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Published in Print: September 4, 2002, as NEA's 9/11 Web Site Sparks Debate

NEA's 9/11 Web Site Sparks Debate

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The National Education Association, long a target of conservative criticism for its stands on political and social issues, is under siege again—this time for its advice to teachers on handling the first anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The 2.7 million-member union designed a Web site that offers lesson plans dealing with issues raised by the assaults and the resources that teachers can use. It also links to advice from a psychologist that includes such guidance as: "Do not suggest any group is responsible" and "discuss historical instances of American intolerance."

Even before the NEA formally launched the Web site on Aug. 26, the links drew condemnation from some commentators and advocacy groups.

The Internet site shows the union's "politically correct obsession with 'diversity' and America's sins," the syndicated columnist George F. Will wrote in his Aug. 25 column that appears in such newspapers as The Washington Post. The site also has "a therapeutic rather than an educational focus—an emphasis not on learning but on feelings, not on good thinking but on feeling good," he charged.

"Normal people would think about things like love of our country and gratitude for the freedom and progress whose symbols were attacked by the forces of fanaticism," said Michael Schwartz, the vice president of government relations for Concerned Women for America, a Washington-based group. "But for the NEA, it's hug a thug, and blame America first."

Even the 1.2 million-member American Federation of Teachers, the nation's second-largest teachers' union and a frequent ally of the NEA against such opponents, issued a statement distancing itself from the NEA. It denounced the advice that teachers should not assign blame for the attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

"Unfortunately, many well- meaning lesson plans avoid explicit judgment about the aims and character of the terrorists of 9/11," AFT President Sandra Feldman said in a statement, "and AFT believes that anything that implicitly seems to blame America for these attacks is wrong."

'Lies and Distortion'

Officials of the NEA contend, however, that the criticisms are unfair, and they aggressively defended their Web resources on the topic.

Kathleen Lyons, a spokeswoman for the union, pointed out that the site also includes links to the text of President Bush's speeches regarding Sept. 11, media coverage of the terrorist attacks, and the text of the U.S. Constitution.

What's more, she said, the site has more than 100 lesson plans that hadn't been posted when conservative criticism of it first appeared in the Aug. 19 issue of The Washington Times.

Bob Chase, whose tenure as the NEA's president ended last week, posted a letter on the group's Web site calling that newspaper's stories "inaccurate, out-of-context reporting."

"Lies and distortion about the National Education Association are nothing new," Mr. Chase wrote in the Aug. 20 letter. "Most of the critics of this Sept. 11 Web site have been bashing public school teachers and the NEA for a long time. But using this national tragedy to score political points is a new low."

Vol. 22, Issue 1, Page 20

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