Lewis Fuels Own Scandal Story

Nearly everyone in public life -- including Rahm Emanuel, Arne Duncan -- has made verbal gaffes at some point or other, and most of the time the following controversy comes and goes pretty quickly.  That's what was probably about to happen with the Lewis video after she apologized to Duncan late on Monday.  She had to apologize, and she did.  (Even better, she apologized to Duncan in private while issuing a defiant public response via press release.) Unless someone tells me that there was a serious effort underway to call for some sort of referendum by the HOD, it seemed like it was all over but the shouting. But now Lewis has given the story new legs by scheduling a press conference today and sending out this testimonial from the organization that sponsored the speech at which she mocked Duncan.  We can survive another 24-48 hours of blathering about what she did and how it compares to others' utterances, but the continuation -- now focused in part on the question of resignation -- doesn't help Lewis or the CTU one bit.



Speaking on behalf of the planning committee for the 2011 Northwest Teaching for Social Justice conference andRethinking Schools magazine, I am dismayed that certain individuals and groups are seeking to undermine the important work of Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis and to misrepresent what transpired at our conference. Our committee invited Lewis to be the keynote speaker at our 4th annual conference because of her outspoken defense of children, public schools, and public school teachers - and because of her work to build a teachers union that promotes the interests of communities and children, not only of teachers. In fact, one of the major sessions at our conference cited Karen Lewis's election and outspoken work on behalf of teachers and public schools as one of the most hopeful recent developments and “part of the steady growth of a deep, broad, and thoughtful pushback against a corporate school reform movement.”
Let me offer a bit of context about Karen Lewis's keynote. Lewis was the lead-off speaker for a day-long conference that brought together several hundred educators from around the Pacific Northwest. The conference - planned and staffed entirely by volunteers -was held on a Saturday-October 1, 2011 at a public school in Seattle, Chief Stealth International High School. In addition to Lewis's keynote, there were over 60 workshops offered, and dozens of community organizations displayed materials. None of the educators in attendance was paid, and everyone gave up part of a weekend to attend - some driving for several hours. Teachers attended because they wanted to learn from one another and to hear about how one of the country's major teacher unions is transforming itself to put children first.

I was the liaison between the NWTSJ planning committee and Ms. Lewis. I encouraged her to be informal in her presentation, that her talk would be the first thing on a Saturday morning and no one was coming expecting a formal recitation about the CTU's work in Chicago. I encouraged her to be conversational and that I hoped that she could inspire teachers to see themselves as participants in a broader national struggle to defend public education from those who want to bust unions and use schools to further their own narrow economic ends. And that's exactly what Ms. Lewis did. Here is what one longtime Portland, Oregon high school teacher, Hyung Nam, took away from Lewis's talk: “The message I heard was about teachers standing up for disadvantaged kids whose school was about to shut down for the interests of developers. I took away the importance of rank and file teachers challenging city leaders, the school district, and even one's union leadership in order to advocate for students and families. This is a courageous and inspiring story of teachers' commitment to justice, students, and communities.”

Compare this substantial message with the petty and silly soundbites about “potty talk” that a few bloggers have focused on. “Potty talk”? Evidently, some commentators think that they can use some off-hand remarks to distract people from Lewis's important work of building a union focused on education and justice. And let me just add that educators in attendance at the NWTSJ conference were all grown-ups and are unlikely to be corrupted by a few humorous remarks about college marijuana use.

Finally, let me add just a bit of additional context. It's common for a keynote speaker to come to a conference, deliver one's remarks, take a few questions, and leave. Karen Lewis, on the other hand, stayed for the entire conference, made herself available to teachers throughout the day, and attended and participated in sessions. She was gracious, warm, and thoughtful in all her communication with Northwest educators. In other words, Lewis walked her talk: She demonstrated what a new generation of union leadership looks like.

The message that Karen Lewis brought to the Northwest from Chicago was one of renewed commitment to the best ideals of public education-that schools should serve all children and all communities, and that teachers should be treated with dignity. I hope that people in Chicago hear her message as clearly as we did when she visited us in October.


Bill Bigelow
Planning Committee
Northwest Teaching for Social Justice Conference


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  • Let me start by saying that the calls for Karen Lewis's resignation as President of the Chicago Teachers Union are over-the-top. It would be a consequence far beyond her peccadilloes to the socialist teachers of the Pacific Northwest.

    The same should be not said, however, of the people giving her advice on how to handle this situation.

    It was an embarrassment and somewhat disappointing. But, yes, it's also a story that should have died by now. Why on earth would she call a news conference to perpetuate it? This isn't the media's doing. It's hers.

    As a colleague pointed out to me today, blaming right-wing, anti-union groups for airing the video is avoiding responsibility and scapegoating. The video is there for anyone to see. People are certainly capable of making up their own minds on the matter. No one was putting the words in Karen's mouth. (It also lets all the left-wing, anti-union groups off the hook.)

