Vice President Biden Applauds NEA for Fight for Students, Workers


By Cynthia McCabe

CHICAGO — Unions are the ones fighting for the middle class and the National Education Association especially is fighting to ensure all students have access to a quality public school, Vice President Joe Biden told thousands of cheering educators Sunday in a stirring speech to NEA’s 90th Representative Assembly.

“Thank God for your unyielding belief that in the toughest of circumstances every child, every child, deserves a chance,” Biden told the audience of nearly 9,000 people. “I just wish those folks who are attacking you now, I wish those folks who are trying to ascribe to you the blame for the worst recession America has had since the Great Depression knew you a little better.”

NEA members’ fight for their rights as workers, is “about our children,” Biden said. “Your fight is about giving them the best chance.” He later added, “because of you the American dream will grow faster and further than ever before.”

In states across the nation, public school educators and their fellow public employees have come under attack from Republican governors and state legislators. Efforts to curb workers’ rights to collectively bargain their contracts, have a say in students’ learning conditions and get the benefits that they’ve earned during their careers have come from legislators in Wisconsin, Ohio, Florida, Michigan, Idaho, Tennessee, and just about every other Republican-led state in the country.

Educators in the past year have had to simultaneously rally for their rights and provide a quality public education for every student who enters into their classroom.

“We should be listening to you, not lecturing to you!” Biden said, drawing a standing ovation. “We should be embracing you, not pushing you aside! You are not the problem!”

Biden quoted another leader — NEA President Dennis Van Roekel — from Van Roekel’s keynote address to the delegates Saturday, in saying that whether we as a society provide what is needed for all children to have a quality education is, “the most fundamental question we need to be asking as a people today.”

He said the crux of the fight for public school students, their families and the middle class is, “about social equality, economic opportunity, concentration of wealth, about the belief in the possibility of every child in America.”

That includes not only core curriculum classes, but also the arts, athletics, higher education financial aid and pre-kindergarten program funding, he said.

Biden had harsh criticism for corporate interests and the legislators they back who attack those educators, the poor, and the American worker. He called the attacks on public workers and attempts to blame them for budget shortfalls, “one of the biggest scams in modern American history.”

In his introduction, Van Roekel applauded Biden for understanding that “putting Americans back to work is the greatest priority of our nation right now.”

“The middle class needs more leaders like Vice President Biden,” said Van Roekel. “He knows that the key to economic prosperity for all is a vibrant middle class, and without organized labor, the middle class will not grow and thrive.”

The Vice President encouraged educators to work closely with lawmakers and others who genuinely want to improve public education so that all students in America have access to quality public schools.

He acknowledged that the Obama Administration and public school educators have at times disagreed in recent years on the best path forward in school reform, but he added, “not all of it are you wrong about,” drawing applause from the delegates.

But, Biden said, the Obama Administration, “stands for education and it stands with labor.”

Biden drew laughter and smiles from the audience when he opened by referencing his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, saying, “My name is Joe Biden and I’m in love with an educator! And I’m in love with education!”

Quality public education is an important topic in the Biden household. Dr. Biden is a former high school English teacher and reading specialist. She is an NEA member and currently an education advocate and adjunct professor at a community college in the Washington, D.C., area.

Inspired by Vice President Biden’s call to action? Sign up now at EducationVotes to get involved in the fight for public education and the American worker! You will be a key member of the team in the 2011 and 2012 campaigns.

Featured photo and top: Scott Iskowitz/NEA. Bottom photo: Calvin Knight/NEA


Reader Comments

  1. Whoo-hoo to all of you who are questioning and challenging this present administration and its regard to public school educators as well as public workers. Arne Duncan has NO experience when it comes to classrooms – sorry, his help in his mother’s after school program is commendable but not quite the classroom experience I’m talking about. As for NEA – I question where the priorities are as well. I wish the NEA would really push for a letter writing campaign fo all local associations to leaders in Washington. What I’d really love is our Senators and Congress come out and shadow for a WHOLE day in ONE classroom or even a week and spend time in elementary, middle and high school and different neighborhoods…THAT would be eye opening. Oh, I forgot to mention that they wouldn’t be sitting, we’d put them to work…get dirty if you will.

  2. Van Roekel’s left wing liberal bias continues to hurt his credibility with those NEA members who do not share his political views. NEA should be promoting public education interests, and public school teachers instead of promoting the Democratic party.
    Obama sends his children to private schools. Should this be the candidate NEA endorses? I don’t think so!!!

  3. It sounds like Mr. Biden has the right words, but does he have the right heart for following through and truly supporting equal education for all children in America no matter what their zip code? The Federal contribution to individual public schools is only a small percentage of what it takes to support a quality school, but the message sent by the White House and the congress resounds to the local level. Right now my vote for Mr. Obama is in question and I have yet to give any $$ because he is not representing the promises he made during the last election.

