This is What Democracy Looks Like

I’m at the annual Representative Assembly of my National Education Association.  We are a strange but noble people.  We are passionate.  We wear T-shirts and buttons that say funny things.  We are generous.  We are sensitive and kind and a little crazy.  We are very smart.  We care about someone else’s child.
These teachers and support professionals and college professors and librarians and principals and counselors and school nurses and anyone and everyone who touches the life of a student from preschool to graduate school have been duly elected and certified to represent the NEA members back home who sent them here to be their voice.


We sit in a huge cavernous hall with 40 microphones and 22 big screen monitors and we listen, learn, teach, debate and decide positions and actions of the NEA focused around a mission to prepare each and every blessed student to succeed in an increasingly diverse and interconnected world –  A world that needs them all to be more than accomplished test-takers. 

It needs them to be thinkers and doers; engaged in our civil and cultural society; connected to others in ways we could not have imagined possible when I began teaching 4th graders thirty-one years ago.

Here we are.  We will debate and decide how to address the growing abuse of student test scores that are being used to unfairly and inaccurately label our students and our colleagues and our schools. 

We’ll debate and decide how to ensure our schools and campuses are bully-free havens where both students and staff are safe and respected.

We’ll debate and decide how to maintain healthy air quality in our schools to combat the growing epidemic of asthma and allergies plaguing our students and contributing to higher dropout rates as children miss more and more school because of sickness.

And more and more and more will come before us for debate and decision.  Thousands of delegates will bring hundreds of issues – some elegantly simple; some mind-numbing complex; some broadly philosophical and others concrete and practical.  We’ll hear them all and we’ll discuss them all.  Someone will move to close debate.  Then an amazing thing will happen.  We will vote.  A real vote.  All in favor will say, “Aye”.  All opposed will say, “No.”

And the wisdom of the body will prevail.  That vote will mean that NEA will move forward – not because the NEA president says so, but because people elected by their peers back home said so. 

These delegates are the highest decision making body of the National Education Association.  Their word is our law.

There is no small elite group of power brokers who make the decisions and give the orders and fearful followers cower and obey some preordained royal line.  I believe this forum is exactly what our American founding fathers envisioned when the imagined The People standing up and speaking out passionately to a representative body who would listen respectfully to the power of the arguments made, weighing their merits and voting in an open, transparent way. 

We are educators in this room.  We believe in democracy and in our collective voice as core values.  We believe in the people who sent us here.  We believe in ourselves.

This is what democracy looks like.

4 Responses to “This is What Democracy Looks Like”

  1. observer

    I hope the NEA can turn the tide around for Public schools and especially public school teachers!

    Go for it!

  2. Cindy

    By law you can require your union to divert the political portion of your union dues to a designated charity

  3. Karen Kline

    If you are concerned about our nation becoming a nation of test-takers as Lily suggests, please read _Myths of Standardized Tests: Why They Don’t Tell You What You Think They Do_ by Phillip Harris et al. In fact, don’t just read it — buy it and give it to your legislators, Arne Duncan, and President Obama. This well-researched book questions how we can be spending such a boat-load of money on testing that is ineffective. As a parent and a teacher-librarian I am disappointed that my so-called leaders in government cannot seem to get their heads out of the proverbial sand and realize that testing is not the best and only way to hold schools accountable.

    Give generously to NEA-PAC and your state political action groups, teachers. It is currently the best way to communicate with your government puppets.

  4. Chris Janotta

    Lily, I had the pleasure of meeting you at the NEA RA and the privilege of being one of the delegates that had the chance to vote on all of the issues. While I don’t agree with every decision that was made, I do agree with the process, and I will proudly support my union every step of the way. It’s much better to have a union with which I occasionally disagree with then to not have a union at all.


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