By Frank Wells
In luncheon remarks to participants at CTA’s Issues Conference in Las Vegas, CTA President David A. Sanchez quotes Cesar Chavez, one of his personal heroes: “When you have people together who believe in something very strongly — whether it’s religion or politics or unions — things happen.”
More than 700 participants attended the CTA Issues Conference Jan. 14-16 in Las Vegas. This year marked the first consolidation of what had previously been three separate and popular conferences dealing with urban, rural, and education support professional (ESP) issues. A strong emphasis on organizing was the theme of many conference offerings.
“Merging the three conferences was in part a responsible cost-savings measure,” says Conference Chairperson Jolene Tripp, “but it also allowed members from all three constituencies to share common ground topics while still dealing with issues specific to their own interests.” Tripp says feedback from participants was overwhelmingly supportive of the new format.
Workshops covered a variety of topics. Attendees had two opportunities to see Race to Nowhere, director Vicki Abeles’ documentary about the pressures faced by American students and teachers in a system that is obsessed with illusory achievement, competition, and the pressure to perform. (Q&A with Abeles.) The film, which has a very different perspective from another current education documentary, Waiting for Superman, features interviews with students, parents and teachers about the exhausting high-pressure environment that is alienating many students and leaving others behind.
Inglewood Teachers Association member Aba Ngissah concurred with many of the film’s points, especially the lack of deeper long-term learning in a system that unwittingly encourages students to learn facts only long enough to regurgitate on a test. “A lot of students do just memorize,” she says. “We have AP students who don’t really perform at an AP level.” The pressure on some of Ngissah’s own middle school students can be even greater than those in some of the more affluent school districts shown in the film. “With a lot of kids in my district, we’re playing a catch-up game,” she observed. “And even if they’re caught up, they’re still shortchanged, because the emphasis on math and English means the things they aren’t tested for get less focus.”
NEA Director Marc Sternberger and CTA Board member Bonnie Shatun are prepared for the culinary theme of this year’s Read Across America.
Other conference offerings were more union-centered. Noted labor organizer Fred Ross Jr. conducted workshops to share the legacy of his famous father, Fred Ross Sr. The elder Ross was a major force in the U.S. labor movement, helping figures like Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta find their voice and power base. Ross Jr. followed in his father’s footsteps, one of his more notable achievements being a successful U.S. boycott of coffee from El Salvador during the 1990s.
“My father’s goal was to help people do away with fear, to speak up and demand their rights, to push people to get out in front so they could prove to themselves they could do it,” Ross Jr. told participants.
All conference attendees became the first to receive a new CTA edition of Fred Ross Sr.’s “Axioms for Organizers,” a collection of his motivational thoughts for others in the labor movement. The bilingual booklet includes aphorisms such as “To inspire hope, you have to have hope yourself” and “Good organizers never give up — they get the opposition to do that.” The publication, put together by the CTA Negotiations and Organizational Development Department, honors the centennial of the elder Ross’s birth. “Let us take this book, accept his challenge, and let it inspire us to become aware of our capabilities, potential, and duty to carry on the fight,” says CTA President David A. Sanchez.