Labor Watch

The NEA Cult?

This month, the National Education Association (NEA) held its Representation Assembly (RA) in Orlando, Florida. The last time the RA met entirely in person was in 2019. No surprise that they delayed their yearly assemblies for four years, considering that the NEA was one of the main voices behind school shutdowns during the pandemic. During the assembly, NEA President Becky Pringle didn’t waste a minute capitalizing off the fact that they were meeting in Florida and quickly engaged in divisive rhetoric. Florida is “our ground zero for shameful, racist, homophobic, misogynistic, xenophobic rhetoric and dangerous actions. And that’s exactly why NEA leaders are meeting here,” Pringle boldly stated.

As her speech progressed, she became more erratic. By the end of her speech, she was loudly crying with arms spread wide in the air:

When you know who you are when your mission is clear, and you burn with inner fire of an unbreakable will, no cold can touch your heart, can dampen your purpose, and yay, you are those stars in the darkness, your light will not be dimmed, your purpose will drive you.

The audience rose to their feet in praise and adoration, clapping after every bizarre statement she made. Clips of her speech went viral, not because of the inspiration of her words, but because she sounded like a charismatic preacher on crack.

Watching this speech made me wonder, is the NEA a cult? No, seriously.

We have heard that term loosely thrown around these last six years. Maybe a screaming leftist calling a red hat-wearing Republican “MAGA CULT!”—I’m sure we have all heard that one. Some have used the word cult for all the folks who put on masks three years ago and have yet to take them off. But what truly defines a cult? Charismatic leader? Kool-Aid suicides? Blind allegiance? Religious fanaticism?

I would like to argue that the teachers unions, especially the NEA, have become more like a political cult than an advocate for teachers’ work conditions, especially in light of their Dear Leader’s, I mean, President Pringle’s recent fanatical speech.

A Cult According to Lalich

We must first answer the question, what is a cult?

Cult behavior includes blind allegiance to their leader where dissent is discouraged. What is one of the key traits of the Teachers Union? They are a united front with little dissent. It’s why so many conservative teachers, like myself, decided to leave the teachers unions, or never joined because they knew their voices would not be heard. Most teachers unions are deeply left-leaning, and there’s nothing a small handful of conservatives can do about it.

Dr. Janja Lalich has written and lectured extensively on and is the author, and coauthor, of numerous books and articles on cult characteristics. She has based her research on cult experiences such as the collective suicide of the Heaven’s Gate cult in 1997 and her 10+ years’ experience in a political cult, the San Francisco–based Democratic Workers Party. I found it interesting that she admits to being in a political cult. So it is possible to find cult characteristics in a political group.

One trait of a cult is an us-versus-them mentality. Becky Pringle made that clear in her speech. She continued:

We have come here because our children are here. We have come here because our colleagues are here. We have come here because educators, students, and their communities are being attacked by laws that threaten their safety, question their humanity, and block their access to every basic right that defines the word freedom.

The NEA has a long enemies list: the whole state of Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL), legislation like the Parental Rights in Education Act, all the latest Supreme Court decisions, anything and everything associated with Trump (is the color orange on the naughty list?), parents fighting to get sexually explicit books banned from the classroom, the unvaccinated, those that refused to wear masks. I could go on and on. But the NEA has clearly taken a collective victim mentality and uses that us-versus-them mentality to strike fear and spur action in their 3 million members.

Another trait of a cult is when the group is preoccupied with aggressively bringing in new members. At the beginning of the school year, new teachers are corralled into joining the teachers unions by union leaders. Often, they sponsor a lunch, kick out the administrators, and throw a membership agreement in front of all their new prospects. There’s no questioning as to why to join. Most new teachers immediately begin to fill out the application, unaware that membership fees will be deducted from their checks every month. And if you decide not to join, you can expect union leaders to drop by your classroom and question your allegiance. There is definitely a running list of teachers who chose not to join.

A third trait of a cult identified by Dr. Lalich is that the group is often overly focused on making money. Members of teachers unions have their dues automatically deducted from their checks every month, similar to taxes and retirement deductions. An outside organization taking payment from your paycheck before you even see the dollars is a privilege that few can claim, except for the U.S. government. You can imagine the teacher unions’ tantrum about the state of Florida passing a new rule to make it illegal to deduct union dues in this manner. Now members have to write checks every month. What an inconvenience! They don’t want their members to realize how much of their hard-earned money the unions take every month to further their political agendas. Union leaders know this will affect their funding and are suing Gov. DeSantis about this new rule.

The final cult trait I want to address is that members may be encouraged to participate in behaviors that are considered reprehensible or unethical. The NEA has trained teachers to hide the pronoun changes of children from their parents. The NEA recommended that teachers read the widely banned pornographic book Gender Queer over the summer, hoping that teachers will defiantly bring it into their classrooms. The NEA was responsible for the learning loss of children nationwide when their members pushed back against going back into the classroom.

Teachers Unions Unmasked

What were once considered a trustworthy network of teachers, the unions have become a self-serving organization bent on intellectual, financial, and institutional dominance of our nation’s children and their education, no matter the ethical costs. It’s ironically similar to the kind of ruthless expansion leftists like to ascribe to corporations.

So are the NEA and other large teachers unions a cult? According to cult expert Dr. Lalich, they undeniably fit some of the traits. But, in their defense, at least most of them took off their masks.



Kali Fontanilla

Kali is serving as CRC’s Senior fellow, particularly focusing on topics related to K-12 public education. She has 15 years of experience as a credentialed educator working in public and…
+ More by Kali Fontanilla

Support Capital Research Center's award-winning journalism

Donate today to assist in promoting the principles of individual liberty in America.

Read Next