Saturday, August 30, 2014

NEA Gets It Wrong Again

I would probably not pick at NEA so much, were it not that I am paying them enough money each year to buy myself a nice toy, support a local food pantry, or get a bit ahead on paying off my kids' college loans. But never have I forked over so much money for the privilege of belonging to an organization that annots me so much.

I say all that because I'm about to bitch about something that, on its face, is a trivial complaint. And yet, it seems completely symptomatic of NEA's problems as an organization.

President-elect Lily Eskelsen Garcia used to have a blog; a nice personal site where she infrequently posted. But hey-- she was actually using the internet, which seems to be a technological leap that the NEA leadership is largely unwilling to make. When it comes to technology, this is not your father's NEA-- it's your grandfather's. The NEA continues to closely resemble the GOP of the last two national elections-- they know that the young people are out there playing with their twitters and using those interwebs, but they can't seem to think of anything to do with the technology except either lock it up tight or use it to make cyber-versions of print magazines and glossy brochures.

So LEG's blog was a nice touch, threatening to bring the NEA up to at least a decade ago. But now the blog is gone.

The title is still in place ("Lily's Blackboard") but the website has been replaced with a slick, glossy, cold, corporate website resplendent with press releases and articles. Logos and links mark it clearly as part of the family of bloodless NEA websites. Her old posts have been warehoused in a special category, a section of the website set apart, I guess, for when LEG might actually write something herself. Wowee.

The NEA corporate communication guys seem to have realized on some level that LEG's personal touch is part of her appeal, so they not only kept her original title, but they put it in one of those cute fonts that's supposed to look handwritten.

But one of NEA's problems continues to be a culture at the top levels that comes across as detached, disconnected, aloof, cold, corporate, and far away from the world of classrooms. I'm always left with the impression that my union leaders are far more comfortable talking to an Arne Duncan or a Bill Gates than to an actual real live teacher.

So when you elect a new president whose signature strength is an ability to communicate personally and powerfully with people, it seems kind of dopey to surround her with a bunch of virtual handlers and whisk her off to the boardroom so that the executive assistants can start communicating through press releases.

She has too many important things to do? Bullshit. What does the president of NEA have to do that's more important than communicate with her members? And if you know what you're doing, maintaining a blog or twitter account or social media presence does not take dozens of hours a week.

The bottom line appears to be that the NEA simply doesn't know how to make social media work. Their GPS network, an attempt at running a bulletin board system to discuss and share education materials and topics is still a slick, glossy ghost town. And while I was initially excited that LEG had a twitter account, NEA seems to have no idea what to do with it beyond PR blurbs.

Look, folks. Age is not an excuse. I'm fifty-seven years old. My first lessons in computer programming involve BASIC and punch cards. And yet I seem to have figured out some basics here and there. And here's the most basic thing to get about social media-- it is a way to communicate with people, not to manage them. Lily's New Blackboard is a bummer, because it replaces something that could have been personal and effective with one more piece of shiny impersonal plastic. Wrong again, NEA.

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