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NEA Project News

United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) is preparing its membership for a strike, having tried for 20 months to settle their differences with the Los Angeles Unified School District to no avail. The National Education Association collections contain photos of past strikes UTLA and we're sharing those here

You can read for yourself what the teachers were asking for in this letter from UTLA President Judy Solkivits to members from 1983. This document isn't from one of those past strikes, but it does shine a light on exactly what teachers are asking for when they go to the negotiating table. Not being able to choose one's own workplace, cutbacks to health benefits, and a lack of due process in disciplinary hearings are something few Americans would choose for their workplace.

You can read the full text of the letter here.

From its founding in 1857 until the late 1960s, the National Education Association represented teachers as members but also represented school administrators. Bridging both sides of the labor-management divide as they did, the Association rejected the label of 'union' preferring to call itself a professional association. In tandem with rejecting the label, it rejected the tactics of unionism, as well. Advocating for respect by 'professionalizing the profession' were favored over strikes, collective bargaining, and adversarial relationships with administrators. Complicating this relationship was the role of the school administrators, who had authority over the members as employees while also playing an outsized role in directing the agenda of the NEA itself. In the early 1970s, the Association changed its role, giving teachers a greater voice in the organization and embracing its modern role as a union.

This interesting find in the collection provides an insight into why those teachers felt they needed a more powerful voice. It is from the 1912 Journal of the Proceedings and Addresses, the minutes of their annual meeting. The members are voting to select a new president. One of the members proposes a candidate to replace a nominee currently on the ballot. The candidate she proposes is Grace Strachan, a champion at the time for equal pay for teachers regardless of gender.

The chair holds an open floor vote for the replacement and the vote fails. The person who proposed the replacement nominee then objects to the vote, on the grounds that it "is not fair to stand up and be counted when their superior officers do not want them to be counted." Essentially, their bosses, the school administrators, would see how they voted and could censure them for it. At the time, many teachers served at will, so upsetting their supervisors was a poor career move. The proposed solution is to hold a secret ballot. The chair recognizes the proposal and an open floor vote is held to see if a secret ballot should be held. Of course, the proposal for a secret ballot fails for the same reason the original vote failed-administrators would know if a teacher they supervised had voted for the secret ballot. The entire episode can be read in the document found at the bottom of this blog.

To read more about this subject or anything else about the history of the National Education Association, contact the NEA Archivist at smallen@gwu.edu or visit the Special Collections Research Center on the 7th floor of Gelman Library.

Schools have always been a crucial building block of what makes America. It is a place where our young people can learn our common history, our civic laws, and the common ideals that continue to shape our nation. It's also a place to recognize that those 'commonalities' may simply be taken from the majority. Learning about this country should mean learning about the mosaic that makes it up so we can better understand those ideals we share.

As an advocate for teachers and for social justice, the National Education Association (NEA) proactively sought to address it more than 40 years ago. It published Roots of America: a multiethnic curriculum resource guide for 7th, 8th, and 9th grade social studies teachers. This report sought specifically to address the myth of the melting pot-that America is one monoculture to which everyone contributes equally. As one Black educator noted, while some groups may melt into the pot, it ' has never been hot enough to melt the Black man.' The report acknowledges that the experiences of an Italian-American, a Black-American, and a Native American are not the same. Devoting a chapter to eight ethnic groups, the book provides a summary of how members of that group may have experienced American history, ideas for lessons, and a bibliography.

If you would like to take a look at Roots of America or learn more about how the NEA worked towards inclusion, contact Vakil Smallen, the NEA Archivist at Gelman Library at smallen@gwu.edu.

May 8-May 12 is National Teacher Appreciation Week, where Americans are given the opportunity to thank the teachers who work so hard to educate us all. Thankfulness is important, but we should also remember that teachers need our support. Support can mean many things, from the individual to the institutional. One way in which teachers can be supported is by giving them what so many of us seek; job security and an assurance that they would only be let go for cause. This is one of the key elements of tenure, which you can see listed in the image to the right. This is from the 1936 edition of the Research Bulletin of the National Education Association, found in Gelman Library's Special Collection Research Center.

