Commentary and Criticism about the National Education Association (NEA)
We have absolutely no affiliation with the National Education Association.
"As educators, we have a moral responsibility to advance our vision of great public schools for all students.”
NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia
“This year’s campaign emphasizes that our nation’s public schools are here for each and every student —no matter the circumstance, everyone is welcome and all deserve the support, tools, and time to learn.”
NEA’s 96th Annual Education Week
“The man who promises everything is sure to fulfill nothing, and everyone who promises too much is in danger of using evil means in order to carry out his promises, and is already on the road to perdition.”
Carl Jung, Founder of Analytic Psychology
THESIS OF THIS BLOG POST: The NEA’s vision of “great public schools” is actually a mirage.
For the past year or so I have read countless articles and tweets by NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia criticizing Education Secretary Betsey DeVos. Most of the criticism centers around the idea that DeVos doesn’t support “public” education.
But Garcia is not entirely telling the truth.
Look at the word that precedes “vision” in Garcia’s opening quote – the word is “our.”
“Our vision” refers to the NEA’s opinion about what “great public schools” are all about.
So when you hear that DeVos doesn’t support “public” education, this simply means that the education secretary doesn’t support the NEA’s version of education.
But who says that the NEA gets to define what “great public schools” are?
In point of fact, the NEA’s “vision” of education is a monolithic, monopoly, local school that tries to be everything for everyone.
Oftentimes the vision turns out to be a mirage.
BETSY DEVOS ACTUALLY DOES SUPPORT EDUCATION
Both Betsy DeVos and Lily Garcia believe that all children deserve an education – they just differ in their “vision” of what that education system should be.
Find that last sentence hard to believe?
Keep an open mind while you compare the following two quotes:
“Above all, I believe every child, no matter their zip code or their parents’ jobs, deserves access to a quality education.”
DOE Secretary Betsy DeVos
“… we continue to stand up for our shared values that every student, regardless of their zip code, deserves a great public education.”
NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia
So is the NEA really being honest when it claims that DeVos doesn’t support public education?
I don’t think so.
But I do acknowlege that there is an obvious difference between the two points of view.
While Garcia supports a monolithic, one-size-fits-all, monopoly public school system, DeVos sees an expanded role for charter schools and vouchers to complement the local school district.
In any case, once you realize that both are looking out for the proper education of our children, you should also agree that public education can be provided in many different forms.
Which leads to an important and interesting question:
Why should we all just blindly accept the NEA’s point of view about what makes education “great?”
INSPIRATION FOR THIS BLOG POST – A Recent NEA Today Article
Usually I don’t wait this far into a post in order to explain my inspiration for writing on a particular topic. I made an exception this time because I wanted to set up the basis for my point of view before I gave a concrete example to illustrate it.
I admit that this particular example is probably not the best to “prove” my point, but it still does a good job of showing how a one-size-fits-all NEA style school isn’t necessarily the best way to structure a public school system.
In any case, when I first read John Rosales most recent article on the NEA Today website, “Is Progress in Reducing School Suspensions in Jeopardy?” I just saw it as a typical “restorative justice” and “school-to-prison pipeline” piece.
There are countless NEA articles dealing with these topics. In fact, I have written about this numerous times before:
Scrolling through the articles on the main page of this website, I came upon a recent one which piqued my interest: “Suspensions Are Not Support – The Disciplining of Preschoolers with Disabilities.”
What the heck was going on here?
Thus my inspiration to delve further …
THROWN TO THE WOLVES OR WOLF IN SHEEP’S CLOTHING?
“I felt like I was throwing him to the wolves every day.”
This is how a mother described the way she felt sending her son Isaiah (later diagnosed with ADHD and ASD) to school. When he would act inappropriately - “race around the room and push classmates” - the teachers were “unable to settle him down.” Because this behavior was impacting all of the other students in the classroom, he was often sent to the principal’s office.
Wait a second.
How was Isaiah being thrown to the wolves?
Was his mother implying that the rest of the kids in the classroom were the problem (“wolves”) and her “bright, sensitive boy” was being victimized by them?
Wasn’t it the other way around?
Doesn’t it make more sense that this “innocent” young boy was more like a wolf in sheep’s clothing: “bright” and “sensitive” on the outside (sheep’s clothing), but disruptive and inappropriate on the inside (a wolf).
