WASHINGTON — Catholic parents and educators alarmed at the hostility toward traditional values in public schools and the radical politics of the National Education Association are not alone.
Groups and individuals speaking up for traditional values in education show no signs of backing off and often appear as Davids against the Goliath NEA.
That union, which receives federal funds and thrives on compulsory dues, passed resolutions this summer in support of redefining marriage, against constitutional marriage-protection amendments, for the repeal of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, and against voucher plans and tuition tax credits.
But there are members like Sissy Jochmann and Connie Bancroft who are determined to witness for the sanctity of life and for Christ. Jochmann, a second-grade teacher from suburban Pittsburgh, co-founded the NEA Conservative Educators Caucus in 2001. She had become aware that some of her $800 annual dues to the NEA and its state affiliate promoted abortion, pro-homosexuality curriculum and other causes and candidates she couldn’t support.
So she became a delegate to the NEA regional assembly. In 2002 she proposed a resolution asking the convention to consider programs that support those with unwanted same-sex attraction, and not just programs affirming homosexuality.
“When I stated that thousands of people leave homosexuality each year — ex-gays — that’s when nearly 9,000 delegates booed,” she said.
Bancroft, from Damascus, Ohio, is executive director of Teachers Saving Children, a 15-year-old national pro-life network. Bancroft herself is an NEA member, but the network is an independent entity that provides pro-life resources for teachers, especially in health and science.
There are also teachers like Jeralee Smith, an ex-lesbian who wants dialogue to be respected on all sides of the controversial issue of homosexuality. Smith, who teaches in Riverside, Calif., heard Jochmann speak on a Focus on the Family radio show. Soon after, they and two other teachers founded the Conservative Educators Caucus. It aims to uphold traditional values from “unwanted compromise or abandonment” within the NEA.
Smith also founded the California Teachers Empowerment Network, which provides nonpartisan information on education policy and union options. In 2004 she helped establish the NEA Ex-Gay Educators Caucus, which works “to eliminate intolerance and discrimination” against ex-gays and their supporters.
All these women say the views of NEA leadership are often at odds with many in the rank and file. They want their colleagues to know what union dues support.
“Our role is to be watchdogs on the inside and report to the conservative media,” Smith explained. “We say to other teachers, ‘Either get in and put your mouth where your money is, or take it out.’ We’re not passive; we’re pro-actively poking the leadership with a stick, and it becomes news.”
There are also independent alternative associations that, while not unions, offer teachers professional development, insurance and legal protection.
These organizations, with a combined national membership of 275,000, offer basic protections.
For example, the Christian Educators Association International provides $1 million professional liability insurance and legal job action protection for $139 a year. The association’s executive director, Finn Laursen, said its main appeal is its “Christian worldview.”
For $180, the Association of American Educators offers $2 million in liability insurance and legal assistance. “We’re respected by our members more for what we don’t do. We don’t get involved in politics or back candidates,” said its executive director, Gary Beckner.
Just how much countercultural voices are needed became apparent at this July’s assembly. By a 61-39 vote, delegates rejected a Conservative Educators Caucus proposal that would have ended the union’s abortion advocacy.
According to media reports, retiring general counsel Bob Chanin asked why “conservative and right-wing bastards” are “after” the NEA. He answered his own question.
“Because we have power,” he said, “and we have power because there are more than 3.2 million people who are willing to pay us hundreds of millions of dollars in dues each year.”
NEA spokesmen declined repeated requests to comment on Chanin’s statement or on its controversial agenda.
Twenty-seven states are “closed shops,” meaning 2 million teachers must accept union control and cannot bargain individually with employers, according to a 2008 National Institute for Labor Relations research study.
Roughly $2 billion in dues flows annually into the NEA and the American Federation of Teachers, the other national teachers’ union, according to the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, which counsels teachers on their union options.
Liberal Social Agenda
The NEA’s political division committed up to $50 million toward 2008 election campaigns, according to the congressional newspaper The Hill. One reason the Conservative Caucus exists, according to its website, is to expose the NEA’s liberal social agenda as being “not in the best interest of the health and welfare of children and families.”
Frustrated Catholic parents like Claudia King in Massachusetts and Debbie Armenta in Ohio would agree with that assessment. Both work at finding out how morally charged issues are presented in school, but say they’ve been stonewalled, disrespected and outright lied to by some school authorities.
“I feel we can’t change much until the majority of the people find that the liberal agenda is wrong,” King said. She and Armenta discuss issues within a religious context with their children, alert them to be discerning, and are vigilant at keeping communication open.
“My children know they’re to look for the difference between actual facts and one person’s ideology,” Armenta said. “What worries me is the constant insidious influence and slant of the educational system.”
Gail Besse writes
(888) 299-6158, CECCentral.org
NEA Ex-Gay Caucus: (888) 532-4678,
Teachers Saving Children: (330) 821
California Teachers Empowerment
Network: (888) 290-8471,
Christian Educators Association International: (888) 798-1124,
Association of American Educators:
(800) 704-7799, AAETeachers.org
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