Critics Say Bush Education Chief Takes White House
Intolerance of Dissent to Absurd Level
February 24, 2004
NEA President Reg Weaver said, "It is morally repugnant to equate those who teach America's children with terrorists. NEA is 2.7 million teachers and educators who are fighting for children and public education. Yet this is the kind of rhetoric we have come to expect from this Administration whenever one challenges its worldview."
Backing up the NEA concerns, Edward J. McElroy Secretary-Treasurer of the American Federation of Teachers said, " At a time when our nation faces the very real threat of terrorism, it is both unconscionable and irresponsible for any public figure, let alone a U.S. cabinet member, to undertake this kind of name-calling. There is no excuse for such crude and inflammatory hate speech."
McElroy said this particular remark far exceeded the bounds of civilized debate. He said, "It is not the first time that Paige has made unwarranted categorical denunciations of organizations that differ from the Department's ideologically driven views on education." The National Education Association has both the right and the duty to speak for its teachers and other members whose interests it represents said McElroy.
McElroy said, "Paige's remarks are more than an 'inappropriate choice of words.' As a U.S. government official, Secretary Paige should know that the hallmark of the world's greatest democracy is the right of U.S. citizens to speak freely about government policies. He should apologize for a statement that betrays this great heritage."
Robert Borosage, President for the Institute for America's Future, also came to the defense of millions of NEA teachers advancing the cause of public education. Borosage noted that the Bush Administration's attack on the teachers of the National Education Association is echoed by its attack on our nation's children and our nation's investments in education. Borosage said, "I know President Bush wants to run as a wartime president, but this is ridiculous. Our public school teachers protect millions of children from the terrors a lack of education brings. They are not terrorists."
Borosage said, "Secretary Paige is clearly confused. He is attacking the NEA because the teachers are outraged that the Bush Administration is failing to fund education adequately while imposing mandates on schools across the country. But the NEA isn't alone in that. Republicans in Utah condemn the lack of funding too. Are those Republicans terrorists?"
"The only terrifying thing in education is the Bush Administration's budget which projects huge education funding cuts in the next five years," said Borosage.
People For the American Way President Ralph G. Neas called the characterization "ridiculous, offensive, and beneath the dignity of Secretary Paige's position as the nation's highest education official." Neas said Paige should apologize for the comment.
Nancy Keenan, People For the American Way Education Policy Director and a former schoolteacher and former state superintendent of education in Montana, added, "Secretary Paige may disagree with the NEA's critique of this administration's education policies, but calling the organization 'terrorist' is completely beyond the pale. Members of the NEA are working every day to secure America's future by educating our children."
"Maybe Rod Paige has been spending time with John Ashcroft," said Neas. "Up until now, the Attorney General has been the master of the Bush administration's strategy of trying to bully dissenters into silence by equating them with terrorists. It is a shameful political tactic that Paige should definitely leave behind."
According to the Associated Press, the U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige said, "As one who grew up on the receiving end of insensitive remarks, I should have chosen my words better." Paige said his comment was "a bad joke; it was an inappropriate choice of words." He said he was sorry, and the White House said he was right to say so. Paige said he had made clear to the governors that he was referring to the Washington-based union organization, not the teachers it represents. However, NEA President Weaver's reported response was, "We are the teachers, there is no distinction."
The education secretary's words were "pathetic and they are not a laughing matter," said NEA President Weaver, whose union has said it plans to sue the Bush administration over the lack of funding to fulfill the requirements of the No Child Left Behind law.
President Bush was not present when Paige made the remark during the private gathering of American governors on Monday.