Union Politics Invades the Classroom

Anyone wondering what kind of politics is ruling U.S. classrooms could have found all the answers they needed at this year’s National Education Association’s convention which was held in Omaha last week and is being described as a “love fest” for Barack Obama.

The Associated Press is reporting that the convention, which drew nearly 9,000 teachers from around the country, looked more like a re-election rally than an education convention with attendees sporting Barack Obama t-shirts while watching videos celebrating ObamaCare in rooms decorated with pro-Obama banners. There were thunders of applause for Obama who addressed the convention by phone to personally thank them for their support and deliver a campaign-style talk laced with his now familiar references to class warfare.

“The folks on the other side, they want to take us back to the policies that didn’t work in the last decade, they want us to go back to a policy that just does big tax cuts for the wealthiest, [to] cut education spending, cut investments in all the things that help us grow,” Obama said.

“I’m running for reelection to make sure every American has a chance to get a great education.”

NEA president Dennis Van Roekel gave a keynote address that was also highly politicized as he spoke about the need to influence education policy through the political process.

“We must do everything we can to re-elect President Obama,” he said to the cheering delegates.

While it might have been fun for those teachers who support the president, those who don’t say they were harrassed and marginalized at the convention.

“What I don’t like is the harassment going on for people to be an `EFO’ — an educator for Obama,” said Maureen van Wagner, a special education teacher from Anchorage, Alaska.

Van Wagner was one of about a dozen Republicans who told the AP they felt pressured by both union leaders and fellow teachers to support Obama’s re-election — and were marginalized if they refused. In fact, some were so worried about retaliation that they refused to give their names.

On one occasion when a Republican teacher spoke at the convention in support of presidential candidate Mitt Romney and was booed by the crowd, Van Roekel had to step in and remind the crowd that everyone had the right to speak.

Others complained about being presented with official NEA t-shirts that featured Obama’s name and felt as if they were being forced to choose between their profession and their politics.

“I’m not here representing myself, I’m here representing other teachers,” said Chris Cvijetic, a first-grade teacher and Republican from Palm Springs, Calif., told the AP.  “That’s the only way I can get through the day.”

Many attendees whose politics differed from the masses chose to spend their time quietly working to achieve an equal voice.

“In the convention center’s basement-level expo center, squeezed in between the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender teacher’s caucus and a stall selling designer handbags of questionable authenticity, sat a small, two-person table for the NEA’s Republican Educators Caucus,” writes the AP.

According to Davina Keiser, the caucus chairwoman, the group has about 160 members and has been growing in recent years.

“For Republican teachers, it’s almost like we’re stepchildren in NEA, and then in the Republican Party we’re also stepchildren, because we’re public schoolteachers, and that’s not part of their focus,” said Keiser, a high school math teacher from Long Beach, Calif.

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