Rod Paige was the first Secretary of Education under the current President Bush, and was Secretary when the No Child Left Behind Act was passed. He spoke to us, the Concerned Educators Against Forced Unionism conference, about his views and experience, and also told us about his new book, The War Against Hope: How Teachers Unions Hurt Children, Hinder Teachers, and Endanger Public Education.
Before his talk I introduced myself to Dr. Paige and asked him two questions: first, does he regret calling the NEA a "terrorist organization", and second, what kind of man is the President. This was my first time talking to someone who had spent any significant time with a President, and I wanted a firsthand view.
To answer the first question, he told me that he regrets the "hoopla" over his remark, but not the remark itself. It wasn't a prepared remark, and he'd say it again. I asked him this question privately, not wanting to put him on the spot in front of others; he told me he appreciated that consideration, but didn't mind this information being made public.
To answer the second question, Dr. Paige told me the President is a "great man", and if he has any fault, it's that he's too loyal to people.
His talk was inspirational.
He called the ethnic achievement gap the "Civil Rights issue of our time", and regrets that the so-called civil rights establishment is on the wrong side of this issue. He said we must distinguish between education issues and political issues on this topic, or it will always be divisive and unsolved.
He told how the terrorist remark happened--that there wasn't press in the room when it happened--and about the aftermath. Colin Powell called him and joked, "You stick with education, I'll take the terrorists", and Paige responded, "I'll take Arafat, you take the NEA." There were more than chuckles in the room at that comment!
His main point was that we are losing ground as Americans. The teachers unions have a death grip on education. The most powerful force governing education is not the states, it's not the people, it's not science-based research--it's a single organization with chapters in every state and school district, flush with money, with people ready to march on their command. Put that way, the future of education is ominous indeed.
When "A Nation At Risk" came out in 1983, it assumed that the system was all right, we just needed to change a couple things and our educational program would improve. But now, Dr. Paige says the system itself is broken. There's too much resistance to change inherent in it, especially from the teachers unions. Instead, we tinker around the edges.
That's all of the notes I took, as I was too busy being enthralled to write much more. It's not every day that I get to meet, talk to, and listen to a member of a presidential administration, especially one I respect and admire as much as I do Rod Paige.
Update, 6:15 pm: Watching ABC World News I saw the NAACP representatives criticizing the outcome of the Seattle and Louisville school "desegregation" cases, showing exactly what Dr. Paige meant when he said they're on the wrong side of the issue of improving schools and student achievement.