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CEA Member Leads Charge for Educator-Positive Language at NEA RA

Mystic Middle School teacher Bruce Yarnall speaks before the 7,000 delegate NEA RA who voted to adopt the New Business Item he introduced.

Mystic Middle School teacher Bruce Yarnall spoke before the 7,000 delegate NEA RA, which voted to adopt the New Business Item he introduced.

While it’s a memorable line, it turns out Juliet was wrong. “A rose by any other name” would not, necessarily, smell as sweet. The names and terminology we use affect how we think about and relate to a concept or issue, and that’s why CEA member Bruce Yarnall introduced a New Business Item (NBI) at the NEA Representative Assembly (RA) calling on NEA to use educator-positive language when framing issues.

In explaining NBI 84, the Mystic Middle School teacher said that, during the first day of the NEA RA, a speaker was talking about No Child Left Behind, and he thought, “Why, 14 years after Congress passed that horrible law, are we still using the language they chose for it?”

He added, “When No Child Left Behind came out I thought it was a terrible idea and would cost a lot of money without helping poorer students achieve. NCLB hasn’t changed education like some thought it would, yet it was hard to be against a law called No Child Left Behind.”

Yarnall thinks that educators would do better using their own language to frame debates. The NBI he introduced was approved by the 7,000 delegate NEA RA and reads as follows.

The NEA will avoid as much as possible the use of our opponents’ language such as “right to work” in its publications, literature, videos, interviews, etc. Instead, the NEA shall take the opportunity to frame the issue in a positive way for educators by referring to such laws as “educating without rights” or “work without protection” laws. Further, the NEA will use social media and other appropriate low-cost or no-cost communication to inform members about the problems of these laws and how they undermine high-quality education for every child.

Bruce Yarnall NEA RA

CEA President Sheila Cohen said she was proud of the 124 Connecticut delegates for their hard work at the NEA RA, and especially of Yarnall for introducing this important NBI. “As teachers, we need to be able to frame discussions on our own terms. This New Business Item ensures teachers can effectively communicate our perspective on issues of crucial importance to our profession,” she said.

By using educator-positive terminology Yarnall hopes that teachers will also create opportunities for new conversations when others ask, “What do you mean by ‘educating without rights?'”

He wants to make sure educators are well aware of the dangers of work-without-protection laws. “These initiatives to take away collective bargaining rights aren’t driven by teachers,” Yarnall said. “They’re driven by wealthy individuals and corporations that want educators to work without any protections.

“Educators need to understand that, when they work without protections, yes, in the short term they may save a small amount of money by being able to opt-out of paying union dues, but in the longer term they lose big when their salaries and benefits are slashed.”

Yarnall said that teachers fought hard and were arrested in Bridgeport 37 years ago for the right to collectively bargain and that the educators of today need to recognize and uphold what their predecessors achieved.

When Yarnall has spoken to educators from so-called right-to-work states he says the stories they tell are shocking. “One man from Utah told me that every educator’s pay was cut substantially and they all lost many of the benefits they had previously negotiated.”

He added that using the right language helps educators frame the debate on their own terms. “We will all lose if we don’t stand together.”

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