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In Defense of the NEA President

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I am the mother of a child with Down syndrome, and I know all too well how often he is judged and stereotyped simply because he wears his diagnosis. It is an awful occurrence when he is judged based on that one fact. And yet, I find myself defending NEA President Lily Eskelsen García for her remarks at the Campaign for America’s Future Awards Gala.

I have not seen her response to the outcry over her inappropriate choice of words at the Gala. However, I am not ready to judge her based on four words that when strung together offend so many people.

Let me reiterate, for those of you ready to judge me, her words were inappropriate. I believe her words were also part of a sarcastic, tongue-in-cheek diatribe to an audience who understood her message. Her message was pretty clear that teachers do it “all” – all day, every day. Her choice of words removed, my kid was prominently included in a message that sums up what goes on in a public school on a typical day. She prefaced this by stating that most people do not know what goes on in a public school, and it is her job to educate the stranger (taxpayer) as well as the politician (rule maker).

I know my son will benefit from relationships when others get to know him. I know he will have more opportunities in life when society, as a whole, knows more about him and others like him. So that is why I am defending Lily Eskelsen García. I am defending her because I tried to get to know her before I vilified her. I watched and listened to the video, from beginning to end, and then I watched and listened again, noting her body language, facial expressions and tone of voice. I recognized that the video was a compilation of her speech that evening and wondered why that segment was created. I believe it is a pretty powerful message if you listen without being offended.

I got her message, but I still wasn’t sure she did not throw my kid under the bus just to make a point. So I checked her out. I went to the NEA webpage. I went to her blog, Lily’s Blackboard. I poked around, and I liked what I found. It is clear to me she believes we must educate all children and in ways they will succeed. She is for anti-bullying education and against standardized testing. She recognizes the importance of educational support personnel in the schools. She is an educator to the core, and it is clear to me she takes that responsibility seriously. I believe vilifying her and calling for her resignation would do more harm than good. She is, as she refers to the guy in the middle seat, not the enemy.

Please do not be so quick to judge.

Lead photo source: YouTube video screenshot

Originally published: December 5, 2015
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