Education, Family & Community

Teachers’ union encourages members to politicize Thanksgiving, Christmas gatherings

November 27, 2019

Ray Carter

As families across the nation prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving and enter the Christmas season, the parent organization of the Oklahoma Education Association is encouraging its members to “incorporate your commitment to social justice at your celebrations this year.”

The OEA, Oklahoma’s largest teachers’ union, is the state affiliate of the National Education Association. Dues for OEA membership also support the NEA and its activities, such as NEA EdJustice. On its website, NEA EdJustice says it “engages and mobilizes activists in the fight for racial, social, and economic justice in public education” and its mission is to “highlight member voices on social justice and offer resources and tools for activism.”

Among the things NEA EdJustice recommends is for union-member teachers to “give thanks to the Indigenous people on whose land we live, work, play and thrive” during holiday gatherings, saying this a “powerful way of showing respect and a step toward correcting the stories and practices that erase Indigenous people’s history and culture and toward inviting and honoring the truth.”

NEA EdJustice also notes that holiday table conversations “can run the gamut, from family in-jokes, to gregarious catching up with relatives, to uncomfortable discussions of political differences.” The organization advises its members to consider “helping seed thoughtful conversations” by asking a range of questions at holiday gatherings, including how your beliefs about your culture and/or faith influence your values, and how those values “influence your perspectives on racial and social justice?”

In another section on its website, NEA EdJustice notes, “Holidays are full of foods, symbols, and objects that convey history, culture and/or religious traditions.” NEA EdJustice encourages teachers to add “some additional symbols of justice to your holiday table,” including the following:

•“An empty plate — to symbolize all who are experiencing hunger and loss.”

•“A glass of water — to symbolize the need to protect access to clean water in all communities.”

•“A bell — to symbolize a way to pierce the silence in the face of all forms of oppression including racism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia, misogyny, and homophobia.”

In July, 60 Oklahoma delegates participated in the National Education Association’s Representative Assembly, where attendees approved a resolution declaring the teachers’ union “vigorously opposes all attacks on the right to choose and stands on the fundamental right to abortion under Roe v. Wade,” but shot down a resolution declaring the union would “re-dedicate itself to the pursuit of increased student learning in every public school in America by putting a renewed emphasis on quality education.”

Overall, attendees considered 160 “new business items.” Lawrence Lane, a member of the Oklahoma Education Association’s Board of Directors, served on the NEA’s Resolutions Committee this year.

Attendees at the assembly approved a resolution stating the union would “create model legislative language that state affiliates can use to lobby for a K-12 cross-content curriculum that is LGBTQ+ inclusive,” a resolution that called on the U.S. government “to accept responsibility for the destabilization of Central American countries” and claimed U.S. actions in that region are “a root cause of the recent increase of asylum seekers in the United States,” and a resolution declaring the NEA “will collaborate and partner with organizations and individuals who are doing the work to push reparations for descendants of enslaved Africans in the United States and to involve educators, students, and communities in the discussions around support for reparations.” 

Union members at the assembly also adopted a resolution declaring the NEA “will incorporate the concept of ‘White Fragility’ into NEA trainings/staff development, literature, and other existing communications on social, gender, LGBTQIA, and racial justice,” and a resolution saying the NEA “will contact all school districts through the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) to recommend incorporating into their science curriculum, causes, effects, and solutions to climate change and pollution.”

Also in July, the official Twitter account of the OEA tweeted that “teaching is a political act.” In a 2016 column, OEA president Alicia Priest declared that “everything about public education is political.”

According to Opt Out Today, a project of the Freedom Foundation, out of the $466 in OEA dues paid in 2017-18 by an Oklahoma teacher, $189 went to Washington, D.C. to the NEA.

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