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Wednesday, March 8, 2017

210. Education's Most Powerful Voice: The Underground History of American Education by John Taylor Gatto from archive.org

Education's Most Powerful Voice 

At the 1996 annual convention of the National Education Association, delegates were 
delighted to learn that the union would pay them a $1000 bounty if they could succeed in 
getting themselves elected as a delegate to the upcoming Democratic National 
Convention. No similar prize was offered for selection as a Republican Party delegate. 
The offer proved a powerful motivater, about an eighth of all the delegates who 
nominated Governor Clinton for President were NEA members and the union carried 
more weight at the DNC than California, America's most populous state. 

President Clinton had been the featured speaker at the NEA gathering. When he entered a 
convention hall hung with Clinton-Gore signs and crisscrossed with strobe lights, Clinton 
T-shirts and buttons were everywhere, the band blared out rock and roll, and Arkansas 
delegates pretended to play huge make-believe saxophones. The teacher crowd rocked 
the room. This was its moment to howl. 

The NEA bills itself as "education's most powerful voice in Washington." It claims credit 
for creating the U.S. Department of Education, for passing Goals 2000, and for stopping 
the Senate from approving vouchers. Its platform resolutions and lobbying instructions to 
delegates include the following planks: "mandatory kindergarten with compulsory 
attendance"; opposition to "competency testing" as a condition of employment; "direct 
and confidential" child access to psychological, social, and health services without 
parental knowledge; "programs in the public schools for children from birth"; a resolution 
(B-67) criticizing homeschooling as inadequate and calling for licenses issued by the 
state licensing agency for those who instruct in such schools; and a curriculum "approved 
by the state department of education." 

The NEA also called for statehood for the District of Columbia, and announced its 
undying opposition to all voucher plans and tuition tax credit plans "or funding formulas 
that have the same effect." It threatened a boycott against Shell Oil for alleged 
environmental pollution in Nigeria. The NEA had a foreign policy as well as a 
pedagogical agenda. 

For all this flash and filigree, while the NEA and other professional unions have had 
some effect on micropolitics in schooling, they have surprisingly little effect on public 
policy. For all the breast-beating, vilification, and sanctimony which swirl about the 
union presence in schooling, where real power is concerned the professional 
organizations are not the movers and shakers they are reputed to be. Mostly unions are 
good copy for journalists and not much more. 

Letter To The Editor 

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