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The Politics of the PTA, Charlene K. Haar, Transaction Publishers, 2002, 159 pps., $39.95 hardcover, $24.95 paper.

In her eye-opening new book, Charlene Haar confirms what many of us have long suspected, that the National Congress of Parents and Teachers (PTA) "is largely a political arm of the teacher unions" and supports their radical political causes and agendas. The politics of the PTA are liberal and, like those of the NEA, have little or nothing to do with education.

Although the PTA is still perceived as representing most public school parents and teachers, only about 10% of all families with school-age children are dues-paying members. Local PTA affiliates operate in slightly more than 21% of the nation's schools, according to 1998 figures.

In Chapters 2 and 3, which are particularly interesting, Haar describes the PTA's founding era from its conception by a group called the National Congress of Mothers in the 1870s to its official founding in 1897, then explores its historical development and agenda expansion through the mid 1920s.

While the PTA's stated mission remains "to support and speak on behalf of children and youth," Haar reveals that only two items in the PTA's "Statement of Principles" deal specifically with education: "vocational-technical competence" and "educational opportunity." Other "Principles" include "human values," "safety," "conservation of natural resources," "constructive leisure," "human relations," "civic responsibility," and "international understanding."

Haar writes that the PTA has abandoned its "commitment to promoting the educational achievement and well-being of children," for such pursuits as lobbying in state legislatures and in Washington, DC to achieve its political objectives, such as more federal programs that often undermine parental authority. "Abandoned also," she writes, "is the PTA's role as an independent analyst of education policy."

The good news is that, after almost four decades of decreasing membership, the PTA has become a minor player. Most schools have parent organizations not affiliated with the National PTA.

But as Haar concludes, the PTA remains a reality, albeit one that "can neither stand up to teacher union interests nor fairly represent parental interests in improving their children's local schools."

Contact Transaction Publishers, 35 Berrue Circle, Piscataway, NJ 08854, 732/445-2280.

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