NEA's Convention Coverage: Fun And Frolic In L.A.
The National Education Association is having its annual convention, this year in Los Angeles. Mike Antonucci, of The Education Intelligence Agency, is providing daily gavel-to-gavel coverage from the floor of the convention. Here is my favorite tidbit from July 3rd:
The NEA convention always has - aptly enough - a number of conventional agenda items to mark opening day. The pledge, national anthem and invocation are followed by welcoming speeches from the hosts. The mayor of the host city is first up (unless he happens to be DC Mayor Anthony Williams) and the reception was especially warm for new Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who once worked as a staffer for United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA).We found this "warm reception" to be particularly ironic when taken (as reported by us) in the context of Villaraigosa's expressed wish to overthrow Los Angeles' (and California's) tradition of elected (and therefore accountable to the people) school boards in favor of a scheme where Villaraigosa, as mayor, would appoint the governing board of trustees for the nation's second-largest school system.
In other convention news, we learned that Reg Weaver ran unopposed and was re-elected for another three-year term in office. Apparently, the only folks that had an opportunity to vote in the so-called "election" were the conventioneers in attendance.
Once again, the NEA rank and file was not permitted to vote for their own union's president.
As a teacher who is forced to pay monies to this organization, (California is a "closed shop" state.) I particularly resent this lack of accountability to dues payers, and look forward to the day when the National Education Association permits its own rank-and-file membership to directly elect their own leadership in honest, fair, and contested elections.
A truly democratic organization need never fear its own membership.
The current paternal system of NEA governance harkens back to the middle of the 20th century, when union "bosses" and their appointed cronies set policy, and participation in the decision-making process was by invitation only. The NEA would do very well to adopt the union model that is used by some organizations to represent the collective interests of their members. Two examples of "participatory-democratic unions" that come to mind are those of airline pilots and professional baseball players.
The NEA (and its subsidiaries such as the California Teachers Association) could learn many positive lessons from a study of the successful organizational strategies used by John Mitchell, who united diverse peoples in order to build a strong union that encouraged participation at the grass-roots level.
If the National Education Association hopes to remain relevant in the 21st century, it must evolve. Failure to democratize the organization will only result in its becoming weaker, resulting in an ever-decreasing amount of influence upon the shaping of education policy.
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