The National Education Association Representative Assembly opened this morning in Chicago with 7,321 delegates attending, which is by far the lowest number since I began covering the convention in 1998.
The atmosphere still resembles a political party convention, with speeches, confetti and deafening music, including the new NEA theme song, “Standing Strong“:
“Standing strong, standing tall. Standing up for what is right and true, NEA is standing up for me and you!”
Coming soon to a Chevy truck commercial near you.
It is customary for the mayor of the host city to welcome the delegates, but since the mayor is Rahm Emanuel, NEA prudently got hold of Illinois Gov. Quinn instead. After the delegates adopted the standing rules for the assembly, it was time for NEA president Dennis Van Roekel’s keynote speech.
“The NEA will not let extremists colonize public education for their own ideological ends,” he said.
Oh wait, that was from Bob Chase’s keynote speech in 1998.
“In some states, testing mania is quite literally devouring whole school systems like some education-eating bacteria.”
No, that was from Chase’s 2000 speech.
“We have had meetings with members of the President’s staff, and with the Secretary of Education, and despite our best efforts there seems to be a continued lack of acceptance of the professionalism and the expertise that this organization brings to the table.”
Oops, that was from Reg Weaver’s 2004 speech.
“The union movement created the middle class, ended child labor, championed public education and gave working men and women a strong voice. Plain and simple, you can’t have a middle class without unions! We need unions.”
No, that was Van Roekel’s 2009 speech.
This year, Van Roekel wanted to send a message to “all of those union-busting, greedy CEOs and their political pals.” The union is “standing strong.” (“Oooooh, like a rock!” wails Bob Seger.)
“Our country is not for sale to the highest political donor or the wealthiest corporations,” he said.
Who would that highest political donor be, anyway?
There were also speeches for all the candidates for NEA higher office. The loudest and most positive crowd reaction was for Earl Wiman, the former president of the Tennessee Education Association who is running for a seat on the NEA Executive Committee.
Wiman began by comparing Hitler’s rhetoric about labor unions with that of today’s politicians.
Some may accuse Wiman of being excessive, but I criticize him for failing to say what he really meant. There’s no reason to mention Hitler in such a context unless you really believe you’re going to be rounded up and mass-murdered in gas chambers as part of a megalomaniacal plot to engulf the planet in a world war. If that’s what you mean, just say so.
Eventually we will get to new business items (NBIs), including NBI C, or, as I prefer to call it, “The 13 Reasons We Hate Arne Duncan,” or NBI 9, which plans to tear the cover off the Great Soybean Conspiracy. (And it’s about time, I say.)