“We Are Turning the Public Schools Around”

An interview with NEA president Mary Futrell.
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An interview with NEA president Mary Futrell.

A personable, articulate spokesperson for the nation’s largest teachers’ union, Mary Futrell was elected to her two-year term as NEA president in 1983. She recently consented to discuss NEA policy and procedure with CHRISTIANITY TODAY. Her edited remarks follow.

You once said, “Let us hear our adversaries, but let us not be deflected by their hollow words as we pursue excellence for all.” Many of your adversaries, however, are saying that the poor quality of education in America, confirmed by the 1983 Report on Education, is at least partially due to the lack of direction and overpoliticizing of your organization. How do you respond to that?

I would respond by saying that the National Education Association has been a leading advocate for quality education in this country since its founding in 1857. And while we do indeed support political action and collective bargaining, we have never lost sight of our primary objective: quality education for all children regardless of economic, religious, or ethnic background.

Yet the NEA has been widely criticized for its involvement in such decidedly noneducational issues as abortion and a verifiable nuclear freeze. Why does NEA feel compelled to address such explosive issues at the risk of weakening its overriding objective of quality education?

Schools are not isolated from the rest of society. And those issues just mentioned impact students and teachers. We are, therefore, very concerned about reproductive freedom. We are very concerned about peace and war; about equal rights, civil rights, human rights. The young people in our classrooms will eventually have to deal with these issues whether they want to or not.

Would you say the positions ...

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