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Thursday, 13 May 2010 08:49

Alabama Teachers' Union Undermines Education by Getting in Bed With Creationists

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by Meg White

When I first watched this video, I thought it was satirical. Check it out; you'll see why:

"Geez, Wonkette has gone a little far with their mockery of southerners' love and protection of their own ignorance," I thought. "But come on. No one would actually use a belief in evolution as the main reason to oppose a candidate for state-wide office, even in Alabama!"

I was more incorrect than I thought I could be. Not only is belief in evolution a worthy slur against a candidate, but it is a slur that the Alabama Teachers Union is comfortable hurling. The ad in question was apparently funded by a half-million dollars in contributions by the Alabama Education Association (AEA) to a newly-formed group known as the True Republican PAC of Linden, AL.

It is sad that a group associated with both teachers and progressive values such as equal access to a quality education would put out a political smear advocating ignorance.

But perhaps even more depressing is that the targeted gubernatorial candidate, Bradley Byrne, decided to double down on dumb. In response to the ad (which he totally could have laughed off) he told his uber-religious constituency that he believes "the Bible is the Word of God and that every single word of it is true" and that his "belief in Jesus Christ... guides my every action." Furthermore, Byrne recommitted himself to ensuring "the teaching of creationism in our school text books."

With that strong of a commitment to bible thumping, I guess we can assume that, if the poll-leading Byrne does get elected as governor, women who have sex outside of marriage will be punished via stoning and bacon will be illegal. And each student's great-great-great-great-grandaddy will retroactively get their very own dinosaur-mobile!

According to local reports, the teachers' union is more entangled than simply donating money to the PAC that paid for the ad. Byrne's spokesperson said that the attack is "being orchestrated by AEA union boss Paul Hubbert in collusion with a paid staffer of the Tim James campaign." However, the James campaign denies having any prior knowledge of the ad, insisting their strategy has been positive campaigning.

Let's pause for a minute, because this whole thing has created a situation of strange bedfellows. The teachers' union, like most throughout the country, is opposed to charter schools, which they say are a drain on the tax base used to pay for regular public schooling. This is usually a Democratic talking point, but with President Obama supporting charter schools, the teachers' union has teamed up with Republicans to label charter schools as a liberal idea.

But the union didn't have to make this unholy alliance with creationists to get its point across on school funding. Virtually the only opponent of charter schools in this gubernatorial race is Ron Sparks, the state's Agriculture and Industries Commissioner and a candidate for the Democratic nomination.

If the AEA wanted to be true to their cause, they could have run a positive ad for Sparks. After all, they've ponied up a full 20 percent of his campaign contributions, according to local news outlets.

So why would they do this? I'm inclined to believe the denials of the James campaign, just because it's really hard to understand why the AEA would back James, who doesn't have any fundamental problem with Charters and advocates pay-for-performance initiatives in education.

James is also less likely to win the Republican primary and if he does, he is more likely to lose to whomever the Democratic nominee ends up being. Keeping his relative weakness as a candidate in mind, I would say that perhaps the AEA is trying to backhandedly support a Democratic win in November by attacking the GOP's best candidate.

But polling suggests that Rep. Artur Davis (D-AL) -- not Sparks -- is the likely winner in the race for the Democratic nomination. And if the union is all that upset about charter schools, they're not going to be happy to put Davis in, who insists that he "does not fear reform and will join President Obama in supporting charter schools."

There are some indications that this whole thing might be more about spite and snipe than anything else. But I like to believe that Hubbert -- who is also the vice chair of the state Democratic Party -- wouldn't spend $500,000 or risk the enormous political pull of the state affiliate of the National Education Administration on a personal feud.

To be honest, I just can't parse this one out. It doesn't seem like a smart political move for the AEA (though I could be wrong, not being an expert in Alabama politics). And now that they've been found out to be behind this charade, it's possible they'll lose significant credibility on the local political scene.

All I can say for sure is that teachers' values are being compromised for some morally-questionable political wrangling. The AEA decided to appeal to the desire to maintain ignorance rather than come out with their real reasons for their opposition. After all, the ad spends nearly half of its time on education issues but doesn't once mention educational funding or charter schools.
Appealing to the lowest common denominator is just embarrassing coming from an organization whose mission "is to promote educational excellence."

I guess the most embarrassed people in this whole sordid tale should be Alabama's voters in the Republican primary. The fact that the AEA thought that such a tactic might actually work is the most depressing part of this whole story.