They won't go away.
No matter how bizarre we believe their beliefs to be, no matter how illogical
and inconsistent their goals appear, and no matter how often we reassure
ourselves that "this, too, shall pass," the political, social, and religious
forces that make up the radical right in contemporary American society will
not go away.
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The radical right today is a long, long way from the hysterical groups of 30
or 40 years ago.
Today rightwingers have grown immeasurably in skills and sophistication, as
witnessed by their skillful direct mail fundraising operations and the
sophistication of their political campaign skills, and perhaps most ominous
of all, the various organizations of the radical right have learned to work
more harmoniously together to accomplish mutual goals. They've learned what
education workers have known for many years: that working together, we can do
more than is possible alone.
Why NEA and Its Affiliates Must Go
The overriding goal of the radical right is to impose a new political,
social, and religious order on the nation.
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The ideal New America, for the radical right, would be one in which citizens
conformed to the rightwing views on everything from foreign policy and
constitutional interpretation to the selection of textbooks in our
Unfortunately for the extremist point of view, free public education provides
a strong defense against the frantic propaganda and namecalling that forms
the core of rightwing assaults on the American consciousness.
America's public schools foster free intellectual inquiry and encourage
students at every level of education to understand and respect the enormous
diversity of the nation and the inherent freedom we enjoy to grow and learn
NEA and its affiliates represent the overwhelming majority of the country's
education workers. And we have become the radical right's primary target for
one key reason: we teach the children.
The Association advocates more effectively for the improvement and the
strengthening of public education than any other single body. We are almost 2
million strong; we are highly organized; we are politically effective. Time
after time, these characteristics have signaled a death knell for the radical
right's plan and dreams.
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So -- if the radical right agenda for the nation is to gain any ground, then
the number one organizational obstacle, the NEA, must somehow be discredited
How the Game Is Played
There are three major aspects of the radical right assault on NEA and its
1. The Big Lie. This approach calls for making outrageous charges and
statements with no basis in truth -- and then forcing NEA (or any other
opponents so charged) into a defensive posture, saying, "That's not so!" The
opponent is therefore forced into spending time and money defending itself.
Phony charges against NEA are endless -- and include such statements as "NEA
wants homosexuals in our classrooms" and "NEA favors marijuana."
2. Attack on the Association Structure. This approach is the old "fifth
column" tactic, whereupon members are told of alleged practices going on
inside the organization that they won't like. The vehicle for this approach
is usually a direct mailing to educators that stresses such ideas as "the
Association is run by a handful of powerful staff," and "dues are funneled
into the coffers of leftist politicians behind members' backs."
3. The Anti-American, Anti-God Angle. This tactic attempts to position NEA
and its affiliates as not past of "The American Way," The charges involved in
this approach call for labeling NEA as "Anti-God," and "deeply embroiled in a
long-term communist/socialist conspiracy." The fuel for the "Anti-God" charge
is, of course, the Association's continued support of the constitutional
requirement of separation of church and state.
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And central to all of these tactics is the engine of the radical right: the
fundraising pitch. The sole purpose of the wild charge against NEA is to get
the audience to respond to the information by parting with some cash to help
the radical right organization of the moment "carry on its most important
work." The financial shakedown is presented as a moral crusade to "save our
children" or "save religious freedom" or "keep democracy safe for the working
The radical right, for all its relatively new-found strength, has many areas
Some of these are obvious: human logic and intelligence; the basic American
appetite for an environment free of unwarranted restraints imposed by others;
the United States Constitution.
But another weakness within the radical right's own infrastructure is the
sheer absence of logic in their own positions.
The radical right says it is pro-life but it bitterly opposes gun
control legislation and favors capital punishment.
The radical right demands that educators conduct value-free education
-- but it is for school prayer, and radical righters want schools to use only
textbooks supporting their values.
The radical right opposes welfare -- but it opposes government funding
for programs like job corps and other job training programs.
The radical right demands that the size of government be reduced -- but
it insists on higher and higher military budgets.
The radical right wants to get government off our backs and opposes
programs like environmental protection and consumer protection -- but it
demands government regulation of adult sexual behavior and reproductive
The radical right believes that public education is destroying society
-- but it wants to do even more harm to public schools by paying federal
money to parents sending their kids to private schools.
But we must not for a moment believe that the sheer absence of logic and
common sense views within the constraints of radical right "philosophy" will
make it go away. Not at all -- because the genius of its efforts is that most
of its appeals are direct to refined lists of individuals who share only some
of its views. Very few people who've given money to one right wing cause or
another realize that their funds are often used to underwrite further
solicitation efforts for a whole host of rightist operations.
It's important for educators to understand the entire array of right wing
views and to spread the word whenever possible.
As this section of the resource book makes clear, the major radical right
operations are centralized in the hands of a relatively small group of people
and organizations. It's important for us to understand that no matter how
rich and powerful and broadly-supported the radical right, the actual numbers
and impact are substantially different.
Our job is to spread the word about these people -- to our colleagues, to our
friends, to our communities. Like many things that are discovered when rocks
are lifted, the radical right cannot stand prolonged exposure to the light of
day. Once the threat these people represent to our schools and students is
ully revealed, we believe their power will be eroded.