    Granted, the learning curve is a steep one going from classroom teacher to public figure. But this is Lewis's second year. She must know by now that there are risks to saying just whatever comes to mind: someone may be recording you.

  • In reply to Danaidh:

    Oh, I definitely think she should resign. Between these comments and the ones comparing teaching to slavery, she's an awful and embarrassing representative of CTU members. I absolutely refuse to wear the CTU t-shirt my rep keeps trying to give me in part because Lewis makes me cringe. I don't want to be associated with the things she says or the views she holds.

  • In reply to teacherparent:

    Boo hoo, Boo hoo! taking your ball ... CTU is the membership not just Karen Lewis. Duncan. Old timers, you know Duncan from back in the day when Vallas had him as a messenger boy moving shuffling papers between offices because he was useless. Duncan the corporate tool. It is an honest comment with facts behind it. Look at who he hired in the Dept of Ed. Nuf Said!

  • In reply to Danaidh:

    If you are more concerned about what people 'say' than concerned about what they do, you are a major part of the problem…and please don't give me the 'sticks and stone' argument…

    I don't care what Lewis 'said'
    I care about what Duncan 'did'

    Here is just one of the sickening tricks Arne Duncan pulled while in Chicago - for decades, CPS had neglected the major rodent infestation that plagued schools with minority children…mice, rats, roaches and water bugs sat along kids in classrooms…but who could care? most of the kids were black, right?

    So, 1999 Illinois General Assembly enacted an IPM (Integrated Pest Management) law for schools, a law that required CPS central to clean up the rats… So what does CPS do? They exempt themselves from the law! Cause, you know, CPS cares!

    So a few action groups pressure the Sun-Times into calling attention to the problem…and by 2002, CPS is still dragging their feet, and by 2004, CPS is looking bad….so along comes Arne….he wages a war against rodents, as if he had a choice… …and even though rodents were found in 80% of the district schools, he wages campaign against 100 of the schools…by doing this, he creates the perception that only 20% of the schools have rodent infestation, thus minimizing the problem down to just 100 schools, even though it was above 400…he fires up a big press fury…blames the teachers…the frigging teachers he blames!…"of course it's the teachers who brought the rats to school! who else?"

    …he also blames the principals for neglecting the problem, even though it was decades of CPS neglect…

    Then Arne comes up with another scheme; this one to help cover the cost of the pesticides…he shuts down the hot lunches in a bunch of the black-enrollment schools and makes the kids eat peanut butter bars for 3 or 4 weeks straight! And when you consider that the hot lunches cost about 2 bucks each and the peanut butter bars about 20 cents each, he saved the CPS a whole bunch of money off the backs of those black kids…

    the 'civil rights issue of our time'?

    Whatever you 'say', Arne!

  • In reply to Anonymous:

    Tsk. Tsk.

    Another attempt by a CORE sycophant to obfuscate the issue by creating a tu quoque argument.

    This wasn't about Arne Duncan (who cares about Chicago's children just as much as you do). It's about Karen's outlandish behavior.


  • In reply to Danaidh:

    good point - if my reply had been in response to your post - my reply was actually in response to another post…I pressed the Reply to Danaidh by mistake…

  • In reply to Anonymous:

    The Lewis comments may have been insensitive, but if they draw any attention to the completely ineffective and tragic consequences of Duncan's policies, they will have done more good than harm…

  • In reply to Anonymous:

    Take your head out of the sand. The overwhelming response has been one of sympathy for Duncan and disgust with Lewis.

    The corollary to your conditional statement is that they have done more harm than good.

  • In reply to Danaidh:

    isk tisk Danaidh, 16 ounces of mineral oil should help unplug your head from your ass

    in your own reflection, dicta secundum quid ad dictum simpliciter
    and for your 'overwhelming response', argumentum ad populum, and for your butt kissing propensities: argumentum ad verecundiam

    please stop pretending that you are the wizard-police of all logical fallacies…

  • Nice letter from Bill Bigelow, the same guy who orchestrated the pile of manure Ms. Lewis so gleefully stepped in a month ago and managed to step into a second time today. Did Mr. Bigelow greenlight the recording of the session? Did he hire the videographer personally? A real pal.

    There are public relations firms who specialize in crisis control - this would be a good time for CTU to retain one. After an important win against the Pioneer school solicitation, this unmitigated disaster was the last thing CTU needed.

  • In reply to mrobertson718:

    CTU already hires a Media Relations/Press Secretary named Stephanie Gadlin. (Ummm...what happened to Liz Brown?)

    And two people work "Member Communications" (Goldbaum and Shibata). Just noticed their work on the CTU web page: CTU RESPONDS TO ATTACK VIDEO.

