Nation’s Largest Teachers Union Doubles Down on Its Progressive Agenda
Newsweek | By Lee Habeeb | August 15, 2023
Don’t believe the conservative pundits or conservative media about the nature and scope of the leftward lurch ideologically into the curriculum and classrooms of our nation’s K-12 schools. Trust your own eyes and ears. Just take a listen to the leader of America’s largest teachers union—the National Education Association (NEA)—a mere month ago delivering a stem-winder of a speech before nearly 7,000 delegates gathered in Orlando, Florida, in early July for its annual convention.
President Becky Pringle gave the speech on behalf of the 3 million–plus members of the NEA, America’s largest union, as nearly big as the Teamsters, United Auto Workers and United Steelworkers combined. After some opening remarks about some of America’s heroic civil rights leaders of the past, she pivoted to the present with words one would expect to hear at a progressive political rally, not the largest assembly of U.S. teachers charged with educating our children.
“Holding the legacy of leaders who came before us, building on what they’ve done, we, the NEA, are taking up the mantle to fight for freedom every day, all day,” she cried out. “Our collective fight for education, democracy and freedom must be unrelenting. With 3 million members in households all across this nation, it is our duty to lead in the magnificent and complex constellation that is public education.”
The teachers assembled in the hall roared with approval. Parents across the country would not have been as pleased. Because nowhere in that paragraph—or in her speech—were they included.
Pringle turned her attention to Florida. “We have come here to Florida—our nation’s ground zero for shameful, racist, homophobic, misogynistic, xenophobic rhetoric and dangerous actions,” Pringle said. “We stand ready to lift up and protect our colleagues and their students. Right here in Florida, we will preserve and strengthen a democracy that was steeped in the power of ‘We the People’!“
Didn’t Pringle know that the people of Florida had an election in 2020 and reelected Governor Ron DeSantis by a 20-point margin? And with 56 percent of Hispanic voters turning out for the Republican candidate?
Pringle didn’t get that memo, but it didn’t stop her. “In this moment when voting rights hang in the balance and reproductive rights remain at risk, we are required to fight for fair and free elections and a woman’s right to control her own body,” she said. “NEA, this is that moment. With the residue of the pandemic lingering and with our psyches still fragile, we must try to make sense of all we have lost and all that we have learned.”
Pringle failed to mention the millions parents in America who oppose abortion and never mentioned the “fragile psyches” of the millions of children relegated to online learning—or no learning at all—for nearly two years thanks to prolonged lockdowns of America’s schools, especially in blue states and blue cities. The lingering impact of those two lost years is only beginning to be understood and had not just tragic educational consequences but terrible mental health consequences as well. But not a peep from Pringle about any of that. Or her union’s complicity in what may well have been the most calamitous education-policy decision in American history.
Pringle wasn’t finished with her parade of political horribles befalling the nation. “NEA, this is that moment when an extremist, out-of-touch Supreme Court slammed shut the doors of access and opportunity for millions of Americans by outlawing affirmative action, refusing to acknowledge the way student loan debt puts higher education out of reach for too many and keeps millions of Americans from experiencing financial freedom in their lifetimes,” she said.
Pringle then went on to do her very best Derrick Bell impersonation, showing off her critical race theory bona fides before the sympathetic crowd. “This is that moment that requires us to remind the nation that compounded inequities continue to affect far too many students and educators, and far too many families and communities, because inequity is baked into every social system in this country,” Pringle said, this time to a standing ovation.
The irony of her claim is that these very same teachers standing on their feet routinely deny that they teach critical race theory in our schools, or CRT’s academic progeny: anti-racism, white supremacy and white privilege.
Pringle continued with her attack, this time on the parents—and the politicians who represent them—pushing back against the progressive takeover of our nation’s schools. “NEA, in this unthinkable moment, make no mistake. These are not culture wars raging across this nation. These are wars on our freedoms. At their very core, these wars are an assault on our rights as humans, our right to have and participate in a civil society, our right to live and learn and be,” she proclaimed.
You’d think Pringle was leading the teachers union of Cuba or Iran. That parents across the country dare to think differently about her notions of freedom, reproductive rights, the proper role of the Supreme Court and other cultural and economic issues shouldn’t be a surprise to educators across America. Slim margins separated wins from losses in recent presidential elections, and Congress is evenly deadlocked along party lines.
That conservative and centrist parents would one day challenge the power of the K-12 education establishment is what really bothers those educators who cheered Pringle on. Parents showing up at school board meetings and expressing their opinions bothers them, and those same parents running for the board and winning bothers them. When those same parents elect state representatives to challenge the power of the teachers unions, they become unhinged.
And unhinged is the only way to describe the way Pringle closed her speech. The two-minute rant was filled with the religious zeal of a Pentecostal preacher, as strange as then-Vermont Governor Howard Dean’s infamous “Dean scream” after losing the Iowa primary in 2004.
“NEA, you are those stars in the darkness. Your light will never be dimmed. Your purpose will drive you in our righteous fight for freedom. Because you know who you are. You are the NEA!” Pringle yelled. “Our mission is clear: We will advocate for the rights of education professionals and change the world for our students. With that inner fire burning, we will never bend; we will not be broken! Because we are the NEA, and we will always do what we must to be worthy of our students!”
What Pringle still doesn’t understand—as well as the teachers her union represents—is that a very different fire has been lit by educators like Pringle who believe it is their job to save the country from people who vote and think differently from her. “Those millions of children you teach are not yours,” parents across America are shouting back. “They’re ours.”
Pringle and her progressive comrades will be hearing much more from parents, especially moms, across America tired of teachers playing the role of surrogate parents with their children. And from the school boards and state legislatures they will soon be serving on. Many will be fighting for a very different kind of education freedom than what Pringle described.