Sunday, October 14, 2018

George Schmidt – In Memoriam, Who Will Educate the Educators? By Sean Ahern, NYC teacher

A great piece by Sean.  See more tributes to George at Substance: http://www.

George Schmidt – In Memoriam, Who Will Educate the Educators?
 By Sean Ahern, NYC teacher
I met George only about 10 years ago but we were fellow travelers from the 1960’s/early 70’s movements, he in Chicago and I in the NY/NJ metro area.  He was from a working class family in Northern NJ who went to college in Chicago and merged into the anti-war, GI and working class resistance movements in that great City.  I from a working class family in NYC merged into the movement as a high school student, being some 7 years George’s junior.  We were shaped by the era and George notably bore witness to the struggles on the education front through his many years of reporting, rank and file organizing and editorship of Substance for over 30 years. 
I came late to teaching and George was one who early on opened my eyes to the true nature of the education reform and introduced me to the critical literature that was struggling to be heard through all the neo liberal and neo conservative chatter lauding “A Nation At Risk”, mayor control, high stakes testing, “value added” accountability schemes, charter schools and school closings in Black and Latino neighborhoods. I read Bracey (What You Should Know About The War Against America’s Public Schools), Berliner and Biddle (The Manufactured Crisis) and Emery and Ohanian (Why is Corporate America Bashing Our Public Schools?) at George’s suggestion. I know from personal experience that George influenced rank and file initiatives in the UFT in New York City. George remained a staunch defender of teacher unionism even while the leadership of these unions were falling over themselves to maintain their “seat at the table” by accommodating themselves to the corporate education “reform.”

While the liberals and pseudo radicals were hopping on board the education reform bus loaded with $ from Gates, Broad, hedge funds et al,  driven by Bushes, the Clintons, Mayor Dailey, and Obama, the editor of Substance took the high stakes testocracy head on and almost lost his house in the process when the testing company sued him.  Substance had published some of the questions from the high stakes tests after students had taken them and was sued by the testing company for a million dollars.  They were trying to shut Substance down and muzzle one of their most outspoken critics.  The pseudo radicals who had provided Mayor Daley with a “progressive” cover were nowhere to be seen when the editor needed support but that never stopped George.  The final settlement required that all of the issues of Substance containing the test questions be destroyed. 
George’s activism in the CTU and AFT goes way back from his first years organizing substitute teachers and challenging Shanker and the AFT’s collusion with US Imperialism in Chile and Central America.  His pamphlet on the AFT and the CIA should be required reading for the new generation of teacher activists seeking to “reform” the AFT.  People should at least know who and what they are dealing with when they challenge Weingarten and Co.
This hard charging organizer, investigative reporter, critical thinker and truly radical American original was thick skinned, cantankerous, and short tempered with phony would be players in the people’s movements who engaged in unprincipled ad hominin attacks and gossipy self-serving intrigues.
Now that George has passed, I hope that his contribution over the years will not be disappeared and that his writings and all Substance past issues, print and website will be archived on a searchable data base available to the next generation of working class activists.  Substance was a primary source on the struggles of rank and file Chicago teachers to defend learning and working conditions in the face of the education “reformers,” assorted fellow travelers and backsliding union misleaders.  Let the record stand.  George Schmidt – Presente!

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