But maybe she wasn’t referring to the students at all. Perhaps the mother’s expression, “throwing him to the wolves,” actually referred to the school, itself.
ONE SIZE FITS ALL SCHOOL –Sorry, NEA, it’s not really “for the children ...”
Which brings me to my final point.
Later on in the article we read that: “Today, Isaiah attends sixth grade in a different school that understands and supports him.” [bold and underline added].
A “different school … understands and supports him?”
Is it, therefore, possible that not all schools can understand and support kids who might have different needs?
Are we finally starting to realize that a school which “promises to provide everything is sure to fulfill nothing?”
I know that I am.
Children are individuals with a wide variety of talents, abilities, needs, wants and desires. So what makes the NEA think that a monolithic, monopoly, public school can most efficiently and effectively cater to every single student?
The NEA talks a good game, for sure: “Public schools are here for each and every student.”
But is it only a game???
In other words, is it possible that the NEA cares about public schools more for the sake of the union members than for the sake of the children?
Perish the thought!
Think about it this way. Charter schools and vouchers pull students out of the monolithic, monopoly, local public school. Fewer kids mean fewer dollars coming into the district - and fewer dollars means fewer teachers working at the school.
Get the possible picture here?
Maybe the NEA’s push for strong public schools is less about helping the children and more about helping its constituents keep their salary and benefits.
My guess is that the thought didn’t perish.
Just saying ...
"Rubrics provide students with a clear understanding of what is expected of them. Students have concrete directions about what makes a good science project, a good persuasive writing piece, [a good musical composition], etc. ... “
Rubrics to the Rescue
“Issues to Consider: Rubrics Work!”
National Education Association
"… for the most part so shrill and complicated that only those who worship the failings and merits of this composer with equal fire, which at times borders on the ridiculous, could find pleasure in it.”
Review of Beethoven’s ground-breaking Third Symphony Eroica (using a rubric?)
THESIS OF THIS BLOG POST: Rubrics produce exactly what you expect.
If you are a teacher reading this post, you already know what a rubric is. For those not in education, a rubric is basically a set of expectations that we give students for completing an assignment. According to supporters of this form of evaluation, specification of clear expectations is one of its greatest strengths. The kids know exactly what they are supposed to do.
Sounds like a great idea, right?
I see this “positive” aspect of rubrics in a completely different way. For me, that so-called strength is actually a debilitating weakness.
Why do I say this?
Do you know what you get when you tell students exactly what they are supposed to do?
Nine out of ten times you get exactly what you told them to do.
From my 20 years of personal experience as a teacher I can confidently say:
Rubrics discourage creativity.
THE PROBLEM WITH RUBRICS: Two supporting points of view.
On a recent Tom Wood’s Show podcast (I think it was called Dissident Historians), the guest related a story about his experience grading AP history test essays. He was required to follow a rubric which established a grading scale from 0-9. One particular essay (which he still remembers some 20 years later) was not only well-written but was also very unique in its perspective.
He felt that it easily deserved a score of 9. Unfortunately, according to the specifications of the rubric, he was required to assign it a mere 7.
The problem with rubrics identified by Tom’s guest is still here today. In “Why I dislike rubrics in my classes,” Rebecca J. Hogue delves even further into this issue.
Here is what she had to say in her December 10, 2017 article:
“[Rubrics] change the behavior of students – causing them to focus on what is necessary to ‘make the grade’, rather than the internal motivation of excellence for excellence sake. They also take away an aspect of learner creativity – as the students then focus their assignments on meeting the rubric requirements rather than on making an excellent product out of their projects.”
HELD HOSTAGE TO THE RUBRIC: A paragraph example.
Take a look at the following paragraph writing rubric.
Now imagine that one of your students submits a perfectly written paragraph which scores 4 in each category. It has a main idea topic sentence, three supporting sentences, a restatement in the concluding sentence and perfect grammar.
Its all in there.
But guess what?
That paragraph is just about the most boring, unimaginative, run-of-the-mill, unimpressive, plain piece of writing that you have ever encountered in all of your many years as an educator.
It bugs you, but you have no choice. You still have to give this student 12 out of 12 - 100%.
But you know what makes this even worse?
The next paragraph you read is brilliantly written. Its entertaining, funny, engaging, clever … but there are several grammatical errors.
