Meet The Ivy League-Educated, Wisecracking Woman Leading The Chicago Teachers Strike

karen lewis

Photo: NYCGEM1

The woman leading the Chicago Teachers Union strike is…complicated.Last year, she attracted criticism for apparently mocking the speech mannerism of Sec. of Education Arne Duncan. Prior his appointment by President Obama, Duncan was head of Chicago Public Schools.

“You know he went to private school, because if he’d have gone to public school, he’d have had that lisp fixed. I know, that was ugly, wasn’t it? I’m sorry.”

She also joked about the perception that she would have “self-medicated” her way through school.

This may explain why the White House issued a “no comment” on a situation unfolding in the President’s hometown. 

Here’s the full video:

In fact, she has said, she had a rough college experience.

After graduating from high school on the city’s south side, she was accepted to Mount Holyoke but ended up transfering to Dartmouth, where she was the only African American woman in the class of 1974, according to the Chicago Tribune.

In an interview with Chicago Magazine’s Carol Felsenthal last year, she described her college years.

“I don’t really remember Dartmouth that well. It was a really awful experience. I’m the only black woman in my class. So it was like being a complete and total pioneer…. I barely graduated.”

She also talked to Felsenthal about the race and class issues behind the current fight:

We have this problem in Chicago, with teachers who are in their 40s and 50s, and, quite frankly, predominantly black, who have been laid off…. We’re seeing the decline in what used to be the middle class, but this huge rise in the immense amount of wealth, and with it, the political power to buy not only the political piece but to buy the media, to… get people to buy into a message that is against their self-interest. 

And about the role of unions in general:

Unions are pesky. And god forbid there be some democracy. The problem is that public education is the last of… any part of democracy in this country because rich people have bought everything. They bought access to the politicians, … to government, on a level that’s unprecedented…. 

The fact is that unions are demonized because the people that really run this country would like nothing more than to have complete and total control over everything.

Lewis, 59, is a former chemistry teacher who attended Chicago public schools and is a daughter of teachers, according to Davey.

She was elected union president in 2010.

Meanwhile, the strike has entered a third day.

“The board has to compromise or this could be a long strike,” union vice president Jesse Sharkey told the Chicago Sun-Times.

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