  4. I don’t understand why the NEA would support an administration that clearly doesn’t support–or even understand–public education. The VP’s enthusiastic comments may have been good for morale, but in view of past practices, they rang empty.

  5. Look around you… everything comes from China. Big Business Republicans sent our jobs over there. Education isn’t the reason our kids can’t get jobs. Wherever you are living, your town has problably lost industry to China. We need jobs! That will end the recession, the attack on education, and restore our pride. Made and educated in America sounds good to me.

  6. I was at the RA in June and am not in support of us supporting Obama next year. All of the politicians are liars and until we wipe all of these people out of their seats and start fresh we will get nothing. Instead of the dumbiong of America we need to stand up like the Sugarland song says and raise our voices louder. We are not going to take the bullying any more!
    Meg Milligan
    Sandyston NJ
    Member NEA/SCEA/SEA

  7. This is a lot of fluff and not much stuff….The Race to the Top program that is pushed by Arne Duncan is anti-teacher with the reform models that require schools to be closed, staff to be transferred or terminated, and goes against collective bargaining rights. The only measurement that counts is test scores and there is no student or parental responsibility. The free and reduced price lunches ratios are the most accurate predictor of test scores available. Poverty is an issue that teachers do not control. In Washington State every school with low test scores is in high poverty areas. To blame teachers for this is foolishness.

    Every large organization that has failed does so because of management incompetence, such as Enron, Lehman Brothers, AIG, Washington Mutual, General Motors and I could go on.The 2012 election is coming up, now the Obama administration needs our votes, and suddenly they want to be our friends again. Actions speak louder than words. Race to the Top needs to be scrapped and the anti-teacher reform movements need to stood up to. NEA’s support needs to be earned, not blindly given.

    Steve McKenna
    Washington State

  8. I wish NEA would do more for the teachers in Minot North Dakota who might lose their jobs and their homes as a result of flooding.

  9. I loved teaching, but left after 23 years when ‘teaching students’ was replaced by ‘teaching to the test’. I was considered to have gone rogue because my students did experiments and hands-on activities – in a high school science class. It was time for me to leave the herd, but I applaud and support those who remain. Rogue on!

  10. Joe Biden signed on to repeal WEP & GPO When He was asked to run for Vice President
    It was put on the Democratic Agenda and the proposed White House Agenda as soon as His Boss and Joe were elected it was taken off the Democratic Agenda and the White House agenda.Don’t believe a word he says he just wants to get elected again.There are thousands of WW 2 Veterans Widows living below poverty because These guys didn’t care about them. Some of their husbands paid into SS over forty years and as soon as they passed their part of His or Her SS stopped.

    Jerry McHugh
    Fitchburg Ma
    Retired Firefighter (36 yrs.)
    Retired IAFF member

  11. Until Arne Duncan is gone, all of the talk from the WH is moot. The NEA had NO business in supporting Obama without his support for Teachers. The hundreds of dollars and hours I spent in 2008 are still on the fence. Most of us Educators here in Wisconsin feel just a bit ignored. As we now have to recertify our Union I made it clear many of us see a disconnect with the NEA, as our voices seem ignored by the NEA as well. The usual argument, the lesser of 2 evils, should not be where the current administration should want to be.

    1. Your first line is perfect! The Obama Administration has shown itself to be just a lighter shade of Republican red where education is concerned. Actions always speak louder than words.

    2. I voted for Obama, but I have to admit I was sorely disappointed in his silence during the Wisconsin education troubles. I am not so disappointed that I would vote for one of his opponents so far, though; there isn’t anyone that doesn’t scare me from the opposition.

      Our forefathers ran from the rich who controlled everything. We are creating a system much like that which our constitution tried to avoid. The middle class needs to be preserved to save our democratic system.

      I am afraid for our future.

  12. I’m so very happy that the Vice President decided to visit the RA this year. To be honest, my personal morale is low, low, low. I feel beaten-down after nearly 30 years in the profession. I’ve always voted based on education-a single-issue voter. Obama was my choice in 2008, but his Washington snub of the RA that year and the town hall visit by Arne Duncan at San Diego’s RA soured me. If educators had a stronger, more forceful chief advocate in The White House, I believe that reform could truly be a national game-changer, both economically and socially.

    In discussing all the hoops before us with my educator wife; like merit plans, accountability measures, and “right-to-work” mandates, my professionally top-rated wife said that she is WAY TOO busy and works WAY TO HARD to take the time to concern herself with divisive merit-based accountability measures. She wold agree with the Vice President’s statement, “I just wish those folks who are attacking you now, I wish those folks who are trying to ascribe to you the blame for the worst recession America has had since the Great Depression knew you a little better.” Because if they did, they’d understand that the business model doesn’t make us tick. We have a higher calling. I hope that the Vice President can get through to the President and Education Secretary.

    Hope…hope is a whisper these days.

    Thomas Ryder
    Roanoke, Virginia
    Member: NEA/VEA/RCEA

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