Monday, October 27, 2008

NEA hugely politicized

NEA members and families are a unique and rich voting bloc poised to make a difference in November. With less than two weeks remaining in the 2008 campaign, the National Education Association is fully engaged in an unprecedented effort to mobilize its members and their families to elect friends of public education at the national, state and local levels.

"Watch NEA members and their families on election night if you want to know the outcome of races across the country," said NEA President Dennis Van Roekel. "Our members are in every precinct, county, congressional district and state. Given our unique demographic makeup - women, rural and suburban members - we are the typical swing voter of the 2008 election." Swing voters?? What a laugh. Obamatrons, more likely] NEA is a huge voting bloc with 3.2 million members. When immediate family members are factored in, that audience grows to more than 5 million potential voters.

"In the last two weeks of the campaign, our focus is on getting our members and their families to the polls," said Van Roekel. "We are uniquely positioned to make a difference in closely contested races up and down the ticket."

In 15 presidential battleground states targeted by NEA, members and their families comprise 2.3 million potential voters. And in what the campaign experts identify as states rich with swing voters that could tip the election, NEA is poised to capitalize on the strength of its members. In Florida, NEA members and their families include 309,915 potential voters; North Carolina, 128,769; Colorado, 78,499; and New Hampshire, 34,904.

The number of NEA members and their families eligible to vote are equally impressive when other targeted races are considered. In four gubernatorial races targeted by NEA - Indiana, North Carolina, Missouri, and Washington - there are almost half a million possible voters comprised of members and their families. In 11 Senate races targeted by NEA, almost three-fourths of a million voters are up for grabs. Similarly, in 54 congressional races targeted by NEA, there are almost 900,000 potential voters among members and their families.

In addition to traditional phone banking and canvassing operations running through Election Day, NEA members from non- targeted or battleground states are volunteering to canvass and make calls to voters in battleground states. Two hundred California Teachers Association members, for example, made calls to northern Nevada during a recent meeting. Members from Illinois volunteered in Iowa and Indiana, and New Jersey members drove to Pennsylvania recently. This weekend, members from Delaware and Maryland are canvassing and phone banking in the battleground state of Pennsylvania.

NEA also is employing multifaceted, personalized communication tools based on micro-targeting models. NEA is communicating with members and their families in unprecedented ways - via Web sites, emails, blogs, mail and cable ads. For example, in October, NEA launched a new Web site and distributed a mailer to undecided members in battleground states pointing out Sen. McCain's wrongheaded prescription plan for what ails America's health care system. The Web site, , enables members and their families to check the facts about McCain's plan and lobby him to change his position. More generally, NEA and its affiliates to date have:

-- Distributed more than 21.3 million pieces of mail

-- Made more than 2.1 million phone calls

-- Sent more than 1.3 million emails to members in battleground states

-- Began defining John McCain in the spring, sending 2 million pieces of mail before Labor Day.

The National Education Association is the nation's largest professional employee organization, representing 3.2 million elementary and secondary teachers, higher education faculty, education support professionals, school administrators, retired educators and students preparing to become teachers.


Britain: Must they know about sex at five?

One thing stumps me about the news that the Government is to provide compulsory "sex and relationships" lessons for children from the age of five: how much can there really be to say?

On the subject of relationships, obviously, one could go on forever, recommending lengthy homework on everything from Jane Austen to Leonard Cohen lyrics. On sex, I would have thought there was rather less to discuss: one could surely exhaust the topics of contraception, pregnancy, abortion and sexually transmitted diseases in a matter of weeks at the age of 11, perhaps with a brief refresher course at 13. After that, in what precise style young people proceed with sex in later life is surely a matter for them: there must be some areas to which even the omnipresent hand of the nanny state does not reach.

The news that there will now be a "naming of parts" session for five-year-olds, however - in which they learn the correct words for genitals and the differences between the sexes - gives me the creeps. By the age of five, many children have their own names for their private parts, often of a friendly, silly variety that will do them perfectly well until they are older. Is there really any point in school insisting on teaching them otherwise?

If a friend or relative suddenly insisted on lecturing your five-year-old about the official name for their genitals, apropos of nothing, I imagine they would be asked to shut up pretty sharpish. I am at something of a loss as to why this interference should be thought preferable coming from a primary teacher. And yet a sex education comic - Let's Grow With Nisha and Joe - is already being promoted to primary schools. We learned to read with Dick and Dora: I shudder to think what they would do with that pair today.

The great irony in the Government setting itself up as the supreme educator on sexual and emotional matters is that, when it is given the task of actually looking after confused and vulnerable children all by itself, it is the worst parent imaginable. Girls who have grown up in care are sexually active earlier than other teenagers, and are 2.5 times more likely to become pregnant. A quarter of girls leaving care are already mothers or pregnant.

These girls are subjected to the same sex education at school as everyone else: I would be extremely surprised if any of them did not know in theory how to avoid having a baby. The real point, surely, is that they do not greatly want to avoid it. The emotional isolation they experience during their period in the unfeeling British care system means that they gravitate towards men as a source of affection and attention. The prospect of motherhood then offers them both an acknowledged social status and perhaps a reason for continued financial support from the state. Their early pregnancy is entirely logical, for any state that cares to read its own shortcomings written in the logic.

This, to a lesser degree, holds true for very many teenage girls who "accidentally" find themselves pregnant. The phenomenon is not helped by the fact that at the moment there is a wealth of information on what it means to have sex and very little on what it means to be in sole charge of a small baby that cries round the clock.

I believe in the good sense of basic sex education at school for older children, even if my own was pretty much confined to a terrifying film of a woman giving birth, and a hilarious, crackling 1960s film about male puberty called From Boy to Man. (We never got to see From Girl to Woman, despite being primed for yet more helpless laughter: the projector broke.)

There is a danger, however, that any philosophy that mainly concentrates on the somewhat deceptive notion of "safe sex" and the judicious use of contraception is in fact misleading. If a teenager doesn't think that he or she is ready for the life-changing complications that might arise from sex - and few are - then the best advice is not to do it at all. Otherwise, they should be warned that contraception is very far from infallible, and they would be advised to double up on their methods.

I yearn for the day when "sex and relationships" lessons actually do something to make teenage behaviour wiser, and when lessons include: "Just because he sleeps with you doesn't mean he loves you" and "New mum Mary can't go out for two years. It's 3am and the baby's screaming with colic." Sadly, the glum news that Jim Knight, the Schools Minister, has decided instead to start badgering the nation's five-year-olds into naming their private parts doesn't lead me to think that will happen any time soon.

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