensued on a motion that sought to advise Teach for America that it should extend the years that their teachers must spend inside public schools. A few delegates noted that TFA does not need to listen to NEA (though DVR said he meets with TFA head Wendy Kopp). Some objected to TFA personnel replacing teachers being riffed. DVR had to shush the restless group several times now, but only gently. The motion failed. All the committee reports, in a thirty page small print document were adopted, as a whole with no changes, in a two minute vote. Most of the delegates never read them, though a year ago they passed motions, sometimes with passion, to get those committees to act. What they did? Who knows, really? None of the committee reports touch on the work NEA does with the notorious National Endowment for Democracy–not a secret, just unsaid. There is still a lot to do. But on the final day of the NEA RA, “The Train,” arrives. Resolutions are packaged, rushed through, sent to committees, and forgotten until the same things arrive next year, in New Orleans. Sometimes, the last day of the NEA RA runs very late. This time, it appears it may end on time, even early. There is little contention. Nobody is picketing NEA about its silence on the war, or its failure at the Manchester Grand Hyatt, or the reality of high stakes exams and pervasive fear in schools. NEA does less than nothing about that, helping to organize the rot in the economy and the culture as well.

But wait. There is the fundraising raffle. Jannette Hunter of Pennsylvania won $15,000. Merit pay.

We are not all in this together. Rather, fascism emerges, settles on the schools and the culture like a too-cool comforter, promising it will surely bring us warmth. Relief through wars for empire (war means work), through eradicating critique (so discomfiting), by promoting spectacles (Michael J, Air McNair this week) by allowing us to demean one another, politely, unconsciously, even hopefully. The education agenda is a war agenda. Tomorrow, Linda Darling Hammond accepts the NEA friend of education award, which says a lot.

Ahead, after the close to the RA, an analysis of the Strategic Plan given to every delegate, but never discussed, and a discussion with the leader of the NEA Peace and Justice Caucus, Andy Griggs. And, finally, a wrap up of off and on the record comments of NEA delegates, teachers and support personnel, who were good enough to talk to me at length that this RA.

Next year, New Orleans.

Two years from now — Chicago!

A report on the last merger convention, resulting in the Not Just No but Hell No vote is here: What is fascism? Here: Expansion on the Education Agenda is a War Agenda here:


Add your own comment (all fields are necessary)

Substance readers:

You must give your first name and last name under "Name" when you post a comment at We are not operating a blog and do not allow anonymous or pseudonymous comments. Our readers deserve to know who is commenting, just as they deserve to know the source of our news reports and analysis.

Please respect this, and also provide us with an accurate e-mail address.

Thank you,

The Editors of Substance

Your Name

Your Email

What's your comment about?

Your Comment

Please answer this to prove you're not a robot:

1 + 5 =