Bob Chanin, described as the top attorney for the National Education Association (NEA) for 41 years, is retiring from his NEA position. His farewell speech at the recent NEA convention in San Diego was interrupted repeatedly with standing ovations. Chanin in his speech (see you-tube below) emphasized that NEA is first of all a union and that NEA earns its respect because it has political power.
Chanin posed the question of why NEA is an effective advocate. Chanin said, “It is not because of creative ideas, it is not because of the merit of our position, it is not because we care about children, it is not because we have a vision of a great public school for every child. NEA and its affiliates are effective advocates because we have power and we have power because there are more than 3.2 million people who are willing to pay us hundreds of millions of dollars in dues each year because they believe we are the unions that can most effectively represent them, the unions that can protect their rights and advance their interests as education employees.” (standing ovation)
Wow. “Education employees.” In Chanin’s words, NEA’s success has nothing to do with the merit of its ideas, nor its concern for children. It all has to do with the power that hundreds of millions of dollars and the power that millions of voters can exert. This is a frank statement of truth I doubt that NEA will be posting in its PR releases any time soon. It’s not a compliment to teachers to view teachers in the same way a manufacturing union might view widget production employees.
Chanin said that of course NEA and its affiliates want to do everything possible to close the achievement gap, reduce drop out rates and improve teacher quality. He warned, however, “These goals that guide the work we do they need not and must not be achieved at the cost of due process, employee rights and collective bargaining. That is simply too high a price to be paid.”
Amazing. “Too high a price to be paid.” According to Chanin what has the greatest value in public education is “education employee” rights. I can imagine a widget union leader saying essentially the same thing — shortly before the whole enterprise going bankrupt: “We want to to make a quality product in this factory, but more important than a quality product is the welfare of our workers.”
Chanin’s remarks point out the reality of our educational system — its hierarchical, bureaucratic structure — has denigrated teacher professionalism. Our education system is structured to resemble a very antiquated industrial model, a horse and buggy system. It is not a structure that brings out the best potential of its members. It is a structure that hampers educational quality. Chanin’s remarks, to me, point out that a different education structure in needed.
The influence of union thinking pervades the entire system of education. Schools in America are supposedly under local control. Federal and state mandates have actual control and so do teacher unions.
Chanin said, “When all is said and done NEA and its affiliates must never lose sight of the fact that they are unions and what unions do first and foremost is represent their members. If we do that and if we do it well then everything else will fall into place. NEA and its affiliates will remain powerful and that power will, in turn, help us achieve a great public school for every child.”
But, according to Chanin’s own words, achieving a great public school for every child is not NEA’s first objective, nor second objective, nor third objective. It’s after the needs of the “education employees” are addressed.
Chanin said, “Why are conservative and right wing bastards picking on NEA and its affiliates? It is the price we pay for success. NEA and its affiliates have been singled out because they are the most effective unions in the United States and they are the nation’s leading advocates for public education and for the type of liberal social and economic agenda and social agenda that these (conservative) groups find unacceptable. NEA will continue to be attacked as long as we continue to be effective advocates for public education for education employees and for human and civil rights. ..”