The Blog

Making America a More Perfect Union

This morning, NEA Executive Director John Stocks gave a moving speech to the NEA RA, lauding the accomplishments of "social justice patriots" and reminding all of us to demand a more perfect union. Below is an excerpt:

Our American DNA is embedded width a profound sense of possibility, an unshakable belief in a better tomorrow, an abiding faith that the American Dream is not only real, but a belief that there are many Americans who are willing to ensure that it’s truly accessible for everyone.

Too often we overlook the part of our national portrait that celebrates those Americans who are driven by their conscience to make America a more perfect union, those who are constantly urging America to live up to its promise of equal opportunity and justice for all.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr said that to be “divinely dissatisfied” width America is to love America. I agree width him. I have a name for people who are divinely dissatisfied width America, yet love America’s promise.

I call them social justice patriots.

I have tremendous faith that we as a nation will continue to progress because of the social justice patriots who valiantly fight every day to make America live up to its promise. Social justice patriots challenge our present in order to forge a better future for all of us.

Let me give you an example:

The Declaration of Independence contains the aspirational phrase that we are "dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal." But we know that phrase is woefully inadequate to capture our glorious diversity and our society doesn't always guarantee equality.

Every time we challenge ourselves to broaden the inclusiveness of that phrase, we are actually engaging in the patriotic act of making America a more perfect union. And for me, a “more perfect union” means making America a more just society.

I have a deep reverence for NEA members. You’ve played a huge role in fostering social justice patriotism throughout American history. Not only have educators instructed each generation about the core principles upon which America was founded, but you have, in many instances, acted as the conscience of the nation we love.

It was educators, through this Association, who sought funds for the education of freed slaves and their children after the Civil War, who spoke out against the treatment of Native American children in government schools, who supported a woman’s right to vote.

It was educators, through this Association, who spoke out against the internment of Japanese-American children and their families.

It was educators, through this Association, who demanded equal educational opportunity for children width disabilities.

It was educators, through this Association, who challenged the absurdity that Spanish-speaking children were incapable of learning like other children.

It was educators, through the American Teachers Association, and then the National Education Association, who opposed the segregation of Black children in schools that were inherently unequal.

It was educators, through this Association, who took a stand to support equal treatment for same-sex couples.

We have every right to be proud, both of our Association and of our country. That doesn’t mean that we’ve always arrived at these proud moments easily as an association. We wrestled width these issues as an association, and we came down on the right side of history.

Adrienne Rich, an American poet, said: “A patriot is one who wrestles for the soul of her country as she wrestles for her own being.”

So in thinking about being a social justice patriot, we must not only think about challenging our country to be better, but we must also challenge ourselves as individuals to do better. Are we fulfilling our American calling to stand up for the rights of others?

Are we doing enough to honor our core values of Democracy, Equal Opportunity, and A Just Society?

I see breathtaking examples of NEA members educating America in order to make a more perfect union. And we should celebrate them, but we have more to do.

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