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.
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.
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.”
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.