This is a wonderful interview in which EduShyster asks great questions of Karen Lewis. Karen responds candidly and knocks every one of them out of the park, as is her way. She speaks about race, politics, and her health.

 

EduShyster begins by asking Karen about the wave of protests that followed the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. Karen responded:

 

We don’t really like to talk about race and class, but they underpin both of these issues. I’m 61 years old, which means I went through the original Civil Rights Movement—it’s not just history to me. But I also know from history that the extra-judicial killing of Black men is nothing new in our society. The difference is that we have social media, we have recordings, and so you have a movement of people demanding accountability. What’s been really interesting to me is that you see the same concepts emerging whether we’re talking about policing or education: compliance, obedience and a loss of dignity. I’m going to tell you what to do and if you don’t do it, I’ll just take your life. The same with schools: if you don’t do what I tell you to do, I’ll just take your school. To me, this is a very interesting co-mingling of what justice really looks like and it’s very different for different people.

 

EduShyster says that today’s “reform” movement starts from the assumption that nothing can be done about poverty. She asks Karen for her view, and Karen answers:

 

You have to reframe the question to ask *why not?* Some of these people act as though poverty and wealth inequality just occur naturally, and that we just need to sit back and wait for the invisible hand to work its magic. Well, you look around Chicago and you see that hand isn’t invisible, in fact it’s perfectly visible, and it’s slapping people left and right. This, by the way, is why I think the fight for $15 an hour for low-wage workers is so important, and why I believe that teachers have to get involved in organizations that work for social and economic justice. Even Mayor Emanuel has capitulated on the wage issue. Funny how a re-election campaign can do that.

 

EduShyster notes that many media types refer to Lewis as “confrontational,” but in fact she emphasizes coalition-building. She asks Karen to talk about her style of leadership:

 

I was elected because I started talking about things that no one ever talks about. Typically during teacher union campaign season, what you hear is *I can get you a better raise than the last person.* I’ve been in the system for 25 years—26 now actually—and that’s the way it’s always been. What I kept saying was that *we need to build alliances with our natural allies, who are the parents.* Once we start building alliances with parents, then we stop blaming each other. Right now the system has us blaming them for not doing their jobs and not preparing their kids for school, and has them blaming us for being lazy or not doing what we need to do. Building alliances makes a difference because you’re stronger, because people can’t just pick you off. I’ve always talked about trying to recreate the strength of the union by sharing it with other folks who lack power. Now there are people who still don’t believe in that vision. They’re convinced that if we just enforced the contract, all of our woes would end. Well, that’s crazy. It’s not just enforcing the contract, it’s about building a political force. That’s how we change the laws that govern what happens in our classrooms.

 

 

There is much, much more. Read the interview and enjoy the conversation with a wonderful, brilliant woman who caused a political earthquake in Chicago and far beyond.