Sticking by the rubric, this particular student only gets 11 out of 12 possible points –a mere 92%.
That’s right – you are being held hostage to the rubric.
THE RUBRIC CONUNDRUM: Creativity is outside the bounds of the expected.
By definition, a rubric cannot properly assess a novel or creative idea.
Think about it.
Rubrics specify expectations – that is why people tout them as a fair way to assess student work. But also by definition, creativity is something outside the bounds of the expected.
History is replete with examples of creative geniuses whose accomplishments ran counter to the accepted norms of the societies in which they lived.
Their achievements were, essentially, acts of defiance against what was expected.
How do you best judge the work of a creative genius?
Should you use a rubric???
Beethoven’s 3rd Symphony, Eroica, was considered “shrill and complicated” to a 19th century critic’s rubric.
Igor Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring which “caused a riot at its premiere” was considered “the work of a madman” to a 20th century critic’s rubric.
Are you still all in favor of rubrics???
CONCLUSION: Submit the fake rubric to administration …
I can certainly see how rubrics might be useful for grading certain basic assignments. And I can also understand why in her article “Using Rubrics to Promote Thinking and Learning” Heidi Goodrich Andrade says that they:
1. “… make assessing student work quick and efficient”
2. “… help teachers justify to parents and others the grades that they assign to students “
But having admitted that, no one can deny that rubrics restrict creativity by their very nature.
So how do I personally solve this problem in my classroom?
First I make up a fake rubric that I pretend to use. I submit this fake rubric to my administration at the end of the year when they need evidence that I have done authentic assessments in my classroom.
What I really use to grade my student’s work is a checklist of expectations. I show this to them for any given project that we are working on. This way students know the minimum requirements to obtain what I call a decent grade – a B plus.
But then I also let them know that if they want to receive that coveted A or A+, there is another hurdle that they must surmount – creativity.
Only those students who take the time and make the effort to provide that extra brilliance, finesse and flair to their work will make the grade (so to speak).
FINAL COMMENT: Avoid the dust bin of history.
I will finish with one final comment on rubrics.
To paraphrase Leon Trotsky, there is no better way to insure the relegation of most student work to the dust bin of history (i.e. the teacher’s circular file) than by giving students a rubric to follow.
If a teacher is satisfied with only receiving the mundane, banal and expected, he will give his students a rubric to follow.
If he wants potentially exceptional results, he will throw away the “rows, columns and boxes” approach to assessment and emphasize creativity.
“Teachers of color are fundamental to our nation’s success.”
NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia, Lily’s Blackboard, September 28, 2017
“… the single most important factor affecting students' achievement is the caliber of their teachers … good teachers aren't just critical for the success of our students. They are the key to the success of our economy.”
Michelle Obama, Former First Lady, October 15, 2009
THESIS OF THIS BLOG POST
If you read the Anti-NEA Blog on a regular basis, you will notice that I usually start a post with a set of quotes. I try to find some short statements that succinctly capture the essence of the point I am trying to make.
This time is no different.
However, the point I intend to make in this post goes way beyond just teaching – it extends to society in general.
When NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia claims that we need teachers “of color” in order to be successful as a nation, she (and the organization she heads) is acknowledging and legitimizing a racial category within society. Implied in this claim is that there is another category of people who are “without color”.
In other words, the NEA essentially views the world as "blacks and browns" against "whites."
Garcia claimed that President Donald Trump was a racist last week.
What she doesn’t appear to understand is that both she and the NEA are partially complicit in creating an environment that enables racism to thrive. Embracing the use of categories based on color only contributes to the break-down of civility in today’s discourse on race.
TEACHERS MUST BE “OF COLOR?”
There is only one proper response to the NEA President’s statement that I quoted above:
No Ms. Garcia. We do not need teachers “of color” to make our country successful, we just need good teachers.
Michelle Obama correctly identifies the real qualities of an “outstanding teacher.” Notice that nowhere does she mention any requirement to be “of color”:
“the qualities that make an outstanding teacher—boundless energy and endless patience; vision and a sense of purpose; the creativity to help us see the world in a different way; commitment to helping us discover and fulfill our potential”
Obama gets what Garcia (seemingly) doesn’t – COLOR IS IRRELEVANT
THE NEA’S OBSESSION WITH “COLOR”
Extending this last point, it is clear that the NEA’s excessive focus on the concept “of color” is harmful to society in general. Rather than succeeding in bridging the gap between diverse members of society when it emphasizes “color,” the union only manages to widen the racial divide.
