Cover Story

SEEN BUT NOT HEARD

"SEEN BUT NOT HEARD" Continued...

Issue: "Public-school reform," July 26, 2003

Mr. Kaiser and Ms. Bruns sat with the 1,200-member California delegation as NEA president Weaver opened the festivities with a promise to get his members "riled up" against President Bush's education plan, No Child Left Behind. He called for "defeating the privatizers and voucherites," adding, "We are all at risk!"

Times have been tough for the NEA establishment lately, which bristled regularly during the convention over Education secretary Ron Paige, himself once the superintendent of Houston's public-school system. Mr. Paige steals the limelight with ideas for vouchers and privatization, notions the NEA's website labels unsafe.

"Our critics ... say that NEA is focused on keeping the status quo," added Mr. Weaver in his address. "They will say that NEA isn't for anything. They will say that NEA is against everything!" Mr. Weaver then urged delegates to make use of massive computer and phone banks set up just outside the convention hall to flood their state and national elected officials with complaints. Delegates sent more than 13,000 e-mails and made more than 1,000 phone calls. They wrote postcards to the Bush administration asking for changes in No Child Left Behind.

Delegates to NEA's national gathering come in all shapes, sizes, and inclinations. Purple hair? Yes. Multiple body piercings? Yes. Two delegates walked hand-in-hand outside the convention hall-one bearded and wearing a Hawaiian shirt, while his partner wore a big cowboy hat to accentuate his potbelly.

Convention-wide microphones were used from time to time for sexual pronouncements. "I am a gay American of English, Irish, and Czechoslovakian descent, and I am an American!" said one man during the assembly's Fourth of July celebration, as delegates clapped happily. Then a woman announced, "I am a proud, peace-loving lesbian, and I am an American!" More appreciative applause.

Sissy Jochman of Pennsylvania, a wife and mother of two boys, crafted "New Business Item 15," known in the NEA vernacular as "NBI 15," and then unearthed 50 delegates willing to sign her petition to submit NBI 15 for convention-floor debate. On July 5, Mrs. Jochman faced the huge congress and formally motioned NBI 15 for delegate consideration. It came between NBI 14, which sought to "develop model language that would protect [NEA pension] benefits" (it passed), and NBI 16, which favored "reversing the redistribution of wealth" in America (it, too, passed).

Monitors and two big-screen TVs flashed Mrs. Jochman's image through the hall, and she said, "Let me be very clear, I love all my students regardless of their sexual orientation. Because of my great concern for all students, I feel compelled ... to address the NEA's policy on sexual diversity. According to their current policies, the NEA does not consider the needs of those students with unwanted same-sex attractions. I've done some research over the past two years and have discovered that people do leave homosexuality."

Mrs. Jochman rattled off scientific evidence for her position and explained her proposal: NBI 15 would add ex-gay to the NEA's list of sexual expression, which would-most urgently-allow school counselors to help students desiring to leave the gay lifestyle. Delegates gawked, and perhaps Mrs. Jochman sensed it. She read a bit faster, determined to finish within her allotted floor time. She concluded: "To deny referrals to group or counselors who are trained in helping those students who seek change is the most discriminative act of all. Where is the equality and tolerance for the facts about ex-gays? I move to adopt New Business Item 15."

A sea of stares and glances filled the assembly hall. Mrs. Jochman remained at the Pennsylvania podium to answer questions. One man approached his state's microphone, received President Weaver's recognition, and moved that NBI 15 be dismissed out-of-hand.

A thunderous "AYE!" reverberated through the hall. She turned and walked away from the podium, as NEA business continued; Mr. Weaver called for the next NBI presenter to speak.

About an hour later, tears flowed from Mrs. Jochman's eyes as Ms. Bruns and Mr. Kaiser consoled her. She told WORLD, "Oh, that was hostile."

At least one pro-choice feminist, Linnea Archer of Minnesota, told WORLD she was embarrassed by the treatment conservatives received: "I consider myself very liberal. I was pretty upset because everything we stand for [at NEA] is to be tolerant of lots of ideas on different issues and I was just upset that we didn't hear debates on the issues [conservatives] brought up."

Conservatives wonder whether it's worth the hassle being a full NEA member. A little-known option allows NEA conscientious dissenters to go "religious accommodation." This lets a teacher remain in the union while listing reservations that union dues might be spent to support objectionable social policies-although some complain that the NEA bureaucracy rolls out the red tape.

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