I wouldn't devote one more post to deconstructing Randi Weingarten's early-bird Christmas gift to Hillary Clinton except that I'm an NEA member, and I'm living in fear that NEA president Lily Ekelsen Garcia's administration will lead us down the same path.
Arguing about Clinton (or Weingarten for that matter) is a tricky dance. Clinton tends to have a destabilizing effect on the brains of people who don't like her, who proceed to froth at the mouth at start ranting about conspiracies tortured enough make a truther blush. My opposition to Clinton (and support for Bernie Sanders) is not based on any belief that she is a terrible human being, a crazy-awful person, or some evil mastermind bitch on wheels. My reluctance to support her is not even based on my perception that she is extraordinarily inauthentic (though I think that magnifies her other issues). I just don't think she is remotely a supporter of public education or the teachers who work there. I think she would be perfectly comfortable continuing the exact same policies that we've suffered under for the past fifteen years and in fact would prefer to continue with them.
The counter-argument is that she's electable while Sanders is a modern George McGovern, beloved by liberals and doomed in the general election. Maybe Clinton is electable (though if that's the case I'd ask why? Could it be that she's electable because, other than her lack of a penis, she is indistinguishable from a Republican candidate). And there's a case to be made that endorsing early and ahead of the pack earns you a better voice in policy discussions.
But if she is electable, nobody's pretending it won't be a tough sell. And that's how AFT blew it.
Let me take a moment to tell you how I have always handled advising students who are in charge of putting on Prom. First, it takes months-- mooonnnnnnths. Because we make sure every student on class council has had a chance to propose an idea and explain that idea. Then students break into groups and they research and pitch the ideas. And then they discuss the ideas until every single person has been heard just as much as they want to be. And then they decide.
The process is long and involved and inefficient and often results in exactly the same theme-and-decoration decisions that the class president or I could have simply installed by fiat at the beginning of the process. But the long involved process doesn't just result in a decision about which color of vinyl to hand behind the cardboard castle. It also results in an entire group of students who are energized, informed, and invested. They know what we're doing, why we're doing it, and why it's the best solution we could come up with. They will work for that theme, even if it wasn't the one they most wanted.
The process of deciding on a candidate to endorse could-- and should-- also be the process of getting members educated, involved and invested in the decision. But leaders of large, unruly, cat-herding groups like a teachers union are reluctant to relinquish control. The irony here is that such groups are often run with the same top-down management style that has helped make education "reform" such a train wreck.
While AFT's tiny sample was legit for sampling purposes, Daniel Katz correctly notes that the massaging of the data makes it a bit suspect. But what it mostly did was completely fail to engage the members, and now instead of delivering a groundswell of Clinton enthusiasm, Weingarten delivers a free-wheeling cat-herding argument about leadership's choice for the union. Instead, the people who are excited about the endorsement are people like DFER-- the faux Democrats (also, faux democrats) who would like teachers to be Put in Their Place and for the unions to die. That's who's excited about this.
I believe some folks have grossly over-estimated Clinton's electability, under-estimated Sander's electability, and hugely under-estimated how much Clinton really doesn't support public education and the people who work there. I suppose time will tell.
But in the meantime, I'm really, really hoping that NEA will take a more careful approach to an endorsement. I hope we don't send the Dems the message that we will always be there for them, no matter how badly they treat us. I hope we don't cut the membership out of the process and just expect them to fall in line. And I hope we endorse somebody who isn't going to, once again, stab us in the back, front, and side.
The AFT used a long questionnaire (about twenty-six questions, only eight of which directly addressed education). I'd like to see the NEA's list of questions include these two:
What did the Obama/Duncan administration get wrong about education?
What would your administration do differently going forward?
Because any candidate that wants support from teachers ought to be able to answer both of those, clearly and specifically. I'll be waiting.