The annual appeal to contribute money to PACE, the political action arm of NEA, is in my mailbox again, and once again I will ignore it.
There was a time, when I was a young teacher who still believed in moonbeams and magic, that I actively ignored politics. "Politics is dirty and yucky," I would say. "I am pursuing a noble profession, and I don't want to get any of that political shmutz on me." I probably wrinkled up my nose, then closed the door to my room to teach.
What can I say? I was younger then. Over the intervening decades I have better realized that while teaching verbs and sonnets to high school students may not be a political act, it is politics that shapes the ground on which we teachers try to walk. It is politics that sets our agenda, writes our marching orders, and increasingly fashions our curriculum. It is politics that decides who enters our profession and how they get there.
There was a time when we could guard the doors to our classrooms and filter out the worst of the outside, protect our students from what was stupid and wrong circulating through the edusphere. But politics has steadily eaten away at our power to do that.
So I've been a union president through negotiations and strike. I've written my representatives in Harrisburg and DC. I am no longer too good to stick my spoon in the political soup (a line that probably sounded better in my head).
So why not contribute to PACE, the arm of my union that finances political action on the local, state and national level? Why not throw some of my monetary weight behind the union heft?
Because my union has shown a complete lack of ability to use its heft effectively or wisely.
Here in PA, we stumped for Smilin' Ed Rendell who was, I guess, better than the alternative because he did not actually assault teachers with baby seals that he had clubbed to death himself. And if our state level choices weren't terribly helpful, on the national level we decided to support Barrack Obama, even after it became clear that his education policies were just as bad as anything we experienced in the Bush era. Race to the Top has been revealed to be not just NCLB on steroids, but NCLB in a permanent fit of roid rage.
PACE is the coke addict swearing that he will absolutely spend the money you give him on food this time. PACE is the bad girlfriend who begs for to take her back after the third time you drop her for sleeping with your cousin. PACE is the brother-in-law who swears that if you just give him another $500, that chinchilla farm in Montana will finally start to pay off. PACE is the abusive husband who argues that you should forgive because he only broke one of your arms and it could have been much worse.
So no, PACE, no money for you. It's frustrating, because I sure would like to have my voice heard in the political world, but you, PACE, are just a bad game of telephone where "Stop beating me" somehow emerges as "beat me some more." I do not know what the answer is to the problem of inaudible and invisible teachers in the political world, but you are clearly not it.