To summarize: Instead of helping to foster understanding and empathy within society, the NEA spawns (at best) indifference and (at worse) enmity.
So, how obsessed is the NEA with the idea of “color?”
The NEA website is a treasure trove of information. I actually enjoy going to this site and using the search bar which it provides in order to find out my union’s point of view on topics which interest me.
So when I went to NEA.org today and searched for “of color,” I wasn’t disappointed. The results page returned over 100 articles.
When I took the time to sift through those articles, I discovered that the phrase “of color” was used at least 99 times.
Something else I discovered was that the NEA considers a whole host of things “of color.” I have arranged into specific categories everything I found in my search from most popular to least:
Students “of color” – 47 articles
Teachers/Educators/Faculty “of color” – 18 articles
People “of color” – 9 articles
Communities “of color” – 7 articles
Girls “of color” – 6 articles
Children “of color” – 4 articles
Men “of color” – 3 articles
Kids “of color” – 2 articles
Youth “of color” – 1 article
Families “of color” – 1 article
Authors “of color” – 1 article
That’s a virtual rainbow of color if you ask me.
THE PROBLEM WITH THE PHRASE “OF COLOR”
I have always disliked the phrase “of color.”
Is it because I am jealous? Jealous that, as a white person, I am “of no color” or possibly “without color?”
Not at all.
Maybe the best way to explain my issue with this phrase is to understand how I approach my students in the classroom.
You see, I don’t see my students as a color. For that matter, a student’s culture, ethnicity, sexual preference, preferred gender pronoun, socioeconomic status, religion, etc. are irrelevant also.
I see them as individuals with unique personalities, characteristics, talents and abilities.
When Lily Eskelsen Garcia and the rest of the NEA use the term “of color,” they are creating an artificial division - a barrier - within society that doesn’t need to be there.
People who accept this artificial division start to see themselves as victims who have been wronged by the people “without color.”
Instead of acknowledging past injustices and then moving on to make themselves better, they choose to embrace their status as a victim. And a victim needs help – a crutch.
The NEA steps in and claims to be the champion of the victim. The NEA is their crutch.
“We will use the strength of numbers in our union to petition the government to help the victims. We will apply political pressure to get all victims the recompense that they deserve,” cry the NEA and its supporters.
Talk about false hope.
GARCIA COULD LEARN FROM MARTIN LUTHER KING
In the January 12, 2018 edition of Lily’s Blackboard the NEA President quoted Martin Luther King twice to criticize Donald Trump’s immigration policy.
But it appears that she may have forgotten one of his most famous lines ever:
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
Taking this into consideration, I don’t believe that King would approve of the NEA’s divisive use of language. MKL would not approve of a division of society into people “of color” and people “without color.”
Ms. Garcia, you need to drop the divisive terminology. Start judging on character, not color.
“… it is fair to say that proponents of multiculturalism reject the ideal of the ‘melting pot’ in which members of minority groups are expected to assimilate into the dominant culture …”
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
“Hey honey, did someone turn off the burner? Nothing seems to be melting in the pot.”
John Cardone, Anti-NEA Blog Writer
THESIS OF THIS BLOG POST
Whatever happened to E pluribus unum?
You know, the unofficial motto of the United States, adopted by Congress in 1782…
“Out of many, one” is the typical translation of this Latin phrase (although it is commonly referred to as the American “melting pot.”)
Why has it seemingly been replaced these days by an emphasis on a concept called multiculturalism?
Before readers start calling me a racist, please understand that I reject the idea of multiculturalism because I don’t put students into categories based on ethnicity, sexual orientation, color, religion, culture or any other grouping that social “justice” promoters might want to suggest.
I see students as unique individuals.
And if I wanted to comment on their status as a group, I would simply say:
"They are all American."
Society’s hyper-focus on multiculturalism is not bringing diverse groups together. It is actually creating larger rifts.
THE NEA AND MULTICULTURALISM
Why discuss this on the Anti-NEA blog website?
Because the NEA is complicit in promoting multiculturalism.