Fighting the Radical Right in Your Schools and Community
If there is one secret to successfully preventing the radical right from
interfering with public education in your community, then that secret lies in
one word: Preparedness.
Assume the worst. Assume that, sooner or later, the radical right will surface
in your schools, working to make them over to suit themselves. If you do
this, you will take the time to prepare your colleagues in education for the
possiblity by educating them about the tactics and goals of the radicals. You
will take the time to work closely with a wide variety of organizations and
individuals in your community, so that educators enjoy a favorable image in
he community.And what constitutes preparedness?
NEA recommends these six steps:
1. Dynamic public relations programs at the state and local Association
levels -- and local programs are the most important. Quality PR programs in
the community and with our colleagues let everyone know our goals for
education, and our accomplishments.
2. Active coalitions with the community on academic freedom issues are
important. Plan ahead; know who in the community is prepared to support
educators on academic freedom issues.
3. Political action means electing friends of education at the local, state,
and national levels -- and that means commitments of time and money to do the
4. Lobbying is very important; you must let your legislator and local
politicians know where you stand on important issues like school funding,
academic freedom, and school employee rights.
5. Involvement in shaping educational policy is key at all levels of
Association activity -- be it via work with state education agencies, state
and local school boards, or via collective bargaining.
6. Strong professional development programs at the local Association level
are extremely effective in alerting colleagues about the issues of academic
freedom and censorship.
But an important consideration is successfully convincing our own Association
members of the need to be alert to the attacks of the far right.
Association leaders throughout the country have faced this problem before --
and their solutions and ideas are part of the questions and answers that
How do we deal with our own colleagues who agree with the position the
radical right has taken on educational and social issues?
Opposing views on controversial issues all contribute to the vigorous and
healthy debate of our society's free marketplace of ideas. But let's try to
distinguish among the issues themselves and the tactics of debate on those
issues. We can disagree with our colleagues on many important matters --
including those on which the Association has taken a public position --
without being divided along ideological lines into enemy camps. But when the
sole support for a position rests on gross distortion of the truth, threats, and libelous accusations, then the tactics of debate are destructive, and they block reasonable efforts to exchange opposing points of view.
We may not convince our colleagues (or others who disagree with us) of the
rightness of our position; but we can try to convince them of the wrongness of
the tactics of extremist debate:scapegoating, emotional exploitation,
manipulation of religion and patriotism to ordain own's own position (if you
don't agree with me, you're anti-God and anti-American), unfounded claims,
hyperbole, and gross generalization.
Often individuals holding deeply conservative views, when confronted with
radical right lies and halftruths about teachers, public schools, and
Association aims, disavow such tactics and become the most effective
opponents of the ideologues of the radical right.
Without appearing defensive, how do we convince teachers -- and other
members of the community -- that the charges against the Association are
false and the products of an extremist vendetta?" After all, aren't some
criticisms of the Association's positions legitimate?
Of course, it would be absurd to claim that either our Association, or public
schools should be immune to criticism. Legitimate criticism and legitimate
protest are essential to ensure that public schools remain responsible and
responsive to reasonable and constructive criticism if we are to remain
But it is also essential that we know the difference between the criticism of
those who honestly want to bring about constructive change and the negative
attacks of extremists whose aim is to smear and destroy, rather than to
improve. Helping members perceive this distinction is a basic part of a good
member education program.
Are there any particular signals within the community that should alert
us to the imminence of an attack on the schools or the Association?
There are several. When one of the "stars" of the radical right, such as
Phyllis Schlafly or the Gablers, appears in a community -- on a radio or
television program, or at some community meeting -- that's a pretty sure sign
that plans are under way for some kind of assault on the schools or the
ssociation or both.
The formation of "concerned parents" groups, and the attendance of leaders of
such a group at board meetings, for example, usually signal a possible
censorship attempt. Of course educators welcome real concerned parents, but
these particular groups, whose statements and speeches are almost always
scripted by the national anti-public-school groups -- as was the Eagle Forum
or the Pro-Family Forum -- are not friends of public education. Their
purposes are not to help the public schools but to discredit and ultimately
destroy them. The only way you can tell the difference
between an honestly concerned parent group and a(sic) anti-public-school
extremist operation is to study the tactics of extremism.
It is very hard to carry on a successful membership information campaign
on the radical right when our members are besieged with a smear campaign
against the Association itself. We have a hard enough time trying to deal
with anti-NEA propaganda without getting into attacks on education and
How can we do it all?
The attacks on the Association and public education are almost inseparable --
in both origin and motive. You cannot treat separately the two lines of
attack and expect to be successful in countering either one.
Your education program must show your members that what appears to be a
home-grown, grass-roots protest against both the Association and the school
is, in fact, scripted, advised, and often funded by a network of richly
financed and cleverly managed national organizations. Materials available
from NEA trace the connections among political power brokers of the radical
right and leaders of the pro-family movement, the religious right, and right
wing education critics.
How do we go about persuading the school board to work with us on
policies to support academic freedom when most of the members seem more
inclined to go along with the censors than with us?
Perhaps you cannot convince this board. And here, of course, is why dealing
with the radical right must be an across-the-board Association concern. The
political action leaders of the Association must have the information they
need to identify and work to elect school board candidates who will work to
protect the freedom to teach and to learn.