California Educator

October 09

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Our Mission: The California Teachers Association exists to protect and promote the well-being of its members; to improve the conditions of teaching and learning; to advance the cause of free, universal, and quality public education; to ensure that the human dignity and civil rights of all children and youth are protected; and to secure a more just, equitable, and democratic society. Supporting human rights written by Sherry Posnick-Goodwin all students, teachers and members of so- ciety is not new to CTA. It was among the first organizations to denounce the prac- tice of segregated schools, to call for the passage of child labor laws, and to op- pose the internment of Japanese-Ameri- cans during World War II. None of those causes were popular during their time, but CTA took a stand because it was the right thing to do. Union members marched with César Chávez as he fought for the rights of farm workers. At the same time, CTA helped to establish schools for children of migrant workers, and in 1967 led the authorization of bilingual instruction classes for stu- dents still learning to speak English. CTA opposed a ballot initiative in 1994 that would deny undocumented im- migrants social services, health care and public education, and in 1996, CTA op- posed Ward Connerly’s initiative that abolished affirmative action in Califor- nia colleges. The association came out early against the Briggs initiative, California’s Propo- sition 6 in 1978, which would have banned gays and lesbians from working in California’s public schools. CTA weighed in on marriage almost a century ago. One of CTA’s radical victo- ries came in 1927 when the state Supreme is a proud CTA tradition Court ruled that a school board couldn’t fire a female teacher simply because she got married. More recently, in November 2008, Supporting civil and human rights for CTA State Council of Education voted to oppose Proposition 8, the initiative that eliminated equal marriage rights for one group of Californians. “Our mission statement says we will do our best to create a more equitable and just society,” says Myndi Hardgrave, vice president of the Hanford Secondary Educators Association and the Tulare/ Kings Service Center Council chair. “This is clearly a human rights issue. We would have been remiss not to get in- volved.” The stance generated headlines and controversy. Some CTA members dis- agreed with the decision. Some members were grateful because they continue to face prejudice, discrimination and even hate crimes for who they are. Other members supported the decision for the betterment of public education, because their students continue to be bullied, ha- rassed, assaulted and, sadly, even killed at school on the basis of their sexual ori- entation. “I don’t believe anyone should be dis- criminated against,” says Travis Nelson of the Fairfield-Suisun Unified Teachers Association. “I am proud to belong to a union that supports equal rights for ev- eryone.” Politics? Of course In the beginning, CTA fought primarily for members to receive better salaries and working conditions. But CTA has expanded its role as an advocate and watchdog for public schools, which have come under increasing attack. Carolyn Doggett, CTA’s executive director, disagrees when others say that the association has stepped outside its bounds by getting involved in political issues at the state and national levels. “People always ask: Why is CTA involved in politics?” says Doggett. “It’s simple: We want to make things better for our schools and our students. And like it or not, we are greatly affected by the decisions made in Sacramento and Washington, D.C., as well as in local school boards. Unions exist because members can be stronger collectively than individually. Because of CTA, educators’ voices can be heard.” A trend has occurred in public education over the past decade turning our schools into testing factories and using the results to portray them as “failing.” At the same time, significant amounts of education funding have been siphoned off for unregulated charters and privatization. What’s more, large corporate tax loopholes are drying up education funding in the Golden State. “Over the years, we, as an organization, have had to become more visible,” says CTA President David A. Sanchez. “In some ways, we have become both the watchdog and the savior of public education. We have assumed these roles because we care about the students we teach and the future of California.” Some in the education community are applauding our expanded role. “The growing number of mandates and non- educators enforcing them make teachers unions more critical than ever,” says Diane Ravitch, a research professor at New York University, in an online article for Education World about why teachers unions are needed more than ever. “Unions need to ensure that teachers’ influence on curriculum and practices is not further eroded.” Ravitch, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the Brookings Institution, believes that teachers unions must advocate for schools because scripted programs and drill-and-kill instruction designed to increase test scores are undermining teacher expertise and are no longer allowing teachers to do what they think is best for the students in their classrooms. And that hurts our students, at times robbing them of a well-rounded education. Sherry Posnick-Goodwin OCTOBER 2009 | 19

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