WASHINGTON (Talon News) — Secretary of Education Rod Paige described the National Education Association as a “terrorist organization” in remarks at a private White House meeting before the nation’s governors on Monday.
The NEA has 2.7 million members, is the largest teachers union in the United States, and regularly donates millions of dollars to the campaigns of mostly liberal Democratic candidates who promise more money to fund education.
However, Paige argued the group does not put the interests of teachers at the forefront in terms of standards and accountability.
Regardless, the Democrats predictably took advantage of this opportunity to paint Paige and the Bush administration as hateful and degrading towards teachers.
“These were the words, ‘The NEA is a terrorist organization,'” exclaimed Democratic Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle.
Democratic Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell said it appeared that Paige was “making a joke, probably not a very good one.”
Rendell admitted Paige “immediately divorced the NEA from ordinary teachers, who he said he supports.”
Even still, Rendell, who has had his concerns about the NEA, told the Associated Press, “I don’t think the NEA is a terrorist organization.”
Democratic Missouri Gov. Bob Holden said Paige is critical of the NEA because they do not support Bush’s education policies.
“[Paige] was implying that the NEA has not been one of the organizations that has been working with the administration to try to solve ‘No Child Left Behind,'” Holden told the AP.
The NEA has said it will be suing the Bush administration for allegedly underfunding the “No Child Left Behind” law.
Conservative columnist Oliver North wrote in an August 23, 2002 syndicated column that despite getting an enormous $26.5 billion boost in new education spending from the Republican Congress as part of President Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” law, the NEA still said it had “no new money … for public education and struggling schools.”
Democratic Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm did not think the comments were appropriate regardless of their meaning.
“I know he wasn’t calling teachers terrorists, but to ever suggest that the organization they belong to was a terrorist organization is uncalled for,” Granholm opined.
Paige later apologized for what he called “an inappropriate choice of words” in a written statement. However, he refused to back down from his disdain for the “obstructionist scare tactics” used by the NEA and its lobbyists in Washington to promote their agenda.
Defending the teachers who have had to endure the “radical” politics of the NEA, Paige said they should be the ones applauded for being responsible for the advances made in education.
“I also said, as I have repeatedly, that our nation’s teachers, who have dedicated their lives to service in the classroom, are the real soldiers of democracy, whereas the NEA’s high-priced Washington lobbyists have made no secret that they will fight against bringing real, rock-solid improvements in the way we educate all our children regardless of skin color, accent or where they live,” Paige continued in his statement.
Nevertheless, as the first black Education Secretary in American history, Paige said he regrets saying what he did.
“But, as one who grew up on the receiving end of insensitive remarks, I should have chosen my words better,” Paige concluded.
White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said, “The comment was inappropriate and the secretary recognized it was inappropriate and quickly apologized.”
One Republican governor defended Paige’s freedom of speech since he was simply answering a question he was asked about the NEA’s role in education.
“Somebody asked him about the NEA’s role and he offered his perspective on it,” quipped Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas.
Yet, NEA President Reg Weaver still did not hesitate to respond to Paige’s comments, although he misquoted what the education secretary said.
“It is morally repugnant to equate those who teach America’s children with terrorists,” Weaver charged in a statement. “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 world view.”
Weaver went on to call Paige’s choice of words “pathetic” and “not a laughing matter.”
“We are the teachers, there is no distinction” between them and the Washington-based teacher’s union, Weaver added.
Continuing with the vilification of Paige’s comments about the leftist agenda of the NEA, Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe said the “most vile and disgusting form of hate speech” spoken by Paige should be condemned by President George W. Bush and the Republican Party.
“It is a revolting attack on America’s teachers to suggest that it is an act of terrorism to disagree with President Bush and to be outspoken advocates for students and teachers,” McAuliffe expressed in a statement, although Paige never referenced teachers in his comments about the NEA.
Paige later said there has been militant opposition to the “No Child Left Behind” law from three “hard nosed, highly financed and well organized” groups.
However, when asked to name the others besides the NEA, Paige said, “I’ve already got into deep water with that one, haven’t I?”
The governors are gathered in Washington for the National Governors Association held each year.
The NEA spends in excess of $1 million annually lobbying in Washington. In addition, the NEA gave $3.1 million to political candidates in the 2000 election, including an astounding $2.8 million to Democratic candidates alone.
The NEA has previously came under fire from conservatives for suggesting in standardized curriculum about the September 11 attacks that no one is to blame, despite overwhelming evidence that showed radical Islamic fundamentalists were responsible.