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Education Reporter

NEA Convention Inhospitable to Diverse Viewpoints
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LOS ANGELES - The National Education Association held its annual convention here in July, purporting to represent a diverse membership of 2.7 million educators, a third of whom are Republicans. Diversity of viewpoints, however, was given short shrift.

The badges tell the story: messages bashing President Bush, supporting gays and lesbians, criticizing the No Child Left Behind law, demanding public education for all children, endorsing unions, calling for a boycott of Wal-Mart because "it does not support public education and exploits labor." A handful of more conservative badges for sale by intrepid individuals garnered little attention.

Although NEA president Reg Weaver proclaimed, "Every voice is welcome, every voice will be heard," most proposals by the Conservative Educators Caucus were not allowed to be heard on the floor. That group crafted amendments that would, among other things:

  • extend the resolution encouraging "compassion and respect for all living things" - currently in the animal-vivisection section - to human life in the family-planning section

  • "deplore the advocacy of adult/minor sexual contact"

  • promote the academic freedom of students in "an unprejudiced learning environment" without indoctrination "through intimidation, unfair grading practices, withholding of information, or by any other means."

Conservative proposals killed 
All the conservative caucus proposals were buried in committee without opportunity for floor debate, except that Washington State delegate Randy Jackson was allowed to present the academic freedom measure to the 9,000 delegates, who without debate voted to send it back to committee.

The convention handed a victory to the large Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Caucus by easily passing its proposal for the NEA to "develop a comprehensive strategy to deal with the new and more sophisticated attacks on curricula, policies, and practices that support GLBT students, families, and staff members in public schools." The stated rationale for this proposal was that "Extremist groups are using increasingly sophisticated and aggressive tactics to attack school districts with affirming GLBT policies, curriculum and practices."

Sissy Jochmann, leader of the Conservative Educators Caucus, spoke in opposition to the GLBT proposal. She objected to its exclusion of an important group that needs to be treated with respect and tolerance - "ex-gays." She was booed. Proponent Tom Nicholas of Connecticut was applauded when he countered that the American Psychiatric Association says there is no evidence that there is such a person as an ex-gay.

'National Everything Association' 
Contemplating the large number of liberal resolutions with no connection to education, Jackson observed, "Some have said that the acronym NEA really should stand for the 'National Everything Association.'"

Non-education resolutions passed by the NEA include a call to boycott Wal-Mart, a defense of race-based affirmative action, opposition to the privatization of Social Security, support of full veterans benefits for Filipinos who fought with the U.S. during World War II, a call for a withdrawal of troops from Iraq except for humanitarian deliveries, support of a moratorium on capital punishment, and endorsement of the International Criminal Court.

A report by the Human and Civil Rights Committee recommended that the NEA and its state affiliates determine whether vendors or contractors have a history of profiting from slavery and, if so, whether they have established plans for addressing such profit through reparations or other appropriate strategies. The NEA board of directors approved this recommendation.

Teacher membership declines 
The NEA budgeted for zero active membership growth in 2003-04 and nearly hit its target. It actually had a .1% increase in membership, but this figure reflects an increase in education support professionals (who pay lower dues) and a decrease in teachers and other certified employees for the first time in more than a decade.

Retiree members are plentiful but at $15 apiece their dues are nominal. As a result, recruitment of active members is now a major concern for the nation's largest teachers union.

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