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Chicago Teachers Union President blasts SecEd Arne Duncan

Karen Lewis CTU President
Karen Lewis CTU President

In a tepid world gone mad with political correctness, Karen Lewis throws an honesty fit during a media interview last week on the Democracy Now education outlet. For the first time, a presiding Chicago official openly says what every one of us in this cowardly city privately thinks about the miracle man that supposedly reformed our school system. Lewis, the newly elected President of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) was interviewed by host Juan Gonzalez and engaged in the following verbatim exchange.

JUAN GONZALEZ: I'd like to start with Karen. Arne Duncan comes from your city.

KAREN LEWIS: Yeah, sorry.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And he is now basically heading up education policy for the Obama administration.


JUAN GONZALEZ: Your sense of his legacy in the Chicago public schools?

KAREN LEWIS: Well, Arne's legacy was--you know, let's look at the fact that he's not an educator, never had any experience. As a matter of fact, he would be arrested if he went into a classroom and tried to teach, because he's uncredentialed completely. So his legacy is: "I don't know what to do. Let me just give it over to the privatizers. Let somebody else do"--I mean, basically, under his aegis, the Board of Education abrogated their responsibility towards education and gave it away, because he literally had no idea, and still doesn't have an idea, of what to do.

The problem is the system is obviously broken. I don't think anybody will argue with that, that the system is broken. It is--it has not basically changed since the 1900s--1800s, for that matter. And as a result, it has never been able to absorb real innovation. And the problem is it's just a lot easier to test, test, test children. Our curriculum has narrowed in Chicago. If you look at the average day for an elementary school kid, it's reading, reading, reading, reading, reading, reading, math, math, math, reading, reading, reading, reading, math. I mean, kids are bored to tears. They're hating school at an early age. There's no joy. There's no passion. And the results show that. They're very indicative of that.

JUAN GONZALEZ: But now, what's wrong? The supporters of Arne Duncan, superintendents like Michelle Rhee in Washington, DC, Joel Klein in New York City, and others around the country, are saying, what's wrong with having higher accountability standards for teachers? What's wrong with encouraging experimentation and entrepreneurship, in terms of how you deliver public education to the millions of children who so far have not been served by the public education system? So what's wrong with that?

KAREN LEWIS: Nobody disagrees with accountability. That's not the issue. The issue is, what do you use? We still know that high-stakes testing basically tell us more about a student's socioeconomic status than it does anything else. And until we're honest about that and want to deal with the fact that we have neighborhoods in our cities and across the nation that have been under-resourced, have been devalued for decades, and for some reason or other, the schools are supposed to fix all that and change that.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And could you talk about how you did that and the relationship of the teachers with the community, in general, in terms of dealing with these education reforms?

KAREN LEWIS: Well, the Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators, or CORE, spent two years basically organizing with parents and community groups against school closings, against the turnarounds, and against the Duncan policies. We did not have an electoral strategy, to be perfectly honest with you. We just wanted to see a change in this whole idea of privatizing schools. And what we found was that, in general, there is this animosity between teachers and parents and communities, because we haven't been working together. And yet, we are still seeing the devastation of our communities based on the fact that our institutions have been underfunded.

So, what we ended up doing was spending a lot of time talking to our members across the city. And the more we got ready to speak--and in addition with that, we changed the way the Board of Education does business. They would put schools on a hit list, and they were closed down, and that was it. We forced the board to start coming to these community meetings. They had never shown up. They just basically rubber-stamped whenever Arne Duncan wanted. And, of course, when Arne Duncan left, the guy that came in, equally as unqualified, had a slightly different vision. So six schools were taken off the hit list. That had never happened. But in addition, our union leadership was nowhere to be found during these hearings. We went to every school closing hearing, every charter school opening. And in addition, we had data that showed that these charter schools not only did no better, but that in some cases actually did worse than the neighborhood schools. And the problem is that those studies never get publicized, and certainly not in mainstream corporate media. So we had an uphill battle, because nobody would talk to us, nobody paid any attention to us. But, school by school, building by building, that's how you build consensus. That's how you build capacity for change.

The entire interview, abridged here to husband space, is available to you to read for yourselves; it is high time to look at the big picture. Americans are throwing off the shackles of media bias, racial guilt, and kool-aid mania to finally see in 2010 what some of us saw clearly during the 2008 campaign. The particular significance here is that educators are joining the burgeoning chorus of professionals who were once bamboozled by the ‘Hope and Change’ juggernaut and who now are exposing the malicious elements of the Obama administration for the charlatans that they are. The CTU is now firmly seated in the company of a handful of Army and Marine Corps generals, honorable economists who have defected from the Obama Administration, frightened elected democrats busy distancing themselves from the White House, and even hard left media people who once got a tingly feeling up their legs when listening to the President. About bloody time.


  • Anonymous 4 years ago

    Intteresting article. Thanks for standing up for the kids - somebody has to.

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