Keeping retirement weird. What does it mean to be literate?


Sketch by Richard Feynman.

Chicago teachers were justifiably pissed when Governor Rauner’s secret emails related to the SUPES scandal were ordered released to the public by a judge.

The five year old emails were part of a policy debate among members of the Chicago Public Education Fund. The fund is made up of Chicago’s power elite like Ken Griffin and Mellody Hobson. Rauner was also a member when he headed GTCR, a hedge fund, before running for Governor.

The Fund’s support for a program called SUPES eventually led to the $20 million dollar kickback scandal and the indictment of the CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett.

Rauner argued that half of Chicago teachers were illiterate and Chicago principals were incompetent.

That is, of course, a lie.

As I pondered this statement for a while I began to wonder if the Governor thought those numbers were a feature or a bug.

Do education reformers like the Governor and the rest of the Chicago Public Education Fund  want our students and our teachers to be literate?

As an Art teacher for 30 years, I taught skills. More than that, I taught visual literacy. 

I defined visual literacy as the ability of my students to make and use images as a language that makes meaning of the world. To to be fully present. I wanted them to improve the quality of their own image-making. I wanted them to become more informed at making judgments about the quality of the images they saw. In the words of Art educator Elliot Eisner,  I wanted them to be critical connoisseurs. More than that, I wanted them to use Art to be actively engaged in their world.

The great physicist Richard Feynman wrote about learning to draw from an art teacher,

He literally describes how teaching is both art and science.

I noticed that the teacher didn’t tell people much (the only thing he told me was my picture was too small on the page). Instead, he tried to inspire us to experiment with new approaches. I thought of how we teach physics: We have so many techniques—so many mathematical methods—that we never stop telling the students how to do things. On the other hand, the drawing teacher is afraid to tell you anything. If your lines are very heavy, the teacher can’t say, “Your lines are too heavy.” because some artist has figured out a way of making great pictures using heavy lines. The teacher doesn’t want to push you in some particular direction. So the drawing teacher has this problem of communicating how to draw by osmosis and not by instruction, while the physics teacher has the problem of always teaching techniques, rather than the spirit, of how to go about solving physical problems.

The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) defines literacy as a “continuum of learning in enabling individuals to achieve their goals, to develop their knowledge and potential, and to participate fully in their community and wider society.”

It is more than decoding the letters and words on a printed page, just as visual literacy is more than having someone show you how to draw a picture.

So, when the Governor declared Chicago teachers (and by extension our students) illiterate what kind of literacy was he talking about?

Decoding letters and words? Or fully participating in our society?

Nothing about the corporate education reformers suggests that they want teachers and students who are active participants.

To be literate.

They want that reserved for themselves.

When the Governor said teachers were illiterate, was he complaining, bragging or wishing?

Jonathan Halabi at the AFT. Days three and four.


-Jonathan Halabi is a New York City teacher, union activist and blogger at JD2718. I have been reposting his daily reports from the American Federation of Teachers convention in Minneapolis which wrapped up yesterday.

AFT Convention 2016 wrapped up in Minneapolis yesterday. Here’s a little about the last day and a half.

A pattern began to develop. Each resolution was followed by a little positive discussion, perhaps an attempt at an amendment, and the question was quickly called. This was both good, ok, and not so good.

It was good because these were, on the whole, solid resolutions. Attack Economic Inequality. Oppose TPP. Crackdown on Offshore Tax Havens. Against out of control Prescription Drug Prices. Rein in abusive medical billing and crippling debt. Fight back against consolidation in health care. ¡Si Se Puede! Remove the Block on Funding for Gun Violence Research. Overturn Citizens United. The Fight Against Student Loan Debt. Legislative Initiative to Rectify Unfair and Detrimental Employment Practices in Higher Education. End the Garnishment of Social Security to pay Student Loan Debt (this really happens? outrageous!) Defeating the Global Movement to Privatize Education and Public Services. Immigration and Islamaphobia. Hand in Hand (about an integrated Israeli school).

This was also good because much compromise was reached in advance, in committee. But there’s an aspect to this that’s just ok – those compromises did not get reported out, and it meant that delegates got a slightly incomplete picture.

Calling the question fast was not so good. While it was a forgone conclusion that each resolution would pass, it was important for delegates to hear WHY the resolutions mattered – and delegates often rose to passionately explain exactly that. Cutting off discussion early stopped people from sharing what mattered to them. Also, there were amendments, and while some were off-base, several were not, and calling the question early not only prevented them being discussed, it also prevented some of them from being heard. On several occasions Randi Weingarten intervened to rescue a discussion that was being cut short, but she was left in the awkward position of violating the rules of order to do so. Finally, there was one AFT VP who consistently called the question early, and while much of the audience consistently cheered him, the whole act, both calling and cheering, seemed more like a joke and less like what we expect from thoughtful representatives.

