NEA Leader: Teachers Need to Become 'Social Justice Patriots'
Dave Murray, MLive, 07/05/2012
Teachers need to extend their role beyond the classroom to become “social justice patriots” to “defend democracy, fight for equal opportunity and create a more just society, a National Education Association leader said.
Executive Director John Stocks reminded about 9,000 delegates attending the annual Representative Assembly that a former union president described the NEA as “an organization with a soul” and urged them to become active in a variety of causes.
Stocks also took a shot at Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder in his speech, according to a transcript provided by the union.
Stocks followed union President Dennis Van Roekel, who on Monday called on members to take charge of improving their profession.
Vice President Joe Biden already has appeared at the event in Washington, D.C., and President Barack Obama is expected to deliver a message via telephone at 1 p.m. today. The union has endorsed Obama’s re-election effort.
Stocks said union members have “played a huge role in fostering social justice patriotism throughout American history. Not only have educators instructed each generation about the core principles upon which America were founded, but you have, in many instances, acted as the conscience of the nation we love.”
Stocks echoed the calls of the Occupy Wall Street movement by criticizing business leaders, and called on teachers to become involved in a variety of political movements.
“I say we are social justice warriors, fighting to preserve the dignity of all those who work hard, pay their taxes, and simply want to send their kids to college and have a decent retirement,” he said.
Stocks told delegates that the average CEO of a Fortune 500 company makes about 600 times more than the average education support professional, and that back in the mid-1950s the corporate leaders made about 20 times more.
“And in our post-Citizens United world, corporations and the people who run them can afford to buy the politicians they want,” he said.
“The politicians like (Wisconsin Gov.) Scott Walker and (Ohio Gov.) John Kasich and Rick Snyder who will make it easier for their corporate friends to make more money and avoid paying their fair share.”
Stocks said the “only effective answer to organized corporate greed in America is organized labor! And the ‘1percenters’ in this country know that—it’s no secret why they’re trying to destroy the labor movement. To the1 percent, organized labor stands between them and their ability to have complete control of our political economy.”
Stocks said almost 16.5 million children live in poverty, and teachers must do more to help them.
“The 1 percent doesn’t see these children every day. They don’t even know their names. But we do,” he said. “You know better than anyone they need individual attention, high expectations, and a ready reserve of emotional support.”
Stocks the there is an effort to enlist NEA members to fight against voter suppression and education people about where to vote, voting requirements and the importance of casting a ballot.
Stocks also said the union supports the DREAM Act, which would provide conditional permanent residency to illegal immigrants who graduate from U.S. high schools, arrived in the United States as minors, and lived in the country continuously for at least five years prior to the bill's enactment.
“Our members in Arizona and Alabama have fought against discriminatory immigration laws,” he said. “NEA members in Tucson have fought against a ban on ethnic studies, so that students have access to a rich curriculum that honors their diverse heritage. Our members across the country have cared for children who have been separated from their parents due to immigration raids in workplaces.”
Stocks said the union is partnering with the NAACP to oppose New York’s stop and frisk law and challenge zero-tolerance school discipline laws. The union and the civil rights group are working to develop a racial profiling curriculum for educators, students and community leaders.
“Does racial profiling start in our schools? Does the pipeline to prison for minority youth begin in school? And if it does, what are we going to do to stop it?” he said.
“Every year, 3.3 million K-12 students are suspended from school and African- American and Latino students represent a disproportionate number of those suspended. Shoving our kids out of schools, shoving them away from the support they need, denying them access to the tools that will equip them for life is the ultimate act of intolerance and condemnation.”
The NEA is the parent organization of Michigan Education Association, the state's largest school employee union.