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 forselection 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.