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NEA Executive Director John Stocks Urges Members to Fight for Excellence and Equity

Last year, at the 2012 NEA Representative Assembly, NEA Executive Director John Stocks challenged educators across the nation to become “social justice” patriots. The dangers posed by voter suppression laws, growing income inequality, and insidious new forms of racial discrimination, Stocks said, made it imperative that every NEA member fights for social justice and equal opportunity.

John Stocks, Executive Director speaks during the Independence Day observance at the 92nd NEA Representative Assembly Thursday July 4, 2013 at Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta, Ga.
NEA Today/Scott Iskowitz

Stocks returned to the RA stage on Thursday to congratulate the 9,000 delegates for their tireless advocacy over the past year and to urge them to keep up the fight.

“NEA members have been shining examples of social justice patriotism, forging paths of greater opportunity for students, fighting against injustices, and standing with communities in the face of hardships and too many tragedies,” Stocks said.

For their work in combatting voter suppression in partnership with the NAACP, Stocks gave a shout-out to educators in Pennsylvania, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, and Wisconsin. He saluted NEA members in Texas for helping undocumented students pursue their dream of a higher education and educators in Maryland, New York and Colorado for their advocacy of common sense laws to protect students from gun violence. And for standing with the LGBTQ community for marriage equality, Stocks celebrated activists in Maine, Maryland, Rhode Island, Washington, and Minnesota and singled out NEA General Counsel Alice O’Brien and her legal team for joining with Change to Win and the AFL-CIO to submit a brief in the case that eventually led to the overturning of the Defense of Marriage Act by the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Thank you social justice patriots!” Stocks said to loud applause from the RA delegates.

With the 60th anniversary of the historic Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision just around the corner in May 2014, Stocks said the nation has made significant strides expanding opportunities to students. But he cautioned that progress has stalled and that the yawning income gap in the United States has never been wider.

“This means that the opportunity gap has never been more severe. It’s immoral to sentence children to a lifetime of poverty. It contradicts our American values,” Stocks said. “Equity of opportunity remains elusive and a good education remains out of reach for millions of students.”

Why is the opportunity gap widening when every state constitution in the nation requires that the state provide education to all children? Citizens have gone to court -often successfully - to force their lawmakers to meet this critical obligation.

“What good is a constitution if its words are merely lofty rhetoric and its promises are hollow?”  Stocks asked.

Stocks denounced proponents of market-based solutions who see crippling poverty and income inequality as unfortunate, but acceptable, byproducts of the economic system and who control the debate by pushing the “false dichotomy” that we need to focus on either poverty or teacher quality to improve student achievement.

“As educators, we know firsthand that equal access doesn’t guarantee equity of opportunity,” Stocks said. “And we also know equal access doesn’t guarantee excellence.

To achieve both isn’t easy, nor is it cheap.  And despite what many in the media and the so-called ‘reform’ community say, the two are NOT mutually exclusive. We believe in closing opportunity gaps AND excellence gaps.”

“So, every time there’s a fight about investments in education, we need to stand up for more funding AND fair funding.  Every time there’s a fight about income inequality, we need to stand up and fight for our students AND their families.  That’s our responsibility.  That’s our calling.”


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