Monday, April 14, 2014

Today's NEA = Yesterday's GOP

Today's NEA is not your father's NEA. It's more like your grandfather's NEA.

NEA reminds me of the GOP of the last two Presidential elections -- they've heard of the technology stuff that the Young Folks are using, what with their social medianting and playing with their twitters, but it's probably just some passing fad (like the rap) and, anyway, the people who know how to work with that stuff don't seem quite like Our Kind of People, so we'd rather not have them in the parlor, please and thank you. And that equipment they use-- it would probably smudge our upholstery and ruffle our throw rug, so just ask them to stay out in the front yard and we'll consider their advice, but probably ignore it. And by the way, why don't any of the young folks ever stop by to visit?

Consider twitter. Even Job Bush and the Chamber know enough to try to at least fake a twitter presence. Word on the street is that Arne Duncan's tweets are intern-generated, but at least there is communication going on through an account with his name on it. He even attempts the occasional #AskArne, which is a terrible terrible idea, but which shows at least a rudimentary understanding of how twitter works and what you have to do to use it.

Randi Weingarten may be an active and engaged union leader, or she may be a manipulative woman bent on establishing herself as a national political power. I've heard both theories and everything in between, and personally, I don't know where the truth lies. But you know what I do know-- you can find her on twitter pretty much every day. And you know who she'll talk to? Pretty much anybody, and she'll do it live enough that I have to believe that she just goes ahead and types it herself.

Meanwhile on twitter, you can check out Dennis Van Roekel's account. Well, you can sort of check it out, because it's locked and protected. It says that DVR is following one person and has thirteen tweets. This is better than NEA vice president Lily Eskelsen Garcia, who has apparently never used the account at all. It looks like Secretary-Treasurer Becky Pringle is doing slightly better-- twenty-two tweets, half of which came from the Kansas Legislature-- with photos. The NEA PR team and NEA Today both have very active corporate accounts.

Facebook is even worse. The National Education Association (you won't find them under "NEA") has a page; out of the three-point-something million members, just under 32,000 have liked the page. NEA Today's page has just over 64,000 likes. For comparison, the Bad Ass Teachers group just topped 42,000 members with nothing resembling actual organization. The Network for Public Education, another group that isn't collecting a zillion dollars from millions of members and is barely a year old , is just shy of 10K likes on Facebook.

If I were a young teacher trying to get a handle on the various teacher-related groups out there, and I were trying to do it by looking around the interwebular materials available, I would find precious little to clarify NEA for me (of course, much of the NEA site is closed to non-members). If I scoured social media, I might conclude that NEA is a group that used to exist but has since gone out of business and is now run by bots.

Oh, and let's not forget GPS Network, a discussion board and internet community software package that now functions as one of the biggest ghost communities on the internet. There have been several rotations of "hosts" to perk up the chatty discussions, but check out the forum on Common Core, arguably the hottest hot button in the teaching world, and you'll find nothing but a handful of shills posting perky praises to CCSS at the rate of one or two a month, while the internet equivalent of tumbleweeds fill the gaping empty space in between.

The only way NEA could be on the right track is if their new motto is "Trying To Avoid Putting a Human Face on a Large Corporate Entity." The groups out there in the reformy world that actually ARE big soulless corporate entities are doing a better job of faking humanity than the country's largest collection of living breathing human teachers.

Never mind bad policies, stupid choices, and an all-too-typical rush to jump on the CCSS bandwagon before checking to see if that wagon has wheels-- NEA's presentation of itself and use of twenty-first century tools is enough explanation all by itself for their dwindling grasp of anybody under thirty-five.

Guys, I am fifty-six years old. My computer basis was a course about programming in BASIC on punchcards. I have every excuse in the world to be a cranky old luddite fart who refuses to learn his email password, and yet, I'm up to my elbows in this stuff. Hell, Diane Ravitch is no chicken d'spring, and she has built a huge voice by dogged and smart use of all the 21st century tools. And that means nobody who is not my mother has an excuse for being as stunningly bad at all of this as NEA.

Add to this new media illiteracy to a message astonishingly out-of-touch with many (if not most) of the rank and file, and it's a miracle (or perhaps simply a demonstration of collective inertia) that NEA still manages to limp forward at all. Even if the NEA message were forward-thinking and empowering, who would ever hear it??

But the backwards media is just a symptom. Witness NEA's reporting-- reporting!!-- last week on the growing test revolt. They offer a warmed-over recounting of what's going on and some words of support-- all in reference to one of the biggest movements currently going on in education, and with which the NEA has absolutely nothing to do. The new NEA Today tagline might as well be "Reporting the News That's Important in Education, But To Which NEA Is Irrelevant."

Do I think it can get better? I have my doubts. In an organization this hidebound you don't rise up through the ranks by doing anything that rocks the boat. And it's very hard to turn around an organization that believes its members are to be managed rather than listened to.

But I'd like it to be possible, if for no other reason than it would be nearly impossible in today's climate to create something from scratch like what NEA is supposed to be. I don't think we can make an impression on the national union, but I think we have a better shot in some cases of getting a useful response from the state-level association, and I think the states could get through to the national corporate level. If anybody has the contacts or means of doing that, sooner is probably better than later, because the process will be slow. After all, we might have to wait for the national office to type a response out on their remington and send it by pennyfarthing messenger.


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  2. The reason NEA and its state affiliates still "limp along" is because rank-and-file members don't have time to pay attention to their shortcomings and failures. Members are buying insurance for legal assistance if-and-when they get disciplined or fired.

  3. Peter, I hope you don't mind that I shared this to my timeline on Facebook. I am so irritated with the NEA and the MEA (Michigan affiliate). They are dodging all of their responsibilities to their membership.

    1. Always happy for a link or a share. Glad you found something here worth passing along.