Teaching Profession

What Not to Say as a Teachers’ Union Leader

By Liana Loewus — November 15, 2011 1 min read
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I’m posting this video with some reluctance, as it’s uncomfortable for all parties involved. But since it was highlighted by the conservative-leaning Education Action Group Foundation last week, it’s been making the rounds on the Internet. I figured our teacher-readers might want to be aware of it and comment on it.

In a recent keynote address, Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union, made some unsavory remarks about Education Secretary Arne Duncan, including a joke about him having a lisp (starting at minute 1:25). Immediately afterward, Lewis admitted it was a cheap shot, saying, “I know, that was ugly, wasn’t it? I’m sorry.”

Over the years, Duncan, former CEO of Chicago Public Schools, has taken heat from the unions for his support of standardized testing and charter schools.

Lewis called Duncan to apologize for mocking him during her speech at the Northwest Teaching for Social Justice Conference. An Education Department spokesperson said he has accepted her apology.

While most of the comments below the video on YouTube are spiteful and not worth a read, one person did make the comparison between the incident and ongoing bullying of students with speech impediments. However, it’s clear Lewis was trying to be more of a stand-up comedian than a role model while on stage—later in the speech she referenced her own prior drug use.

UPDATE (2:15 p.m., 11/16/11): This morning, Lewis held a news conference and released this statement regarding her remarks during the keynote. “Some of what I said was inappropriate and insensitive,” she said. "... But I implore you to look at the entire 35-minute video and to listen to the entire speech so you can make a decision for yourself without the filter of rightwing pundits and anti-public education, media-savvy operatives.”

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.