    Oh, please. Attack video? It was made by someone at the Seattle conference then uploaded to the Internet. From the footage I saw, no one was holding a gun to Karen's head to make her say what she said. Those were HER WORDS.

    And now CTU is spinning this as an attack video?

    Evade responsibility and scapegoat others.

    Shame on Karen Lewis and shame on the CORE sycophants.

    --Danny V

  • zorn thinks she should resign for being tin eared


  • Of Eric Zorn, I have to ask myself the same question he asks himself of Lewis:

    Has Eric proven to be the very best person to represent the interest of Chicago's children? And my answer would be no.

    Diary entries do not qualify as journalism.
    Time to step aside, Eric Zorn

  • substance has surprisingly little to say


  • In reply to Alexander Russo:

    Well the "Duncan is Joe Stalin" piece is a pretty good indicator of where George is likely to come out on this issue. He couldn't muster any sympathy for a suicide victim so I doubt he'll shed a tear for those with speech impediments. Of course, I am not really sure that we should care what Substance News would think about this other than the entertainment value of the Schmidt-Kugler-Vail vitriol.

  • In reply to Anonymous:

    Rahm is that you? I respect Substance. Great stuff. Muckraking.

  • In reply to Anonymous:

    Muckraking? That kind of reporting is dead. The new craze is to just keep "reporting" what everybody else is reporting.

  • In reply to Alexander Russo:

    Substance News is compromised by the fact that George Schmidt has a job at CTU headquarters. And not a contract job, either, but one that is essentially at-the-will of his employer (Karen Lewis).

    George is doing what he's wanted to do ever since he was fired by Paul Vallas for bringing to light the serious inadequacies of the now-defunct CASE examinations. I certainly don't blame him.

    But Substance News has lost its credibility as far as covering the Union is concerned.


  • Between these comments and the ones comparing teaching to slavery, she's an awful and embarrassing representative of CTU members.

    We seem to forget that Rahm came on to WTTW Chgo tonight two months ago, trumpeted his fight for the longer school day, and compared the CTU to the obstructionist Jim Crow thugs of the 60s.

    But then again he wasn't pacing the stage looking all unfit and such.

    Should he then resign as well? I'm not a huge CTU fan myself, but let's not pick around the white elephant in the room. "Keeping Up Appearances" isn't just the name of a TV show. Imagine she resembles People Magazine's "Sexiest Man Alive" the next time you want to trash her or her remarks.

  • Russo is spot on. Lewis is incredibly self-absorbed. She really thinks she is some kind of working class hero, a victim of right wing conspirators, who keeps stickin' it to the man. Look at her in that video strutting around like some socialist elder imparting the wisdom of the ages to this group of "social justice" innocents.

    But clearly she does not have the wisdom of even a single high school sophomore in one of her chemistry classes -- which are really fun because they talk about pot and poop, or so she reports. It's not just her pathetic lack of maturity that is so appalling. It is not just that she mocked Arne Duncan so disrespectfully that makes people so mad -- besides he's a big boy, he can take it and he sometime deserves a good ribbing (don't we all). It's that she mimiced a speech impediment -- not once but twice -- in a pretty callous, albeit, juvenile way.

    These are not the actions of a comedian, of a sincere social justice advocate or even of a mediocre teacher. They are emblematic of a crass, spoiled brat with all of the charms and social skills of an awkward 16 year old boy -- attractive to other 16 year olds perhaps, but tiresome to most adults.

    Her late embrace of her speech as evidence that she a fighter is a disappointingly crass and transparent attempt to make lemonade out of lemons. Who's she fighting against, stutterers, lispers and other impaired people? I don't know if she should resign for this ridiculousness; but I wish she'd shut her big meglomaniac pie hole.

    Don't pay the publicist's bill this month, Karen -- you got taken.

  • In reply to Anonymous:

    Panties in a bunch?!!! What planet are you on? The walmartization of public schools is real. None of the folks running this debacle would ever have their children or grandchildren attend these "walmart" schools. They know what they are selling. Grow up!

  • The entire video of Ms. Lewis's keynote is here (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AUGgJ14mL8o)

    This is the Arne Duncan who said the best thing that happened to the school kids in New Orleans was Hurricane Katrina, right? This is the same Tribune who is crying, "Oh my stars and garters, I do declare this woman is giving me the vapors with her foul language" that ran that racist cartoon of Karen in black face back in September? This is a right wing hack job and if you don't know why you shouldn't fall for it, look up Shirley Sherrod on Google. At first, I thought Ms. Lewis made a gaffe that everybody overreacted too. Now that I've seen the whole video, it's pretty clear that this was a deliberate hit job that served the interest of several people to trumpet and some people who should know better than to overreact to this sort of thing evidently don't.

