Scroll down below this post for part 2.
I have been approached by good people on both sides of the de-certification issue who really want to do the right thing. I am a good person who wants to do the right thing. I really thought I was going to end up neutral on this, given the respect I have for those good people who want to do the right thing. But then…clarity…certainty…and even a little anger.
First, some background.
Early in my career, I resisted joining the Union. I was more socially conservative than I am now, and had objections to some of the NEA’s stands on social issues*–and to the fact that they took a stand at all on certain issues.
Also, I was a Republican, and the Association always endorsed Democrats.
I started my career in a (now-forbidden) “fair-share” district, which meant I had to pay dues whether I joined the Association or not. This coercion did not sit well with me. So I figured if I had to pay, I might as well join and become active in the Association. So I did. But being active in the organization wasn’t a good fit for me either.
One of my grievances with the NEA/ISTA from the beginning was that it distributed literature that seemed full of scare tactics, about forces at work that would some day acquire the political power to undermine public education and use schools as profit centers. Ridiculous, right? (Um…no, it turns out…) At the time I felt that this was merely propaganda designed to keep Association members united in opposition to any legislative changes that would challenge the Union’s power.
So when I moved to Carmel in 1995, and had the choice not to join the Union, I didn’t–at least for the first couple of years–until I realized that teachers need to unite sometimes to get the school board to do the right thing. Association dues were the price I needed to pay to support those who were fighting for me.
So I fought alongside my bargaining unit, while occasionally fighting against the Uniserv director who tended to campaign for Democrats using the candidates’ own literature, while presenting Republicans’ positions ALSO using the Democrats’ literature. (Intellectually dishonest, no matter which side you favor…)
But I joined, because united we frickin’ stand, etc., and put up with all the stuff at the national, state, and local levels that people get bothered about. Though it wasn’t a perfect fit, I kept paying my dues, while a bunch of other people bailed, or never joined to begin with, and I was nice to them even though I secretly thought about how, theoretically, if all these colleagues joined, maybe dues wouldn’t have to be so high, and we’d have more power…
Which takes us through the Daniels/Bennett/Pence revolution, and up to last May when it came time to choose sides.
I have carefully and open-mindedly listened to the arguments of the good people who want to do the right thing who wish to form a new local-only organization, cutting loose from the state and national associations. I summarize their arguments as follows:
- The elected local leadership is not bargaining in Carmel Clay teachers’ best-interests.
- ISTA has been ineffective at stopping bad legislation from eating into teachers’ financial security, so I don’t feel obligated to support them.
- Young teachers don’t want to pay $800 per-year for an $800 raise.
- A local-only organization would attract more members, giving us more strength in negotiations.
Here are the answers to those arguments that at first I didn’t see, and then suddenly saw:
- Don’t like the leadership? Join the association and vote it out. I’ve been told that six votes would have changed the results of the last election. Six. I didn’t double-check that number, but it was much lower than the amount of people who don’t pay their share to those who advocate for us. The state and national organizations are not to blame here. When I was gritting my teeth and paying my dues to state and national organizations, the enemy was arguably local. Today’s foes are at the state and national level. (The board cannot spend money it does not get from the state, or show respect for teachers in ways that violate state laws designed to show teachers who is boss.) This is the exact wrong time to sell-out the ISTA. Ditch the state organization for local grievances? I don’t get that.
- Think the ISTA is ineffective? Wrong. Without the ISTA, the laws passed by the “reformers” would have been much worse. (Did you solicit the ISTA’s side of the story before you declared it ineffective?) Until very recently, anyone knowledgeable in state politics would have told you that the most powerful non-corporate lobbying organization in the state was the ISTA, hands-down. It probably still is. In the last decade or so, ISTA has lost power to precisely the same shady, well-financed, national corporate forces that they have been warning us about for over twenty years, which have coalesced into a powerful national movement capable of purchasing the ear of (mostly Republican, but also big-city Democratic) politicians. It seems morally wrong to abandon the organization that has spent a quarter-century trying to alert us to the agenda that was being advanced behind the scenes, and has now wrought devastation upon public education nationally.
- I didn’t want to pay dues either, but it’s what you do, so I held my nose and paid my share. Dues have actually gone down since my first contract (they were temporarily higher while the ISTA building was being built), when I made $21,797 per year. Adjusted for inflation, dues when I started my career were the equivalent of almost $1400 in today’s dollars. Not coincidentally, I have never had cable or satellite TV. It is frustrating that such a large part of the justification for the new association is that dues are too expensive, and that so many people let themselves and others off the hook with that hollow excuse.
- 100% membership in a local association would do nothing to change the fact that the Republican supermajority in the state legislature is determined to follow the national trend of starving schools of resources and tightening their grips on teachers. Nor would our local association be able to act as a check on the suddenly hostile U.S. Department of Education. Teachers who withhold resources from the only organizations that can help to turn the legislative tide are doing the very same thing to those organizations that the “reformers” are doing to public schooling–they starve the ISTA and NEA of resources, and then complain because they are not effective!
Having been on the fence for so long, it feels strange not only to take a stand, but to risk sounding angry toward people I respect, who hold an opinion I was fine with right up until my moment of clarity. They are good people, who want to do the right thing.
From one good person to another, however, it has become clear to me that, now more than ever, the right thing to do is to join and support the CCEA, elect leadership that you like, and stop suffocating the only organizations that have the power to fight back against the regressive laws written by wealthy corporate interests.
Todd Hawkins, CHS Spanish Teacher
*Remember those positions on social issues that twenty-seven-year-old me didn’t agree with? Well, you know how it bothers you that the legislature wants to hold us accountable for student performance, even though outside factors have a much bigger effect on students’ ability to reach their potential than we do?
The NEA has been working to fix those outside factors for as long as I’ve been teaching. Twenty-seven-year-old me dismissed them as “liberal positions on social issues”, but now I see that the NEA has been attempting to deal with impediments to learning at their roots.
As a person who would have been aborted had it been legal in 1966, yes it does bother me to pay dues to an organization that would have seen my death as a victory for women’s rights–but I paid them, because being a member of my local organization was worth it. Now I see (not that I know or agree with all of its positions) that the NEA has been working politically for decades toward social conditions in which schools have a chance to be effective. Though some of the NEA’s positions may be controversial, on-the-whole, it’s the liberals who seem to understand best that it’s really hard to teach children whose basic needs are not being met.