Eskelsen García: We Are Fearless and We Will Not Be Silent
By Brenda Álvarez
NEA president-elect Lily Eskelsen García, after praising those who have supported and worked in concert with her, concluded NEA’s 152nd Annual Meeting with a strong message to those “who don’t know what they’re talking about”: We will not be silent
“We,” of course, refers to the three million educators who know what’s best for students, learning, and the teaching profession.
The former Utah Teacher of the Year spoke of the practices from the likes of moviemakers, billionaire brothers, and conservative politicians who have made poor decisions on behalf of U.S. students.
“People who don’t know what they’re talking about are talking about increasing the use of commercial standardized tests in high-stakes decisions about students and about educators…when all the evidence that can be gathered shows that it is corrupting what it means to teach and what it means to learn,” Eskelsen García told the delegate assembly.
Her vision, in part, is to give back to those who know the names of the people they teach—educators—a platform to fight for what is best for their students, and the integrity and professional respect of the men and women who serve them.
“We know what is at stake and it is why we are who we are. It is why we are fearless and why we will not be silent when people who for their own profit and political posture subvert words like ‘reform’ or ‘accountability.’”
The thousands of delegates who filled the Denver convention center also got a taste of Eskelsen García’s grit when she reflected on the 1992 presidential campaign of the then-candidate Gov. Bill Clinton whose slogan made headlines: It’s the Economy, Stupid.
“For us, one thing is clear, before anything is going to get better: It’s the Testing, Stupid. Better yet, it’s the stupid testing,” she said, referring to the “phony” accountability system that has hurt students and demeaned the teaching profession.
With more than 20 years of experience, Eskelsen García stressed that no commercial, mass-produced, industrial-strength standardized factory test should ever be used as the determining factor for any student or adult.
Video: NEA President-Elect Lily Eskelsen García’s Acceptance Speech
Instead, she encouraged educators to engage in a whole child movement that is based on the idea that every public school is as good as the “best” public school and that the yardstick to measure what matters takes into account the whole student, including mind, body, and character. Moreover, education must go back to the days of personalized and humanized instruction by giving authority to caring, competent professionals.
She knows this is no easy feat, but she is confident by the 8,000 individuals she addressed at the annual meeting and the millions of others who are represented by the NEA that moving from a corporate school reform model to a whole child approach can be achieved.
Eskelsen García is not alone in this quest. She is part of a historic new NEA leadership team.
Becky Pringle, a middle school physical science teacher from Harrisburg, Pa., was elected as NEA vice president, making her now one of the highest-ranking African-American female leaders in the labor movement. Pringle served since 2008 as NEA secretary-treasurer, where she oversaw the fiscal integrity of the organization while advocating on professional issues important to educators and students, as well as issues of equity in education, diversity in the classroom, and human and civil rights. Pringle helped see the union through one of the worst economic periods in recent history ensuring the Association emerged this year on a strong financial footing and the path to growth.
“From the botched implementation of the Common Core State Standards to toxic tests that are hurting our students, there are many challenges facing students in public education,” said the educator with more than 30 years of classroom experience. “As vice president of the nation’s largest union of educators, I will work to ensure that NEA lives up to its rich history and legacy of human and civil rights, which is the foundation for realizing a great public school for every student.”
Rounding out the top three NEA leadership positions and making NEA the first major union to be led by three women of color, Princess Moss was elected secretary-treasurer. Her responsibilities will include overseeing the multimillion dollar budget and fiscal integrity of the organization.
“With an overemphasis on high-stakes standardized tests, we’ve seen the curriculum narrow and subjects like music, fine arts, and P.E. have been stripped from our students’ public education. That’s not right,” said Moss, who has 21 years of classroom experience and taught elementary music education in Louisa County, Va. “NEA is leading the way to ensure all students receive a well-rounded education, and I’m honored to be at the forefront of that mission.”
The new leadership team will take the helm of NEA on September 1.
“NEA’s delegates have elected some extraordinary leaders who will continue to push for equity in education and carry on the organization’s commitment to student-centered union leadership and our commitment to social justice,” said outgoing NEA President Dennis Van Roekel, who leaves the term-limited post after six years. “NEA’s leadership will be the national voice in advocating for what our children need to succeed to be college- and career-ready.”