  • some background on lewis's previous tussles from the trib's joel hood


  • CNC's jim warren watched the whole video and finds lots to admire about what lewis says and represents along with the lamentable parts -- no call for resignation


  • I heard on the radio a clip with Lewis saying that spreading the video was part of the vast right-wing conspiracy.

    If she hadn't said it in the first place and looked like the fool she is, maybe no one would have had anything to distribute. However, the idea that she has to convince the taxpayers that she is nothing more than a thug didn't occur to her. Maybe she thinks that someone other than the taxpayers are the ultimate source of her members' income and benefits.

  • Please see my latest blog post explaining why Lewis's comments are not funny. It's another view to add to what is becoming more and more obvious. And--yes--I am a Chicago Teachers Union member. And--no--I do not get paid by the Tribune or anyone for writing my blog.


    (Thanks to this blogger for the opportunity to post here.)

  • ray explains why lewis isn't funny

    Karen Lewis and Other Reasons People Hate CPS Teachers | The White Rhino: A Chicago Latino English Teacher http://ow.ly/7xhYU

  • In reply to Alexander Russo:

    Thanks, man!

  • In reply to Ray Salazar:

    Panties in a bunch! No sea cojon ni cabron!

  • In reply to Alexander Russo:

    Alex, grow up! Nuff said!

  • lewis' mistake is not to realize that she is seen as an obese, braless, almost bald, highly educated and intelligent black women who leads one of the oldest and largest female dominated unions and that she is watched at every moment. Rahm is a huge powerful media controlling enemy--you have to watch your back and if you are too busy to do this and/or not savvy, you need and pick others, with different talents than you, to do this. And you listen to them. I watched the video. I get where she was going. That said, there are times when there is a need to shock. There is also a need to ensure that you are not stepping on water while you are connected to a live wire.

  • In reply to Anonymous:

    There is a need for teachers to work in each school on their contract team. As a libertarian, I belong to no caucus. As a libertarian, we don't need machine politics to define who we are or who we should be. Calling all CPS libertarians to kick ass on building a more just CPS!



    Alexander's tireless work on this story has not gone unnoticed. We at Last Stand for Children are proud to recognize his fine work by awarding him the Reynolds Award.

    During World War II, when German bombers seemed poised to knock the fight out of England and plunge the world into totalitarian darkness, Arthur Reynolds brought news of that island's heroic struggle to America's shores. Few alive during those hours will ever forget the words Reynolds used to begin his reports on the London Blitz, "Edward R. Murrow said." With those powerful words, you knew that Reynolds, who worked for NBC would soon be telling you what Edward R. Murrow was saying over on CBS.

    Reynolds didn't just bust onto the scene in World War II. It was a few years earlier when his report on the Hindenburg Disaster chilled the nation:

    Ladies and gentleman, Herbert Morrison of WLS Chicago says, "Crashing, oh! Four- or five-hundred feet into the sky and it... it's a terrific crash, ladies and gentlemen. It's smoke, and it's in flames now; and the frame is crashing to the ground, not quite to the mooring mast. Oh, the humanity! And all the passengers screaming around here. He told you; it—He can't even talk to people, their friends are out there! Ah! It's... it... it's a... ah! He... He can't talk, ladies and gentlemen. Honest: it's just laying there, mass of smoking wreckage. Ah! And everybody can hardly breathe and talk and the screaming. 0000000, He... He... He's sorry. Honest: He... He can hardly breathe. He... He's going to step inside, where he cannot see it.

    Reynolds career in broadcasting lasted long enough for him to report on the JFK assassination where a new generation will never forget him describing how Walter Cronkite reported on the death of a President.

    Russo is a proud successor to Reynold's journalistic tradition with such dynamic reporting on his blog lately as:

    Alexander Russo said 2 hours, 58 minutes ago
    ray explains why lewis isn't funny
    Karen Lewis and Other Reasons People Hate CPS Teachers | The White Rhino: A Chicago Latino English Teacher [

    Alexander Russo said 11 hours, 51 minutes ago
    CNC's jim warren watched the whole video and finds lots to admire about what lewis says and represents along with the lamentable parts -- no call for resignation

    Alexander Russo said 12 hours, 52 minutes ago
    some background on lewis's previous tussles from the trib's joel hood

    Alexander Russo said 1 day ago
    substance has surprisingly little to say

    Alexander Russo said 1 day, 3 hours ago
    zorn thinks she should resign for being tin eared

    It is reporting on reporting like this that has people calling Alexander's District299.com blog the best Chicago Public Schools Blog out of New York State. See for yourself why he is so deserving of the Reynolds Award.

  • Heehee. Funny stuff. It is call "blogging" however --- as in Web log. So, I'm down with it. Rock on District 299 blog.

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