NPR Says Karen Lewis is Too….Something to Speak for Teachers

Because of Rosh Hashanah, I’m a little late to this story. And now that the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) has voted to suspend the strike, it might be moot. But still, it’s worth noting.

On Sunday, the CTU voted to continue striking so that its members could have additional time to discuss and debate the terms of Chicago’s contract offer (which is still not final).

You’d think that decision would have been held up as a triumph of deliberative democracy. Here you had union members demanding time and space to discuss the rules that govern their everyday lives, not waiting passively for their leaders to determine their fates. If this happened in other countries, we’d call it a Chicago Spring (or something). Right?

Leave it to NPR to spin the story as a troubling sign of CTU President Karen Lewis’ potential failure as a leader and increasing inability to serve as a spokesperson for the teachers’ cause. No reason is given as to why she can’t serve as that spokesperson; no evidence is provided that she hasn’t. But, hey, there’s just something about her…What might it be?

Have a listen to the NPR report here.


  1. Linnaeus September 18, 2012 at 8:51 pm | #

    Hmmm. Just can’t put my finger on it….

  2. debmeier September 18, 2012 at 9:10 pm | #

    Thank you, Corey! It’s a real tribute to an almost forgotten tradition of rank-and-file democracy, o “all together”–of, in short, democracy at work. Hurrah! Yes,opponents of democracy have always criticized it for being “weak”–unmacho–it reminds me once again my favorite quote by Eugene V. Debs: “If I could lead you to the promised land than othes could lead you back again.” The best way–time-consuming and inefficient–is for the people to govern themselves. To do so however, they need time. They need the essential settings and time to deliberate.

  3. Douglas September 18, 2012 at 9:24 pm | #

    Well, clearly “she seems confrontational.” That’s what it is, yeah, yeah, that’s it! Right.

    But in fact, when was the last time anyone heard a labor leader speak truth to power the way she did this past weekend?

    Inspiring, to say the least.

  4. Lou September 18, 2012 at 9:43 pm | #

    I think that a lot of folks are scared of actual Democracy. The Sun-TImes also attacked Ms. Lewis for being a bad leader. Inspiring strike– especially because teachers were canvassing the neighborhoods in Chicago today saying, We’re not able to negotiate some really important things through the collective bargaining process–like class size–but when we go back to work tomorrow we will keep fighting for smaller classes. A burgeoning movement. Very inspiring.

  5. Frank Moraes September 18, 2012 at 10:30 pm | #

    It wasn’t just NPR. My impression from many news stories was, “Those evil teachers not just accepting the deal and learnin’ them kids!” I’ve been particularly unhappy with Dylan Matthews over at WonkBlog. And I was almost apoplectic watching John Legend on Real Time last Friday, giving the standard “Waiting for Superman” line about how the kids deserve better teachers and that means test, test, test. As I often say, reporters and commentators may be *socially* liberal, but in most other ways they are not. In general, they aren’t sympathetic to unions. They don’t feel tied to the working class, even if they technically work.

  6. Sarah September 18, 2012 at 10:34 pm | #

    So a bad leader is one who inspires the rank-and-file, responds to their lived experience, and sees their issues as ethically and morally important? Oh, and doesn’t back down to bullies and bad press? Huh.

    • Corey Robin September 18, 2012 at 10:35 pm | #

      Yep, I think that just about covers it.

      • Donald Pruden, Jr. a/k/a The Enemy Combatant September 20, 2012 at 9:55 am | #

        And she does it while (wait for it…)


        Yeah, I said it — and I know you’se-all were thinkin’ it, too (admit it!)

      • Erstwhile Anthropologist October 2, 2012 at 1:47 pm | #

        Thanks for calling out the proverbial elephant in the room. It is worth thinking about how the Angry Black Woman stereotype is being deployed against this woman who is coded black, though she is very light-skinned (and how much more ‘confrontational’ would she be if she were dark-skinned?); and I think is also being perceived as an ‘unruly’ body due to her size (i.e. fat phobia).

  7. josh buermann (@joshbuermann) September 18, 2012 at 11:37 pm | #

    WTF, how do they get a “17% raise over four years” from that contract? Sanchez needs a remedial math course.

  8. Alice Dubiel (@odaraia) September 19, 2012 at 9:47 am | #

    An attitude frequently revealed by NPR and its affiliates is that schools are daycare. When schools are closed for whatever reason, labor disputes, funding problems (which are common in Seattle), weather, a “sympathetic” we-are-on-parents’-side editorializing requires numerous interviews with parents’ remarks about how inconvenienced they are. Parental support of the teachers or staff is often excised, even if expressed. For a community to support educational labor fully, parents and their employers need flexibility; these issues are never raised in NPR, etc., reports.

Leave a Reply