July 5, 2006

Helping Reg Weaver break the rules

Monday, I played a very small part in one of those parliamentary procedures that you usually think is a block to action—a point of order asking the chair to correct a mistake. But it turned out to be a way for a minority of delegates at the NEA Representative Assembly to dissent from the majority decision to press for a reform of No Child Left Behind.

Remember for a moment that the Representative Assembly is probably the world's largest deliberative body, more than 9,000 educational employees operating according to Roberts' Rules of Order. For that to happen, there is a complex system of communication inside the hall allowing the proper priority to be set. For the last three days, I sat about 7 feet away from a telephone on a speaking podium. When someone wanted to speak from that podium (microphone 34, in the California delegation on the bleachers), they filled out a green form indicating their location, name, state, and details regarding what they wanted to do. I was one of the volunteers who called the stage from these microphone locations, and a set of volunteers was on the stage, copying the information as I and other volunteers read it to them. Then, based on what the delegate wanted to do, the relevant slip on the stage was sorted, resorted, and presented to Reg Weaver in the proper order.

Monday, there was a bit of miscommunication because there were two items for discussion about NCLB. One was the "ESEA Positive Agenda," and the other was the "ESEA Strategy." But many delegates didn't know that there were two items and just wrote "ESEA Report," or would have unless we reminded them of the two items and asked for clarification. I was away from the microphone, and a delegate from California (Carol) wrote down that she wanted to speak to the ESEA report, and my fellow volunteer at the microphone called it in as written. We're supposed to do that, generally, and what should have happened is that the person on the stage answering the call should have asked for clarification. But that didn't happen, and although Carol (and two others) wanted to speak against the positive agenda (i.e., what NEA wants to happen with reauthorization), all of the con-speaking slips were put into the strategy pile (i.e., how NEA would enact its agenda for reauthorization).

So when debate closed on the first, Carol was quite upset. She received advice to fill in a form to make a point of order, and I called it in. After discussion started on the strategy, suddenly Reg Weaver's voice boomed out, "microphone 34, Carol [last name], point of order," bright spotlights flooded the podium in front of me, and Carol had to think on her feet. After hearing the point of order, Weaver said that there were three con-speaking slips at the podium, and that while he normally shouldn't do this, he would allow those speakers to talk for the regularly-allotted time (2 minutes each for delegates speaking as individuals). (Technically, he wasn't breaking the rules, since he was correcting an error, but he said he was, so I suppose I played a small part in helping him break rules.)

The relevant point is this: Carol and the others were arguing against any reauthorization of NCLB at all, not just a reform. A number of NEA members had been circulating petitions to that point and sporting stickers that read Eliminate NCLB. (I had wondered at the origin of the stickers for the first day of the meeting, but no one I asked connected it to the petitions.) In other words, they were accountability nihilists, and this was their chance to talk. And when the vote came on the second part of discussion (the strategy), the nihilists had their chance to demonstrate numbers. There certainly were several hundred delegates voting no on the strategy, but the vast majority voted for it. And when Carol proposed an amendment to the NEA's legislative plan yesterday (Tuesday), to call for the limination of NCLB, the nihilists once more had an opportunity to explain their viewpoint and demonstrate their strength, and once more the clear majority voted against accountability nihilism. The tenor of the response to the nihilists was captured by California Teachers Association President Barbara Kerr, who explained Monday that while she thinks NCLB has sucked the joy out of teaching, she wanted a constructive response, not whinging. (Okay, she didn't use the word whinging, but she was being polite.)

So, on the whole, I'm glad Reg Weaver broke the rules and Carol had a chance both Monday and yesterday to present the accountability nihilists' POV, because it allowed the view of the majority to become clear. And the majority of NEA delegates were not accountability nihilists, despite their frustrations with the law.

While there are quite a few other discussions, I'll just say that the other excitement at microphone 34 was yesterday afternoon, when California delegates Adia and Jeff, and Florida delegate Christine, pointed out that the NEA was not providing closed captioning on all screens. Technically, that failure violates NEA's own rules, but I think the staff was having a hard time putting the captioning on the huge projection screens in the hall. At the beginning of the meeting Sunday, closed captioning was only on a few monitors near a separate section for delegates with disabilities, and Adia's informal complaints brought closed captioning to all regular televisions used around the hall as monitors. But not to the huge screens.

And the shuttle launch briefly interrupted proceedings, as many delegates had wanted to watch it on the screens. Yes, meetings such as this one is one part organizational stuff, one part pageantry. (Other pageantry bits: speeches by the national teacher of the year, national educational support professional of the year, and a commemoration of the NEA-ATA merger 40 years ago. In past administrations, the president or at least education secretary has spoken to NEA, but not in recent years.)

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Posted in Education policy on July 5, 2006 12:21 AM |