Reason for Tenure 1936 Research Bulletin Thumbnail

At a time when only 31% of Americans support giving tenure to teachers, it is important to remember why our nation's educators received tenure in the first place. Without tenure, teachers could be fired for any reason. Often it was the case that a teacher was fired simply so they could be replaced with someone younger and willing to take less pay, regardless of how well they were at their job. Additionally, teachers faced political pressure in what they taught. It's notable that when the National Education Association studied the issue of teacher tenure in the early 20th century, the body tasked with the study was named the Committee on Tenure and Academic Freedom. While college campuses are where issues of academic freedom most often play out, schoolteachers have faced their share of suppressed speech, as well. The most famous case in American history is undoubtedly that of John Scopes, the Tennessee high school teacher who was fined $100 for teaching Darwin's theory of evolution in violation of Tennessee's Butler Act.

The Kate Frank Case ThumbnailKate Frank and two other Muskogee, OK teachers were let go in 1943 with neither warning nor a reason. It was alleged, and never denied, that she was fired for not supporting the winning candidate for a school board position during the campaign. When she took the school district to court, with help from the National Education Association, she was taking on a fight many before and after could or would not. She won her lawsuit, which is why we remember her name today. Had she had the protection of tenure, that lawsuit would have been unnecessary, and the forgotten names of teachers who never got justice.

To learn more about the National Education Association and its history of advocating for the rights of educators, visit Special Collections on the 7th floor of Gelman Library or contact the NEA Archivist at smallen@gwu.edu or 202-334-1371.

Picture of Buena StolbergThis past fall, the papers of Buena Stolberg, President of the Department of Classroom Teachers between 1960 and 1961, were added to the NEA collection. At the time of her presidency, teaching was still one of the few professions open to women. Perhaps indicative of a woman who rose to leadership in an Association dominated by men, Buena was ambitious. In addition to her presidency, she was a schoolteacher, world-traveler, friend to influential people at home and abroad, mayor, and small business owner.

After earning her Bachelor of Arts degree from Missouri Valley College and her Master of Arts degree in Educational Guidance from the University of Wyoming, she taught junior high school in Webster Groves, Missouri. After joining the NEA, she rose through the ranks quickly, initially served as Vice President of the Department. As president, Stolberg traveled throughout the United States and around the world, including conventions in Stockholm and New Delhi. Back home, she would open a country store in her hometown of Arrow Rock, Missouri and serve as the town's mayor. 

Her files include handwritten notes, itineraries, letters to fellow educators, drafts and transcripts of speeches, conference programs, and clippings, all from her time with the NEA. Information about the Department of Classroom Teachers records can be found here. Anyone interested in viewing the records of the Department, learning more about Buena, or discovering anything related to the history of the NEA can contact the NEA Archivist at smallen@gwu.edu


The National Education Association, as advocates for educators and public education, took on a unique role in the wake of the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling. In 1962, two former NEA departments were combined into the Commission on Professional Rights and Responsibilities. The Commission was tasked with investigating the state of education in the U.S.A., focusing especially on individual districts, allowing them to identify local factors that may be hindering the work of students and/or teachers. The Commission's reports provide a fascinating historical snapshot of education at the local level. The investigations covered the mundane, such as overcrowded classrooms and poor quality facilities, to the controversial, like teachers dismissals following accusations of communist sympathy. Following Brown, school districts in the 17 states where segregation had been required desegregated with varying degrees of acceptance, resistance, and difficulties. Throughout the 1960s and into the 1970s, the Commission investigated school districts that were experiencing difficulties integrating.

Thumbnail of the cover of Beyond Desegregation: The Problem of Power

In February of 1970, a report titled Beyond Desegregation: The Problem of Power was issued following an investigation into East Texas schools. There were some positives. For example, East Texas schools were desegregating at a faster pace than most other Southern schools. In reporting the problems, however, it draws attention to an often overlooked problem that accompanied integration. As separate school districts merged, redundant teaching positions would often get eliminated. Were the system fair, distribution of the remaining jobs would have been fair, as well. Unfortunately, the reports show that this was not the case. As the report says, "[i]t would have been news if the NEA Special Committee had found, during its study, even one single school district where there was any significant amount of faculty desegregation, where the desegregation process had been accomplished equitably and without the release or demotion of black teachers, or where a black principal had been appointed to the principalship of any school with as much as 10 percent white student enrollment."

The report is 57 pages in all, and provides a background of East Texas' uniqueness, insight into how locals resisted integration, addresses the question of power imbalance within the community, and finishes with suggestions on how to overcome this imbalance. Eventually, the report came to Gelman Library Special Collections as part of the NEA Collection. A .pdf of the first 7 pages of report is available below, explaining the methodology the investigators followed. Anyone interested in reading the rest of the report, or in knowing more about the NEA's role in integration, can contact the NEA Archivist at smallen@gwu.edu.


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