Commentary and Criticism about the National Education Association
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“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.