Virginia Teachers: Too Blue For School?
When the Virginia Education Association, the state's 60,000-member teachers union, sent an email to members last week encouraging them to wear blue shirts on "Obama Blue Day," the union says it was merely trying to boost voter registration.
The union was actually engaging in a sly, none-too-subtle effort to pressure students into accepting teachers' political choices.
The original email to members was frank enough: "Your next chance to help with the campaign is coming up ... and it is very simple to do. Tuesday is OBAMA BLUE DAY!!!"
Teachers were encouraged to "WEAR BLUE -don't wear an NEA for Obama shirt to school, but wear something else blue. 2) REGISTER TWO VOTERS OR talk to two people who may be on the fence/ or a McCain supporter and sway them to become a Obama Supporter). LETS MAKE OBAMA BLUE DAY a DAY OF ACTION!!!!"
If that wasn't clear enough, the email said it straight out: "There are people out there not yet registered. You teach some of them."
Now there is absolutely nothing wrong with teachers encouraging students to register to vote. That should be a part of any civics class, and it's also perfectly right for teachers of other subjects to encourage kids to be active citizens.
But wearing blue as a symbol for a particular candidate, in this case, Obama, crosses the line to partisan activism. There may be a legal problem with soliciting votes in school, but I'm far more bothered by the moral violation, the idea that teachers would abuse their authority by putting even subtle pressure on kids to conform to the teacher's political preference.
Of course unions make endorsements and it is to be expected that teachers' unions would rally around the Democrat. (The state Republican party is all in a tizzy about this incident.) I don't see any problem with teachers pushing for their candidates among their colleagues--that's not a problem in most other workplaces, so it seems fair enough in a school. But the relationship between student and teacher is a delicate and emotionally fraught one, and basic professionalism argues for steering clear of the kind of pressure that this partisan campaign implies.
None of this should in any way discourage teachers from engaging students in probing, difficult conversation and debate about the direction of the country, the quality and content of this fall's campaign, and a good, rigorous critique of our politics.
But this lame explanation from the union just doesn't pass the laugh test: "The Virginia Education Association encourages its members to be politically active, but it does not
encourage teachers to use their classrooms for partisan political purposes.... The email did not encourage teachers to talk with students about voting for any specific candidate.... Teachers hold an important and respected role in our society. We would never encourage them to misuse that role for political purposes."
Of course, that is precisely what the union encouraged teachers to do. We can only hope that most of them knew better than to follow their union's overzealous advice.
Virginia teachers: Did you wear blue? Did you see others doing so? Students: Were you aware of this at school this Tuesday? Did it bother you?
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