A new declaration by the nation’s largest teachers’ union is causing some in Catholic education to raise their eyebrows in alarm.
Earlier this month, the National Education Association (NEA) adopted a new “business item” declaring its support for “the fundamental right to abortion under Roe v. Wade.” With over three million members, the NEA is one of the largest labor unions of any kind within the U.S. and it is highly influential on policies within public education.
Business Item 56 states that the NEA will “include an assertion of our defense of a person’s right to control their own body, especially for women, youth and sexually marginalized people.” It then states that it “vigorously opposes all attacks on the right to choose” and expresses its concurrence with Roe v. Wade and a fundamental right to abortion.
The purpose of education
But what does this declaration actually have to do with education? Nothing at all, said Mary Pat Donoghue, Secretariat of Education for the United States of Conference of Catholic Bishops.
“This has nothing to do with education, and everything to do with advancing an agenda that is rooted in an ideology that has separated the person from the Creator,” Donoghue told the Denver Catholic. “It violates the naturally good ends of education: the formation of a child in knowledge, wisdom and virtue.”
With this declaration, the NEA’s motives are becoming clearer, Donoghue said.
“It signals, unequivocally, that the primary concern of the largest professional union of teachers is not the proper education of the children it serves, but rather the destruction of the most vulnerable children: those in the womb,” she said. “In affirming Roe v. Wade, the NEA seems to be renouncing something that most educators take great inspiration from: the idea that children represent hope for the future.
“The teachers’ union as a whole is signaling that it does not support every child. Only those children who are ‘wanted’ – and free from anomaly or disability – will be entitled to an education.”
As society deals with a public educational system that many argue is broken, unions such as the NEA could be leaders of reform for education. However, Donoghue pointed out that it seems they don’t see this as a priority.
“The emphasis on abortion support – instead of, say, student learning or teacher formation – is not an avenue of improvement for America’s schools,” she said.
Actions like those of the NEA are cause for evaluating the true purpose of education and what its aim should be for society. Catholic education can be an effective means for counteracting an educational system that shows more favor toward partisanship and utilitarianism than human formation.
“The Church’s own intellectual tradition – which gave the world the university system and thus formal education – demonstrates to the culture that the integral formation of the human person is the first priority of education,” Donoghue explained. “We have seen that an approach to education that is devoid of virtue, and too narrowly focused on skills and job-market preparation, does not produce a citizenry capable of advancing a culture toward authentic freedom, charity and equal dignity.
“Catholic education, which embraces the integration of faith and reason, can restore this to society.”
A change in stance
This declaration marks a shift from what the NEA has publically expressed in the past. In a previous document titled “The Truth about the NEA: The NEA Response to its Critics,” they clearly stated that they do not have a pro-abortion policy, and that they have not “spent one penny under its legal services program defending [the] right to have an abortion.” But some critics say the NEA has always supported abortion behind the scenes, and are now just being more forthright about it.
“The NEA went from trying to have a stance that favored abortion but denying that’s what they were doing, to opening avowing that they’re favoring abortion,” said Andrew Seeley, Director of Advanced Formation for the Institute of Catholic Liberal Education, in a phone conversation with the Denver Catholic. “The NEA joins with other cultural organizations in leading others to do this.”
This is cause for concern, Seeley said, because it presents various dangers for those who do not conform to this way of thinking, especially Catholics.
“It is a great danger in that it’s just going to seem more and more like all of society thinks abortion is a right, and it’s going to increase the incomprehension and at least a subconscious tolerance for people who are saying abortion is wrong,” he explained.
Of course, Seeley notes that it won’t do much good to aggressively impose a pro-life stance in opposition to the pro-choice advocates. As Catholics, we must have compassion for those who seek an abortion and educate students properly about the nature of life.
“We need to tell them the truth about abortion by going into the biology of conception and development and by looking at what abortion procedures really do,” Seeley said. “It’s really important that the young see that many women have abortions not because they’re radical or evil, but because they feel like there’s no other way out. They [need to] see how important it is to provide help and support for young women who are facing a difficult situation.
“Things are becoming clearer now. And that’s an opportunity for us to show that we really care and then speak the truth in love in opposition to a clear enemy of life.”