If you don’t believe me, just do a search on NEA.org using the term “multiculturalism” and see for yourself. Probably 100 or so articles will be returned in your results pages.
I have listed a couple of the results below as a representative sample to support my contention that the NEA is all for multiculturalism:
National Multicultural Diversity Day (NMDD)
“For more than a decade, educators have celebrated National Multicultural Diversity Day (NMDD) on the third Monday in October ... [to] increase awareness of the tremendous need to celebrate our diversity collectively."
Resources for Addressing Multicultural and Diversity Issues in Your Classroom - Books, Websites and Other Resources Help You Learn about Multicultural and Diversity Issues
50 Multicultural Books Every Child Should Read
Multicultural Math: Lessons from the Mayas
CONCLUSION – Focus on what unites us as human beings.
No one is denying that we need to acknowledge the diversity of our student’s backgrounds.
But that’s it – stop right there.
When you continue to promote multiculturalism by highlighting our cultural differences this doesn’t bring people together at all. It simply creates animosity and division.
Multiculturalism should emphasize identifying what unites us as human beings, not what makes us different.
It is one thing to teach multicultural tolerance – we all agree with that.
It is quite another to focus on diversity and multiculturalism as ends in themselves.
"Donald Trump, 45th president of the United States of America, is racist.”
NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia, Lily’s Blackboard, January 12, 2018
“Did you know it's #NoNameCallingWeek?”
NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia, @Lily_NEA, January 16, 2018
THESIS OF BLOG POST – Please stay out of politics.
After calling Donald Trump a racist, Ms. Garcia goes on to say:
“I have no doubt that I will hear from many educators who disagree."
She is correct when she says that some educators might not agree with her.
The Anti-NEA Blog certainly does not.
But it has nothing to do with President Donald Trump’s position on immigration or whether or not he is a racist.
We object to her comments because we strongly feel that the NEA needs to stay out of politics – it’s a simple as that.
Is President Trump a racist?
Maybe he is, maybe he isn’t – we can’t get into his head to figure this one out. But it is certainly not the job of the head of the NEA to determine that issue. Garcia is way out of bounds here.
Ms. Garcia needs to stop inserting her personal views into political issues and stick with helping out her constituents – the teachers.
If NEA members want to talk politics, then they can go to a political website of their choice like FOX News, CNN, ABC, MSNBC or wherever.
When stating a position on an issue, a true leader should use measured terms and reason in order to make a point.
By this yardstick, NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia is no leader.
Instead of calmly making known her disagreement with President Trump, she chooses to employ vitriol and ad hominem attacks.
Here is a selection of quotes directed at Trump from her latest post on Lily’s Blackboard:
These are not carefully reasoned arguments. They are sardonic opinions which reveal Garcia’s personal hatred for President Trump.
Plus they are hypocritical when you realize that on January 16, 2018, Eskelsen tweeted out her support for an end to name calling:
To make matters worse, Garcia displays quite a bit of selective outrage.
This makes her doubly a hypocrite.
When President Obama led bombing campaigns against Libya, Afghanistan, Iraq and Yemen, his decisions led to the death, dismemberment and dislocation of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians in those countries.
Did Garcia call Obama a murderer?
When Muammar Gaddafi was brutally sodomized with a bayonet and eventually killed, Hillary Rodham Clinton cackled with joy.
“We came, we saw, he died.”
Did Garcia criticize her for this callous display of psychotic behavior?
NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia categorized her latest Lily’s Blackboard post as “I just had to say this.”
Sorry, Lily. You didn’t have to say this. You could have kept your personal opinions to yourself.
“SHUT UP AND SING”
To quote Laura Ingraham:
“Shut up and sing.”
When we go to a concert we don't want the artist lecturing us about politics. We are there to hear the music and be entertained.
Likewise, when we go to the NEA website we are looking for teacher related topics. We are not there to receive a lecture about politics and racism.
CONCLUSION – We are trying to save the union, not destroy it.
Some readers have claimed that our blog is trying to destroy the union. Actually, it’s doing just the opposite.
We are trying to save our union by redirecting it away from the radical positions taken by its administration.
We want the union to return to its proper foundation - helping teachers.
The NEA needs to direct its time, energy and money towards issues that are important to all teachers (working conditions, salaries, benefits, etc.).
Real teacher issues are nonpartisan.