Few, if any, groups get as far under the skin of conservatives as the National Education Association (NEA). The powerful NEA represents the polar liberal extreme on virtually every issue in education, politics, religion, and society. The NEA supports a multitude of traditionally left-wing ideas, from multiculturalism to the proliferation of gay and lesbian studies. The NEA is anti-school prayer and anti-school vouchers. The NEA supports radical feminism and reparations for slavery.
I was a card-carrying member of the NEA for 16 years before quitting over many of the previously mentioned issues. I was a member out of convenience and rarely paid much attention to the political and social stands taken by the NEA. As time wore on, I realized that I was paying good money in the form of dues to an organization completely opposed to all I believed in. Those 16 years still leave me with a sense of shame for what I supported.
Not to be written off as some fringe group with little or no political power, the NEA has become one of the nation’s most powerful unions and lobbying groups. Is it any wonder, then, that the NEA is a prime target of conservative pundits and talk-show hosts?
So how has it come to pass that I feel the need to criticize the critics of the NEA? At the risk of alienating my brethren on the right, much of how they characterize the relationship between teachers and the NEA is off-base.
A day does not go by on conservative talk radio without some story about how the NEA influences public education. Many of the association’s critics would have us believe that the NEA is some monolith that has the blind support of millions of teachers from across the land. The fact is that the NEA is viewed by many teachers who follow its actions as far too radical and completely out of touch with everyday teachers and the day-to-day activities of education.
Twenty-two years of teaching have convinced me that upwards of half of all teachers would not be members of the NEA if given a clear choice. At least in the state of Maine, collective bargaining laws require that teachers must be members of the NEA if they want to be members of their local teachers’ association. This dynamic leads to inflated membership and more dollars for the NEA.
When the right criticizes teachers (as well they should on many occasions) and the NEA in the same breath, it is obvious to me they have not done their homework and are simply basing their assumptions on oft-repeated statements that all teachers are in bed with the NEA.
One of the strategies of the left is to disguise a lie as the truth until eventually the lie is accepted as truth. I hope conservatives never stoop so low.
Conservative teachers are in the minority, for sure, but they represent a core group of dedicated individuals who abhor the NEA and are in a position to counter the silliness and destructiveness of much of what goes on in public schools today.
Conservatives should attack the NEA for what it is: a powerful left-wing political lobby that promotes causes that are not only wrong, but also extremely dangerous to the interests of our nation.
But to lump all teachers and the NEA into one group is an error that the political right must avoid in order to maintain credibility on education issues.
Ike Morgan is math and physics teacher at Nokomis High School in Newport, Maine. He lives in Exeter, Maine and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .