Retired English teacher Bruce Smith says his eight years as a reading specialist in the Prince William County, Virginia, schools were among the most rewarding of his career. “I had the opportunity to teach those students to be critical thinkers as well as better readers,” said the Virginia Education Association member.
He hopes those lessons took, because his students will need to keep their critical faculties engaged as voters in the Citizens United era.
In that landmark decision of 2010, the Supreme Court reversed years of precedent restricting corporate campaign contributions based on the argument that to do so amounts to limiting free speech protected under the First Amendment. The Court’s ruling—which stunned many observers—ushered in the era of the so-called super PACs—which allow corporate donors to remain anonymous.
Like many, Smith believes a constitutional amendment will be required to undo the damage that has been done to the election process. It must be clarified, Smith said, that “corporations are not people.”
The Citizens United decision had near-instantaneous effects, with pro-corporate Republicans fueled by unlimited campaign contributions winning office across the country in the 2010 election cycle, in which spending by outside groups rose 427 percent. Earlier this year, Mitt Romney’s super PAC flooded the airwaves with $20 million of negative television ads just days before the Iowa caucus, causing the campaign of prior front-runner Newt Gingrich, who had held a substantial lead, to capsize.
Campaign spending in the 2012 election is predicted to reach an all-time high of $8 billion.
Educators can play a special role in repairing the situation, said Smith. At the 2010 NEA Representative Assembly, delegates voted to support an amendment to the U.S. Constitution “to enable Congress and the states to regulate the expenditure of funds for political contributions and election-related campaign speech by corporations.”
And those who teach high school students can help prepare their students to become informed voters.
Smith says that when he taught in Atlanta public schools, county voting machines were brought to the high school for student government elections. “By the time those kids graduated, they’d used those machines four times. It takes the mystery out of it.” Schools can also help students get registered to vote, and emphasize how important it is to exercise that fundamental right.
“We have to protect the electoral system for everybody,” Smith said. “That’s what all of this is about.”
I retired in 2009 as a kindergarten teacher in Illinois, but I spent most of my career as a special education teacher. During my career, I taught a range of ages from five to 21.
How do you spend your time in retirement?
I enjoy antiquing and I have booths in several antique malls where I sell my wares. I also work part-time delivering flowers for a local florist. I spend time doing things with my grandchildren, and if there’s any time left in the day, I indulge my scrapbooking hobby.
I am an NEA-Retired member because I want to stay involved in and informed about the issues that affect retirees and public education, and I whole-heartedly enjoy spending time with fellow retired educators.