Secretary of Education Rod Paige is still catching flak for what he admitted was an “inappropriate” remark last month about the National Education Association.
Two advocacy groups launched an online petition drive last week demanding that President Bush cut him loose for calling the union a “terrorist organization” during a private meeting with governors on Feb. 23. As of late last week, the petition had garnered more than 200,000 signatures.
“We the undersigned Americans demand that you fire your Secretary of Education, Rod Paige,” it says to the president. “Teachers aren’t terrorists. Teachers and state legislators across the country are right to speak up about how your broken promises are hurting our schools. Your education secretary needs to listen to America’s school teachers, not label them enemies. It is time for a change.”
The petition, sponsored by the Washington-based Campaign for America’s Future and MoveOn.org, both of which have been sharp critics of the Bush administration, is online at www.firepaige.org.
Also, 20 House Democrats, led by Rep. Barbara McCollum of Minnesota, sent a letter to the president last month asking him to demand Mr. Paige’s resignation.
Mr. Paige apologized the same day he made the remark, though he used the opportunity to criticize what he called NEA lobbyists’ “obstructionist scare tactics” in resisting the No Child Left Behind Act. He wrote an essay in The Washington Post saying he was “truly sorry for the hurt and confusion” his remark had caused and stressing that his frustration was directed at union leaders in Washington, not teachers. (“Furor Lingers Over Paige’s Union Remark,” March 3, 2004.)
The White House has made clear it has no plans to fire Secretary Paige for the remark.
Many petition signers, identified on the site only by first name and last initial, offered comments. Kelleyanne P. from DeKalb, Ill., wrote: “If you want us to teach the children, then you need to start by setting a good example and stop acting like a big bully.”
And this from Kimberly H. in Signal Mountain, Tenn.: "[I]f children responded this way in school, they would be punished. When are adults going to practice what they preach?”
Asked about the petition, Education Department spokeswoman Susan Aspey said: “Secretary Paige is more concerned about closing the nation’s very real achievement gap than he is about politics.”
—Erik W. Robelen