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Harry Potter? Twilight? Nope – Bob Chanin

Beloved Former NEA Lawyer Signs New Book

By Cindy Long

Suzie White Gomez from Redlands, California, was one of hundreds of RA delegates who queued up to have Bob Chanin sign her copy of More Than a Lawyer, a biography of his storied legal career and its profound impact on public education.

Gomez had already begun underlining sections of the book, like the historic election of Ella Flagg Young as the first female president of the NEA on page 25. She said she got up to page 50 just standing in line and so far found the book extremely interesting.

By chronicling the highlights of Chanin’s career, More Than A Lawyer follows the history of public education and the National Education Association’s role in everything from the fight for civil rights and affirmative action to current struggles against vouchers and the pitfalls of No Child Left Behind.

“His career is just so impressive, and I’ve always admired his ability to look at things from the members’ perspective, rather than only the legal perspective,” Gomez said. “And I love his no nonsense attitude.”

The signing was supposed to start at 2:30, but by 2 p.m. the line stretched from the Professional Library into the distance of the convention hall. When Chanin arrived, the crowd erupted in cheers and began chanting, “Bob! Bob! Bob!”

“They showed up, didn’t they,” he said, smiling unassumingly.

Show up they did, and the line continued to grow as Chanin signed book after book and chatted with his fans.

One of his most adoring admirers is Jane Stern, a retired French teacher from Montgomery County, Maryland. Like Bob Chanin, Stern’s first RA was in 1968. “I’ve been able to witness his brilliant mind year after year,” she said, “And I’ll sorely miss him.”

Len Herricks, an agriculture teacher from Osh Kosh, Wisconsin, had been standing in line for 45 minutes and estimated he had at least another 45 to go, but was more than happy to wait. Like many in line, his nose was buried in the book, and he said was particularly interested in the section on school choice, which “reared its ugly head” in Wisconsin in the 1990s.

Herricks said he always appreciated Chanin’s thorough and articulate responses to issues that arose at the RA, but that he was most moved by his retirement speech last year, saying it was the highlight of all the RA’s he’s ever attended.

“As a young teacher, I was often shoved in the corner for speaking out about what was true,” he said. “I like to speak freely, and I was moved by Bob’s ability to finally speak his mind. He was finally able to let loose.”

Martha Landy, a special education teacher from New Jersey, thinks Bob Chanin is “hot,” finds his intelligence “mind boggling,” and is an obsessive “Bob groupie.”

She’d also begun reading her copy of More Than a Lawyer while waiting in line, and, though she knew he was an ardent pursuer of civil rights, she didn’t know he was key in winning women the right to teach while pregnant.

“Women weren’t allowed to teach when they began to show,” she said. “But when Bob was still in law school and his wife was pregnant, he worked on the legislation that would allow pregnant women to keep working in the classroom.”

Landy planned to have her book signed not only by Chanin, but also by his wife, Rhoda.

“Rhoda Chanin is an important part of the story,” Landy said.

In fact, it was for Rhoda, their children, and their grandchildren, that Chanin wanted to work on the book in the first place.

“He didn’t talk that much about his work in education when he was home,” Rhoda said. “And he was on the road a lot. Now our children have a chance to learn about all of the important things he accomplished while he was away.”

Now we can all learn about the important things he accomplished in his 45-year fight for public education, employee rights, and social justice. Find out how to purchase a copy of your own at NEA’s Professional Library.

 


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