Monday, July 5, 2010

Notes from Camp: July 5

A Quiet Start to a Noisy Day

The caucus started to an unwelcome surprise: no microphones! With some judicious use of playground and cafeteria voices, we were still able to begin the caucus on time. It wasn't long before the sound system was working: it came on line just before NEA President Dennis Van Roekel visited the delegation to an enthusiastic welcome from Ohio delegates.

Shortly after Dennis's greeting, the caucus was visited by John Stocks, the NEA's Deputy Executive Director. He spoke clearly and forcefully about the importance of the 2010 election to Ohio educators and about the importance of the Ohio elections to the rest of the country. "You are the pivotal point in the country," he told us.

New Business Items, Resolutions, and Legislative Amendments dominated the business today, both in the caucus and at the Representative Assembly itself. Although delegates have waded through a thicket of NBIs dealing with federal education policy, especially ESEA and RttT, attention turned to other policy decisions.

The caucus was able to consider about 20 proposed amendments to NEA's legislative program and take positions on NBIs through #36, although the RA was to get further than that later in the day.

Both at the caucus and at the RA, I was able to think about the truth of Stock's statement and the reasons why Ohio is such a pivotal swing state. Many of the items considered today come from what might be called NEA's "liberal wing." (To our opponents, the whole organization is one big liberal wing, but they've never seen it in action to witness its incredible diversity of thought and opinion.) Today the RA considered NBIs and Legislative Amendments submitted by delegates addressing a wide variety of causes, many having at most only an incidental relationship to education:
  • the environmental cleanup from the oil disaster in the Gulf;
  • the economic impact of the bank meltdown;
  • the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan;
  • expanded nurse-midwifery services in poor communities.
Ohio delegates in general tend to oppose considering these issues because they generally want the NEA to deal with educational issues only. But (and here's the Ohio insight) even within our delegation, there is tremendous diversity of opinion on these issues, with some delegates arguing passionately for some issues that ultimately would fail to win the support of Ohio delegates in caucus and the other delegates on the floor of the RA.

But it wasn't all business. Delegates honored the 2010 Teacher of the Year, Iowa's Sarah Brown Wessling, who provided what may have been the quote of the day. She recounted how as a child, she would "play teacher," setting up a pretend schoolhouse in her garage. She insisted on discipline and order, she said. But later, she learned that teaching was about much more than just discipline and order, and she came to realize that as a child she had only been playing at school. Referring to our education system is its present challenged state, she said, "I think our system is playing at school."

The whole thing draws to an end tomorrow. Somehow, we'll get through all 99 New Business Items before we adjourn. Delegations will be holding adjournment pools to see who can most accurately predict the time of adjournment--which has been anywhere from before 6:00 to after midnight.

No one person sees the whole thing! Other observations are always welcome. Just use the "comment" link that appears below.


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