By Ben Velderman

ST. PAUL, Minn. – Most Minnesota classrooms will stand empty for the next few days, as hundreds of thousands of state residents take to the roads and the skies to celebrate the unofficial state holiday known as “MEA weekend.”

The four-day break has become such a beloved tradition throughout the state that it’s still known as “MEA weekend,” even though the Minnesota Education Association changed its name to Education Minnesota in 1998, when it merged with the state’s other teachers’ union.

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“MEA weekend” came into existence so the state’s teachers can gather for their annual union meeting, officially known as the “Education Minnesota Professional Conference.” The two-day event is expected to draw 8,000 educators to St. Paul’s River Centre, where they can participate in a wide array of workshops and breakout sessions.

While most residents obviously love the two-day break in the school schedule, some old fuddy-duds like us still wonder why instruction is being interrupted for a teacher union conference. Couldn’t the union have its meeting in the summer, when classes aren’t in session, or perhaps on a weekend when the teachers aren’t scheduled to work?

“ … (T)he focus of the conference is on techniques and ideas that teachers can take back to the classroom and use right away with their students,” the union writes on its website. “This schedule provides the greatest benefit to student learning.

“In addition, in the summer many teachers wouldn’t be able to attend because they are taking continuing education courses to stay current in their field and fulfill licensing requirements; teaching summer school; or working summer jobs to supplement their salaries,” the union adds.

Fair enough, we suppose. So what is being taught at this conference that’s so critical to share with students?

It’s mostly a bunch of left-wing political hoo-ha and union collective bargaining discussions that have nothing to do with education. Among the 80 topics covered at this year’s conference are:

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“Using Persona Dolls to Promote Social Emotional Intelligence and Acceptance of Diversity”; “Defined Benefit vs. Defined Contribution Pension Plans”;  “Financial Concerns for Women”; “Teaching Students to be Peacemakers”; “Contextualizing Immigration Using History and Human Rights”; “Teaching about Islam in the Context of Social Studies and World Religion” and “The State of Minnesota Schools and LGBTQ Youth: A Roundtable Discussion.”

If that list isn’t political enough, there will also be a forum to discuss “what’s at stake in this important election year,” which is certain to turn into an Obama campaign rally. Author Kevin Kumashiro will also deliver a talk that highlights the ways “current reform trends” are “scapegoating public school educators, unions and teacher educators [to] mask the real problems facing our nation’s schools.”

Linda Owen, Education Minnesota’s conference coordinator, says the conference is meant to inspire teachers.

“The idea is that they can go home and try these ideas in the classroom,” Owen tells the Jamestown Sun. “In that way, it’s a kind of public service for the entire state.”

How does it serve the state to interrupt the educational process in hundreds of school districts, just so a bunch of union teachers can get together and cheer for President Obama, complain about their critics and plot to brainwash young children with a bunch of their radical political ideas?

But hey, MEA Weekend provides a popular opportunity for families all over the state to get away for few days. This is a tradition that’s probably here to stay, regardless of what we have to say about it.