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Leadership and Activism

Why I Left the NEA

When the Arizona state legislature began cutting funding to education, I met with the union (the AEA, the affiliate of the NEA) and helped pass out fliers urging voters to speak out. When they passed anti-teacher legislation, I wore red and joined the protests. I blogged about it. I tweeted about it. I talked to neighbors about it. I believed, at the time, that the NEA had some teeth and that I was part of a beast that was biting back.

I later realized that the beast had been awakened, but it had also been defanged. I watched as the group that supposedly represents teachers chose Obama over Clinton, despite a clearly pro-corporate educational policy in Obama’s campaign rhetoric. I watched Obama articulate a vision of teachers that sounded much more positive (we’re nation-builders, after all) while pushing a policy that reduced local autonomy, teacher’s rights and professional autonomy.

I get it. Millions of people were duped by the charming and charismatic hope-change marketing campaign. However, NEA still supports Obama, despite his praise of the firing of all teachers at Central Falls High School.

It would seem that the current Federal policies, along with the transnational educational conglomerates (testing, textbook, consulting companies) might be the biggest threat to public education right now. However, instead of articulating a pro-teacher, pro-parent, pro-child vision, the NEA creates a straw man villain out of home schooling.

Section B-81 of their Resolutions states, “The National Education Association believes that home schooling programs based on parental choice cannot provide the student with a comprehensive education experience. ”

I will not be a member of a group that doesn’t stand up for teachers. I will not be a member of a group that is too afraid to stand up to a president with failing, unjust policies. I will not be a member of a group that does not mobilize against the corporate take-over of a public institution. I will not be a member of a group that vilifies parents who opt out of the standardized, factory system that many teachers also see as the enemy.


About John Spencer

I teach. I write. I live. I want to do all three authentically.


13 thoughts on “Why I Left the NEA

  1. If the NEA gets a new set of teeth and a backbone as well, I might consider joining it again. If they focus on the real villains and move boldly in a fight for teacher and parent autonomy, I will not only join, but become an active member again.

    Posted by John T. Spencer | June 5, 2012, 9:35 am
  2. Amen! Thanks for saying what many think but won’t say (lest they risk not showing support or solidarity – support the Democrats at all costs!). Nothing hurts me more to see the reputations and livelihoods of teachers being nationally condemned and scapegoated. I hope more share and voice this criticism of our so-called leadership.

    Posted by Julie Dalley | June 5, 2012, 9:40 am
  3. Dear Mr. Spencer,

    I’m truly sorry the President did not bring you your unicorn and pony. Alas, our parents and overlords make promises they either can’t keep, won’t keep, or decide out of pragmatism or political expediency, they don’t want to keep. That is a rule of human dynamics. It is also a rule in our political system that we have far fewer choices when it comes to candidates than we do for digital cameras and skins for our cell phones.

    You only have one choice when it comes to a national organization that cares at all about public education and is singularly focused on it…that would be the NEA. Likewise, there is only one candidate who gives two flips about public education…and that would be the flawed Barack Hussein Obama. Yep, he should have stood with the teachers. Yep, he should have been in Wisconsin fighting the good fight. He should have closed Gitmo and his drone attacks with their grotesque “collateral damage” are a moral outrage. But my outrage is tempered when I consider the alternative in terms of who could have been or might be Commander in Chief.

    While you may comfort yourself in the knowledge that you have maintained your ideological purity and have precluded future disappointment in failure to receive unicorns and ponies, you may also well find that is indeed cold comfort when the stated enemies of the NEA, the President, and public education find their mission made just a little easier by your decision to step aside to suck your thumb. Best wishes to you in the United States of Vouchers and Ghettoized Public Schools.

    God Bless Yer Little Heart,

    John deVille
    Macon County NCAE VP

    Posted by jdeville | June 5, 2012, 10:18 am
    • Thanks for the condescending tone. That will certainly win people to your cause and definitely work against the notion that the NEA is out of touch and no longer empathetic toward teachers.

      Here’s the thing: I’m not looking for ideological purity. I’m actually quite nuanced. Try reading anything I’ve written before and you’ll get that. The truth is that the NEA attacks homeschoolers and I’m against that. The truth is that the NEA supports Obama, who has, to this date, been the most anti-teacher president in our history. I cannot justify a penny of my money going toward his campaign.

      I get the argument that you have to “choose the lesser of two evils.” However, I’d rather the NEA choose nothing than choose evil.

      Posted by John T. Spencer | June 5, 2012, 10:27 am
      • NEA works against homeschoolers?? Obviously, mileage varies from place to place, but I see no evidence of that where I am. As a rule, we’re against the virtual charter school movement which seeks to skim funds off the top to the detriment of those children left behind in traditional public schools but other than that, I haven’t seen untoward efforts in my county nor state. FWIW, my sister homeschooled her two children for a spell, with both my blessing and my assistance. Our county board ably assists parents who wish to homeschool part of the day or year and then desires traditional setting for the other part of the day or year. Books and other support materials/resources are provided without a grudge or a wince.

        NEA isn’t empathetic towards teachers??? Dude, you’re really losing me there…if there’s no empathy then where would the membership be. When teachers are under the gun either from an unhinged parent, an administrator with an unsound agenda, or a board member looking to make a statement, there’s one place I’ve known for 16 years that will always provide me safe harbor and counsel. My email and cell light up at least a few times a month from a teacher looking for help…and it is because of that help that we keep and attract our members. The main reason we lose them are for financial reasons.