There were special orders of business. A Special Order of Business to support Mexican Teachers’ Rights passed, but with passionate opposition from a delegate who objected to calling on the SNTE and CNTE to collaborate. SNTE, she alleged, collaborated with the government against the CNTE, the dissident union which is being repressed. And EON/BAMN tried to introduce several Special orders of business, none added to the agenda, as their speakers began to frustrate many of the delegates with their tactics.

And then there was the “Fighting for Safe Communities and Racial Justice for our Citizens and our First Responders” special order. LeRoy Barr gave the best speech of the entire convention. First, the issue, at least in my mind, overrode much of the others that were being discussed, maybe all of the others. This country has “made much progress” but still fails miserably here. Further, LeRoy spoke powerfully, and you felt the room move. His timing kept the delegates attention riveted. His volume, loud here, quiet as he read names, and names, and names, added to the effect. We will remember that speech for a long, long time. (I’m inquiring to see if there is video)

Beatrice Lumpkin, a veteran of … I missed it … 60 years? More?  About 90 years old?  Gave a talk that started me thinking “that’s sweet” and then wowed me with her radical unionism and commitment to justice. I liked her talking about Hunter College and CIO organizing, but I liked it even more when she talked about Black Lives Matter.

Michael Mulgrew got called up to speak about organizing – although I’m not sure he addressed that topic. He did ask delegates to tweet out the hashtag #ApologizetoMyLittlePony for Trump accusing Michelle Obama of plagiarizing (I did tweet it), and then led the delegates in singing happy birthday to Karen Lewis, President of Chicago Teachers Union, AFT Local 1 (but she was not there to hear it.)

Day 3 ended with AFT elections – the room was cleared, and only delegates could return. Arthur Goldstein and I wandered upstairs and found a nice vacant glass-domed vestibule that gave a view into downtown.

Day 4 was rapid-fire. Election results (Randi Weingarten reelected with 98%) A few speakers, including Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the United Farm Workers. Six committees. Eighteen resolutions. And then Solidarity Forever, and we were done.

I tweeted a bunch. You can find them here.

Many of the resolutions were published. You can find them here.

And I will do a wrap-up in a day or so. And maybe a travelogue. Maybe not, since I didn’t do much.

Behind Rauner’s insults. Whose schools?


The news broke yesterday afternoon with the release of Governor Rauner’s emails calling Chicago teachers illiterate and Chicago principals incompetent.

It was embarrassing enough for the Governor that his people rushed to offer immediate apologies.

Rauner’s remarks were included in a batch of emails the Chicago Tribune requested from Emanuel’s office more than a year ago in connection with its reporting about a controversial $20.5 million no-bid CPS principal training program at the center of former district CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett’s guilty plea to federal fraud charges last year.

The mayor’s office heavily redacted some of the messages or withheld them entirely. The Tribune then sued the Emanuel administration, and this week Cook County Judge Anna Demacopoulos ruled the mayor’s office largely violated the state’s open records laws and ordered City Hall to turn over the emails.

Behind the Governor’s emailed insults was a discussion – call it a debate – among the wealthy and powerful on the Chicago Public Education Fund over plans and policies for our schools. Those plans included teacher training and principal training.

Who was the table for this discussion about our schools?

Rauner, Penny Pritzker, now U.S. commerce secretary; billionaire hedge fund manager Ken Griffin; Chicago investment executive Mellody Hobson; and Helen Zell, wife of billionaire real estate magnate Sam Zell.

You remember Mellody Hobson. She is George Lucas’ wife and the woman behind the Lakefront Lucas Museum.

Who was never at the table?

Not you. Not parents. Not teachers or principals. Not the Chicago Teachers Union.

Sarah Karp wrote about the Fund back in 2015.

For the most part, The Fund supports projects meant to be scaled up as part of the school system. In recent years, it has also paid consultants to conduct searches for top district staff and to help develop plans for the district.

Yet no one outside The Fund’s staff and board of directors know how it decides which programs to support, what the results have been and how or whether the results are communicated to CPS.

As the Fund’s CEO and President, Heather Anichini, explains it, her staff meet and talk with numerous people — from teachers to principals to other foundations to players in the field — and then decide what initiatives to support. To keep their funding, initiatives have to meet benchmarks set by The Fund.

“So we actually don’t do a ton of formal reporting in the way that many other organizations might,” Anichini says. “But we do have these checks along the way.”

