Is the NEA forfeiting classroom excellence for its own political agenda?

It was supposed to be just another question-and-answer period with just another special interest group. And so as the congressional candidate returned from this hundredth “give and take,” his staff members at campaign headquarters hardly noticed—that is, until Tom began shaking his head and repeating the frustrated refrain of “boy oh boy.”

I looked up (as would any good press secretary) and asked the obvious, “What’s wrong?”

“Those teachers!” he said incredulously, reviewing first in his own mind, and then with me, the interrogation of the night.

He had been seated in a chair facing a semicircle of 10 or 12 other chairs, in which sat his questioners—members of the Illinois Education Association, the statewide clone of the larger National Education Association (NEA). The arrangement worked for both intimacy and intimidation. After the usual amenities, the political inquisition began.

“Where do you stand on abortion?” asked the first questioner. Tom, seeking the Republican congressional nomination in his district, was an outspoken proponent of life and responded with his unabashedly prolife logic. It was the first of an evening of “wrong answers.”

As the questioning progressed, it became readily apparent to Tom that the real concerns of his questioners were more social and political than educational. And with that realization, and the distinct sense that he was the proverbial sheep among some very hungry wolves, he challenged the group’s sense of political pluralism, begged their apologies, and returned to friendlier territory.

Teacher Power

I later learned that Tom’s ...

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