Workers’ Correspondence

While Secretary of Education Rod Paige’s recent statement that the National Education Association is a “terrorist organization” is disturbing enough in itself, his apology issued later that same day is even more alarming.

Secretary Paige’s apology attempts to drive a wedge between NEA members and their lobbyists and leadership in Washington. He said, “[O]ur nation’s teachers … are the real soldiers of democracy, whereas the NEA’s high-priced Washington lobbyists have made no secret that they will fight against bringing real, rock-solid improvements in the way we educate all our children regardless of skin color, accent or where they live.”

Apparently Paige is unaware that those lobbyists in Washington are there with the blessing and support of the NEA membership, representing the collective will of that membership. Those same “real, rock-solid improvements” in education that the lobbyists are fighting are the provisions of the Bush administration’s education law, the No Child Left Behind Act, which NEA members oppose. The lobbyists are merely the membership’s voice on Capitol Hill.

But if Secretary Paige were to acknowledge that, he would be forced to acknowledge that the nation’s teachers, the people actually responsible for educating our children day-in and day-out, have found flaws in the law that he promotes so vigorously. Better to try to divide those members from their leadership and conquer the NEA, one of the largest unions in the country and one that frequently supports Democratic candidates.

Perhaps Reg Weaver, the president of the NEA, said it best when he commented on the alleged difference between the NEA’s members and its leadership. “We are the teachers. There is no distinction.”

– Debra Brim, public education activist in Tucson, Ariz.
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