Information on outcomes is communicated to CPS through “conversations with administrators,” Anichini adds.

The process might seem innocuous enough. But it also sounds ripe for manipulation. And it is certainly not public.

The secret meetings of the power elite eventually led to the no-bid $20 million dollar scandal involving Barbara Byrd-Bennett.

Calling Chicago teachers illiterate and principals incompetent is insulting. But behind the insults are policy debates.

About our schools.

Debates that don’t include you.

Breaking: Rauner says Chicago teachers are illiterate and principals incompetent.


Chicago Tribune:

Gov. Bruce Rauner once told some of Chicago’s wealthiest and most influential civic leaders that half of the Chicago Public Schools teachers “are virtually illiterate” and half of the city’s principals are “incompetent,” according to emails Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration released Thursday under a court order.

Rauner made the assertion five years ago when he was a wealthy private equity executive and an active participant in Chicago school reform. His emails were part of a discussion with affluent education reform activists connected to the Chicago Public Education Fund, including Penny Pritzker, now U.S. commerce secretary; billionaire hedge fund manager Ken Griffin; Chicago investment executive Mellody Hobson; and Helen Zell, the wife of billionaire real estate magnate Sam Zell.

“Teacher evaluation is critically important, but in a massive bureaucracy with a hostile union, where 50% of principals are managerially incompetent and half of teachers are virtually illiterate, a complete multi-dimensional evaluation system with huge subjectivity in it will be attacked, manipulated and marginalized – the status quo will prevail,” Rauner wrote in a December 2011 email arguing for a strong system of teacher and principal evaluations in the district. “It’s much more critical that we develop a consistent, rigorous, objective, understandable measure and reporting system for student growth upon which all further evaluation of performance will depend.”

Asked about the governor’s characterization of Chicago educators, Rauner spokesman Lance Trover issued an apology.

“Significant change can be frustratingly slow; this is especially true in public education. Many of us, at one time or another, have sent hastily crafted emails containing inaccurate or intemperate statements,” Trover’s statement said in part. “This particular email was sent out of frustration at the pace of change in our public school system. The governor regrets writing it and apologizes to CPS educators for making an unfair, untrue comment.”

Rauner’s remarks were included in a batch of emails the Chicago Tribune requested from Emanuel’s office last year in connection with its reporting about a CPS principal training program at the center of former district Superintendent Barbara Byrd-Bennett’s federal fraud conviction last year.

The mayor’s office either heavily redacted some of the messages or withheld them entirely. The news organization then sued the Emanuel administration, and this week Cook County Judge Anna Demacopoulos ruled the mayor’s office largely had violated the state’s open records laws and ordered City Hall to turn over the emails.

The Rauner emails were included in the release because they included a reference to the SUPES Academy, and the Tribune had sought messages connected to the corrupt principal training organization.

Jonathan Halabi at the AFT. How he met the President.

karen lewis crop

-Jonathan Halabi is a New York City teacher, union activist and blogger at JD2718. I will be reposting his daily reports from the American Federation of Teachers convention in Minneapolis. It runs through Thursday.

Not that one. Obama’s not here in Minneapolis. And not the next one – she left. And not the AFT President. I’ve met Randi many times before, argued with her, agreed with her, e-mailed, etc. And not Mulgrew, we’ve met.

This is the story of how I met the President of AFT Local 1, the Chicago Federation of Teachers, Karen Lewis.

OK, so I could have walked up to her and said hello, but my story is a little more convoluted.

Four days ago, before the AFT Convention, I was in Chicago, debating Fred Klonsky. Actually, I was staying with Fred and Anne. But little debates broke out. Yankees vs Cubs. Hillary vs Jill.

But our strangest debate was about the relative importance of Belief vs Acts in Judaism. Both Fred and I have tenuous links, not enough to claim expertise. Anne suggested we ask Karen. So we did. Fred texted her a series of questions. Each of which she answered with a question. Quite appropriate, we thought.

So I’m off to Minneapolis and Fred says I have to meet Karen. The first day I look a little for her, but don’t really know where to look. I don’t find her. Fred texts, says Karen expects me.

I look harder Day 2. Still don’t find her. I start introducing myself to Chicago delegates, and asking “Where’s Karen?”  At drinks that evening I meet Michelle Gunderson (we’ve been tweeting/retweeting each other). Fred is a good calling card with Michelle (really, with all the Chicago people). And the fact that we won seats in NYC, people get that this is a big deal. Anyhow, Michelle tells me that Karen has not been in for all of the sessions, but that she will contact me when Karen is available.