        You’re right; my tone isn’t helpful, but when you say you would “rather the NEA choose nothing than chose evil” it’s rather tough for me to stay above condescension. There is no null set to choose…stepping aside only clears the path for the opponents of public ed…you either get that fundamental dynamic or you don’t, but there is ample history both within public education and in the broader struggle of the 99% to demonstrate that choosing nothing is to throw one’s lot in with the 1%.

        And “evil??”……Obama is a lot of things…I’ll give you “mendacious” if that salves your hurt, but “evil”….well, i think you just blew your own nuanced legs off.


        Posted by jdeville | June 5, 2012, 10:51 am
  4. His last name is deVille? As in Cruella? As in devil? I think he’s just trolling you, John. The “unicorns and ponies” gambit was probably all he could think of while staring at his bedroom wallpaper.

    Just to be safe – don’t have an opinion from now on. We don’t want to stir future devils to ego-boosting condescension.

    Posted by Cruella DeTeacher | June 5, 2012, 10:43 am
  5. It is a sad time for the entire country with respect to the stranglehold politicians and even more so the lobbyists have. Virtually nothing gets done for CONSIDERED REASONS. It’s all about influence. Until reforms are made (e.g., term limits, six-week campaigns paid by government, “none of the above” option for every elected office including President with office vacant of wins, …), AND MAYBE EVEN THEN, I advocate for local group efforts (what I call Education Comminities for education) to identify, understand, and deal with local issues – IN SPITE OF THE LOBBYISTS AND POLITICIANS!

    Posted by jcbjr9455 | June 5, 2012, 11:03 am
  6. I support your individual decision to walk out and walk onward. I found Mr. deVille’s comments quite interesting — maybe he knows why I never got that pony for my birthday… 🙂

    Posted by Brent Snavely | June 5, 2012, 11:40 am
  7. Somehow, I just don’t trust anyone anymore. Fear is running rampant in the hallways of public schools causing paralysis, apathy and uninspired pedogogy. Someone has to take a stand against the cruel and unfair treatment of educators as a whole. Is there a more awesome collection of workers than public school teachers who welcome the task of inspiring young people to become the future citizens of America and the world? We get a lot of lip service to our importance in the community, etc., but why don’t we receive the real admiration and respect that can sustain us through the hard work we do. I am worried that the heART of our work is eroding and that the myth that “anyone can teach” is gaining momentum as the profession moves toward a corporate entity motivated by money and power. It is, indeed, a sad day for American education…not because we don’t do an amazing job…because no one is focused on that fact. The morality of public education is being railroaded in the race to nowhere. Can anyone put the brakes on this out-of-control runaway train? It can only happen with collective uprisals across the country. Who will lead the way?

    Posted by Sandy | June 5, 2012, 11:43 am
  8. Sandy and all –

    Here’s the reality of the present mess – at least as I see it! Most teachers are indeed doing a great job; but I know and you almost certainly do as well that we all had a teacher or two that was really bad. Indeed, so did our children and unfortunately so do our grandchildren! So here’s the politicians saying the scores are bad (again, not fair) and those teachers, for “all they have going for them” or something like that aren’t doing the job! John Q Public says “I remember so and so who was bad; the politicians are right!” Add in the bad economy and we’re in the situation from hell today!

    To me the only choice is to act locally as outlined in my comment above. Essentially act in spite of the politicians – and maybe unions (no real connections for me – though I have to say their image is protecting their members at all costs with no significant / visible effort to improve education (EVERYTHING CAN AND MUST IMPROVE, no matter how good Education might be for the most part).

    Posted by John Bennett | June 5, 2012, 12:42 pm
  9. I left my local affiliate a few years back over political matters; I would most appreciate a union focused on what happens to kids, rather than on what happens to teachers.

    All that being said, I would never disregard the tremendous sacrifices made by those who fostered organized labor in our country.

    Respecting such sacrifices, let me also say that interchanges based on personal attacks and rhetorical one-up-person-ship really don’t have a place in the community we’re trying to build here or in the schools and learning spaces and opportunities we’d all like to safeguard for kids.

    By all means engage in civil debate, but please keep from tilting at one another. We do not brook trolls, and we consider folks who willfully break our norms in dealing with one another to be trolls.

    Let’s talk about “stepping aside” versus offering alternatives; let’s reference pertinent posts without daring one another to read them; let’s weigh the pros and cons of organizing as educators and cite the examples we can all follow or build upon in forming groups – whatever they are – that safeguard kids, learning, and adults in schools for as long as we have them.

    I look forward to reading more about what we can do together.

    Posted by Chad Sansing | June 5, 2012, 3:22 pm
  10. Without the NEA, state level teacher’s organizations and or unions respectively what then is left for our profession?

    Posted by Bill Horniak | June 5, 2012, 9:02 pm
    • Bill, do you mean what protections are left, or what is left of teaching as a profession? I don’t think the best kinds of teaching go anywhere, but the job of the teacher, with or without unions, is bound to change – or so I believe. With the amount of information available to us and the number of people offering tutorials and how-tos online as videos, classes, and mentorship, I think that regardless of our union status, we school teachers all have to change a bit in order to offer a clear alternative to traditional instruction – whether that instructional happens in a classroom or in a Google hangout. How can we, at school, irrespective of union status, change teaching and learning for the better?

      That is difficult to do for many reasons – unions address some of those reasons, but they also do not address some of those reasons. Can the job survive without the unions – I don’t know. Will the job have to change anyway – I’m positive it will.

      What do you think?

      All the best,

      Posted by Chad Sansing | June 5, 2012, 10:54 pm

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