Redskins, Columbus Day, and MEA. Oh, and queers.

MEA is back.  But where has it been for 17 years?

The teachers’ union in Minnesota is called Education Minnesota.  But it used to be called the Minnesota Education Association (MEA) until 1998 when it merged with another teachers’ union called the Minnesota Federation of Teachers (MFT).  And every October that I can remember, the union has had a state-wide conference in October for which schools are closed (yeehaw) and teachers can attend meetings in order to grow professionally and enhance the educational system for the fine State of Minnesota.

For most Minnesotans, though, the term MEA has little to do with teacher unions and everything to do with an awesome four-day weekend at the tail end of “Septober,” Minnesota’s most glorious month.  Most K-12 schools are closed, no gift buying is involved, no forced gatherings of the extended family, no religious posturing, no ceremonial feasting — just a dandy vacation in often wonderful autumn weather.  Heck, there aren’t even any real MEA sales at the malls and the car dealerships — largely because this is a Minnesota-specific “holiday” and therefore doesn’t get on the marketing radar of the big nationwide retailers.  The local travel industry gears up for it, though, and it’s one of the busiest weekends of the year at MSP International Airport.

So while the name Minnesota Education Association was officially retired 17 years ago, the wonderful four-day weekend (five days in some districts, like mine!) continued after the merger of the two unions — and almost everyone continued referring to the weekend by the defunct three-letter term.   There were even tepid efforts to get people to stop referring to it as MEA (“you DO know that there isn’t any MEA anymore, DON’T YOU?”)  But popular usage continued.  Most schools even continued to call the weekend MEA.

Seriously, stop calling it MEA.  From now on, it’s gonna be MEA.

Our statewide nightmare over terminology is at last over.  Education Minnesota resolved the situation by recasting what the acronym MEA stands for: the four-day weekend is now the Minnesota Educators’ Academy (or more conveniently, MEA).

Why did no one think of this before?

I don’t know how this decision came to be — usually policy changes like this involve plenty of task forces, public hearings, and reams of sticky-back easel pads.  Brainstorming.  Fists of five.  Legislative hearings.  Rallies at the Capitol.  Eek.   But this momentous non-change seems to have just popped up.  I applaud.

Now, instead of teachers skipping the Education Minnesota convention again this year, they can go back to skipping the MEA convention.

So where are you going for Columbus Day?

Coincidentally, MEA usually ends the week that starts with Columbus Day.  Lots of folks nationwide are stirring the pot to change the name of that holiday, given that Columbus was a pretty bad dude and probably shouldn’t be honored with a national day off for postal workers.  My other home state, South Dakota, changed the name of the holiday to Native American Day many years ago.  My current city of residence, Minneapolis, has renamed it Indigenous People’s Day (so did the saintly city across the Mississippi).  Stay tuned for new developments next year.

I don’t know — will “Greasy Grass” attract the tourists?

Reminds me of another famous white guy with a dubious reputation vis-a-vis the indigenous population:  George Armstrong Custer.  The Montana battlefield where he lost his life was long known as the Custer Battlefield National Monument (or more popularly Custer’s Last Stand).  But it seemed both disrespectful to the natives and a little silly to name a battlefield after the loser.  Wiser and more sensitive heads prevailed and it was renamed many years go as the Little Bighorn National Monument.  Makes sense.

Having some days off for MEA, I have even more time on my hands to think about stuff like what we call things.  I’m not opposed to renaming a holiday, but what if instead we work on changing what the name means, or changing our attitude about that name?  I don’t dispute that Columbus was pretty evil, but you can’t deny the role his discovery had in the history of the world.  Maybe with education and awareness, Columbus Day could slowly shift over to a category of holidays that includes Memorial Day.  While that holiday is the “picnic and beach” kickoff to summer, underlying the frivolity is a pretty serious — even solemn — remembrance:   we recall the heroic (and often horrifying) sacrifices that have been made by those who gave their lives for our country.  I know this is a stretch — Columbus didn’t suffer or sacrifice in that way, but the natives did.  I’m just spitballin’.  If “Columbus Day” retains that name, perhaps over time more and more people will see it as one of our darker national reflections as well as the no-holds-barred party day that it is.  Like Flag Day.

A rose by any other name…

Then you get to other names, like the Washington Redskins.  Whole different can o’ worms, I say.  Redskin is a racist and demeaning term, even if some claim it’s meant as a tribute.  Nice people don’t name their NFL team something like that.  Am I splitting hairs?

But what about the queers?

Then it gets really complicated when words/names/labels shift in both their literal meaning and their political/social/emotional connotation.  An adjective like queer can shift from its dictionary definition of odd to become a hateful epithet for homosexuals — and then later be picked up as a rallying cry of pride.  Words mean things, and meanings change.  Think of the myriad ways in which we have used different terms to refer to different groups of people, and how it can be challenging to keep up with the currently acceptable terms.  Some say this is being politically correct.  I call it being thoughtful.  If you’re clinging to archaic and potentially hurtful language as you refer to other people, consider a little personal growth.  And just roll with the changes as the years go by:  language evolves.

Have a great MEA.  And to my teacher friends — I hope you’ll let me see your notes from the convention.


4 thoughts on “Redskins, Columbus Day, and MEA. Oh, and queers.

  1. “If you’re clinging to archaic and potentially hurtful language as you refer to other people, consider a little personal growth.” Huzzah. We all need this reminder.

    My professional growth took place in the UP of Michigan. I studied weather systems over Lake Michigan, pigmentation processes in leaves, and increased my literacy skills ten-fold with silent reading and writing. WIN.

    • Thanks, Janet. That’s a part of the country I’ve never visited, although when I was in the career I did spend many an MEA weekend growing professionally in the Black Hills of South Dakota! I often managed to book my personal leave on that week, too. Whooopeee! Nothing like travel, peace and quiet to regenerate the professional skills! I’ve enjoyed seeing on Facebook the multitude of ways my teacher friends have been expanding their horizons over the past long weekend.

  2. I’ve fallen behind on my recreational reading and just caught up with this article. (We’ve been moving to a new home, back in good ol’ Nebraska)
    While I’ve been accustomed to Native American Day, coming back to the Cornhusker state, has meant Columbus day is in my ear.
    I wholeheartedly agree with you that this federal holiday could grow into a solemn memorial; a reminder of the atrocities brought on indigenous peoples by the “discovery” of a new world. If you ever want to launch that campaign, consider me as a volunteer coordinator!
    I also like the suggestion that we open our minds to words. While I do not often quote daytime psychiatric gurus, Dr. Phil makes it a point to open people up to the words they utilize in self-talk, especially hyperbole.
    I’m all for dialogue that broadens not only one’s vocabulary, but one’s world view.
    Bravo, Fred… another must-read from Reno Gulch!

    • Thanks, Jen. And I didn’t know that NE had gone the route of Native American Day. I’ve been thinking of you with the recent (and ongoing) kerfluffle about Fantasy Football. They’re not going to shut you down, I hope! Certainly it’s not gambling, is it? 🙂 My favorite Dr. Phil-ism: “Common sense ain’t that common.”

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