Next morning I go to contact Michelle – can’t message her. Hmmph. But as I walk out, I see her, and we exchange numbers. Session proceeds.

It Unfolds

At 11:34 I got a message “Meet me at mic 5 so we can introduce you to Karen” I dropped my phone, mid-tweet, left the computer open on a letter I was writing. The mics are spread around the room, I checked, 5 was behind me, towards the back. I briskly walked over. Michelle smiled, said “he’s going to take you to Karen.” There was a CTU delegate who I had met briefly the day before. He headed off, with me half a step behind. We reached the far side of the floor. “Over there, she’s waiting for you” and he motioned up the aisle. He turned away.

I walked 15 steps to two people, standing in the aisle. I said hello as Karen turned to me, and introduced myself. Here I am, speaking to the president of a fighting local, sort of a teacher union hero, and we proceed to chat about militant unionism?  Nope. Prayer (dovening) and the Lubavitch. I even forget to wish her happy birthday. Schmuck.

But that’s how I met Karen Lewis.

I’m not a Democrat and pension theft is a bipartisan effort.


Not every Democrat is our friend.

A friend wrote me the other day to share his confusion about my opposition to Republican Donald Trump and his brown shirt movement.

I don’t care who you vote for. I just want to see the largest popular and electoral vote possible to defeat the Republican Donald Trump.

“This seems the opposite of the position you took in the race for governor where you pulled your support for Democrat Pat Quinn and, of course, Rauner won. Can you explain why that then and this now?”


There are lots of things that are different about these two races.

As I have written, the Trump campaign represents an alliance between a section of Wall Street banksters and a racist brown-shirt street movement, visible at any Trump rally. That alliance is one we have seen before in history. The candidate that speaks for them is our main enemy in this election. It threatens what democracy we have in this country. It is a movement that incites government harassment and street violence against those who are not native born and people of color.

When Pat Quinn and Illinois Democrats went after public employee pensions, we told them that if they voted to violate the constitution in that way that they would not receive our votes in the next election. What other recourse did we have? We followed through on that promise and Pat Quinn lost because of the defection of Democratic Party voters from voting for the top of the ticket.

I am not a Democrat. I don’t vote for just anyone the Democrats tell me to vote for.

In Illinois, pension theft is a bipartisan crime: Rahm and Rauner. Madigan and Cullerton.

This week I am posting about Trump and the Republicans. Next week is the Democratic Party Convention in Philadelphia. I’ll be posting about their stuff.

Meanwhile here in Illinois the bipartisan attack on pensions continues. Part of the budget compromise worked out between Rauner and the Democrats included a promise to return to what they call pension reform.

I call it pension theft.

Rahm Emanuel, part of the Clinton team, wants the city unions to bargain a reduction in pension benefits.

Democratic Senate President John Cullerton thinks that is a thing.

The week after the Democratic Party Convention I will be joining Ken Davis on his cable access show Chicago Newsroom to talk about pension theft.

I will post the video here.

Random thoughts. This is not an election over who is a friend of Wall Street.


The news out of Cleveland yesterday was that a norovirus was spreading among delegates and staffers. A norovirus causes vomiting and diarrhea.

Newt Gingrich also spoke.

And, of course, Ted Cruz.

Reports  the N.Y. Times.

At a downtown barbecue joint, lobbyists cheerfully passed out stickers reading “Make Lobbying Great Again” as they schmoozed on Monday with Republican ambassadors, lawmakers and executives. At a windowless bar tucked behind the Ritz-Carlton hotel, whose rooms were set aside for the party’s most generous benefactors, allies of Mr. Trump pitched a clutch of receptive party donors on contributing to a pro-Trump “super PAC.”

And from Slate:

“Trump has told prospective donors that, if elected president, he plans to nominate former Goldman Sachs banker Steve Mnuchin for U.S. Treasury Secretary.” Currently, Mnuchin is a hedge fund CEO, as well as Trump’s chief fundraiser.

Again, from The Times:

And on Tuesday night, as Republican delegates formally made Mr. Trump their presidential nominee, a few dozen lobbyists and their clients instead sipped gin and munched on Brie puffs in an oak-paneled room at the Union Club. They had come to witness a more urgent presentation: Newt Gingrich, a top Trump adviser and Beltway fixture, painting an upbeat picture of the deals they could help sculpt on infrastructure projects and military spending in the first hundred days of a Trump administration.

No surprise, Trump’s campaign is an alliance we have seen in history before.

Wall Street banksters and brown-shirt fascists at rallies and in the streets.

I wish we were voting on the power of Wall Street. Not in this election.

But a massive popular vote and electoral defeat for Trump will be a punch in the nose of those  brown shirts.