Decolonizing the curriculum, confronting white nationalism and combatting period poverty

At its yearly convention, the National Education Association advanced its political agenda, while doing nothing to address America’s failing public schools.

By Larry Sand
July 6, 2021

When school children start paying union dues, that’s when I’ll start representing the interests of school children,” a quote attributed to teacher union godfather Albert Shanker, has become lore. While it is doubtful he ever uttered those oft-repeated words, they do encapsulate the teacher union ethos since their inception. And one gets a potent reminder of that when the National Education Association holds its yearly convention, the most recent of which ended this past Saturday.

A look at the union’s New Business Items (NBI) – proposed projects and actions from the delegates for the union to pursue during the coming year – reveals what NEA members are really concerned with.

Critical Race Theory was an omnipresent subject at this year’s wingding. The delegates adopted NBI A, which, among other things has NEA “supporting and leading campaigns that result in increasing the implementation of culturally responsive education, critical race theory, and ethnic (Native people, Asian, Black, Latin(o/a/x), Middle Eastern, North African, and Pacific Islander) Studies curriculum in pre- K-12 and higher education.”

NBI 2, which also passed, claims that attacks on anti-racist teachers are increasing. To fight back, “NEA will research the organizations attacking educators doing anti-racist work and/or use the research already done and put together a list of resources and recommendations for state affiliates, locals, and individual educators to utilize when they are attacked.” While only the Heritage Foundation was mentioned in the NBI, the list of anti-CRTers is growing by the day. Hence, the $56,500 the union will set aside for its opposition research may not be nearly enough.

On a similar note, NBI 18, which was adopted, directs NEA to “identify, compile, and share on NEA EdCommunities, existing ‘decolonizing the curriculum’ resources to educators seeking to be anti-racist in its classrooms and use existing communications and social media to promote it through their affiliates so that rank and file educators can utilize the resources in the classrooms.” To support its CRT work, NEA is offering a “Confronting White Nationalism in Schools” toolkit. 

NBI 39 continues the CRT theme and has the union joining forces with two Marxist groups – Black Lives Matter at School and the Zinn Education Project – to push their agenda, which includes providing a study that “critiques empire, white supremacy, anti-Blackness, anti-Indigeneity, racism, patriarchy, cisheteropatriarchy, capitalism, ableism, anthropocentrism, and other forms of power and oppression at the intersections of our society.” The NBI also maintains that “October 14 – George Floyd’s birthday – should be used as a national day of action to teach lessons about structural racism and oppression.” 

Then, for a bit of comic relief, NEA voted yes on NBI 11, which will “use online platforms in addition to the NEA Today (the union’s magazine) to raise awareness about the impact of period poverty (the lack of access to menstrual supplies) on our students.” Given the uber-egalitarian nature of the union, I’m sure both boys and girls will be able to avail themselves of period poverty supplies.

One bit of good news was the defeat of NBI 29, which would have had NEA publicizing “its support for the Palestinian struggle for justice and call on the United States government to stop arming and supporting Israel and Saudi Arabia.” In Hamas-inspired wording, the union explains that the “Arab population of Palestine has again risen up in a heroic struggle against military repression and ‘ethnic cleansing’ by the Israeli state and extreme nationalist forces in Israeli society.” 

On a similar note, NBI 51 is on hold, having been “referred to the appropriate committee.” This action item wants the union to use “existing digital communication tools to educate members and the general public about the history, culture, and struggles of Palestinians, including the detention and abuse of children in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.” 

It’s worth noting that while neither of the anti-Israeli NBIs were passed, Israel-hatred is alive and well with local teachers unions. As I wrote last month, leaders of the United Teachers of Los Angeles voted to support a resolution to “stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people.” The United Educators of San Francisco also declared its solidarity with the Palestinian people by supporting the Boycotts, Divestment, and Sanctions movement against Israel. Then, in mid-June, the NEA-affiliated Seattle Education Association endorsed the BDS movement, claiming “…solidarity with the Palestinian people and a call for Israel to end all current and future bombings of Gaza and stop forced displacement of Palestinians”

Unmentioned by any unionista at the convention was student proficiency. And it’s very obvious why the subject never came up; the union is clearly not interested in children’s learning unless it includes one of its pet political causes. The latest NAEP – also known as the nation’s report card – reveals that just 37 percent of U.S. 12th-grade students are proficient in reading and a pitiful 24 percent are proficient in math. It’s important to note that these results are from 2019, before the union’s Covid hysteria forced schools across the country to shut down. Also, the latest PISA results released by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, show that our 15-year-olds came in 38th out of 79 participating countries in math. Our students did better in reading (14th), but still lagged behind China, Finland, Poland, Sweden, Vietnam, etc.

Focusing on various leftwing bugaboos – white nationalism, Israel, cisheteropatriarchy, anthropocentrism, capitalism, etc., will not do anything to help our undereducated youth. But education – in the true sense of the word – has never been on NEA’s radar.

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Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

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