When I was in first grade, I had to go to speech therapy. I had a lisp. The speech therapist would force me trace a line on a sheet of paper as I hissed out the ‘S’ sound, making sure I didn’t stick my tongue between my teeth. The treatment worked. My lisp went away.
CTU President Karen Lewis’s comment about Education Secretary’s Arne Duncan’s lisp wasn’t meant to make fun of his speech defect. It was meant to criticize the University of Chicago Lab School, which Duncan attended as a young man.
“You know he went to private school,” Lewis said. “Because if he’d have gone to public school, he’d have had that lisp fixed.”
(Lewis called Duncan to explain her remarks, although she doesn’t sound apologetic. According to news release from the CTU, “Lewis has always been candid and outspoken when discussing the personalities and policies that have adversely impacted public education in our nation.”)
The point Lewis was trying to make is that private schools don’t have the resources -- or the interest -- in children who have physical or mental difficulties. Private schools like to assume that, like the people of Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon, all their children are above average. I attended an urban public school. My lisp was eradicated by a speech therapist who served the entire district, traveling from school to school. Private schools may not be able to afford such specialists. Or special education and remedial programs.
Lewis’s comment also sounds as though it was motivated by the class resentment she feels toward Duncan. Lewis graduated from Kenwood Academy. Kenwood kids can’t stand those stuck up “Lab Scabs.”
In an interview with Chicago magazine’s Carol Felsenthal, Lewis made it clear she thinks of Duncan as a golden boy who got the Secretary of Education’s job because he’s a Labbie who played basketball at Harvard. Those qualities give him a kinship with President Obama, but don’t qualify him to oversee the education of the nation’s children.
“Yeah, because he has a bachelor’s in sociology from Harvard and played basketball [he’s an education expert]?” Lewis said. “I think he’s completely and totally unqualified to do this job. And to me, it’s sort of indicative of how education is such a political tool now, as opposed to [his] having a real bent toward education. I think this is a way for Obama to try to make an olive branch with Republicans. There’s this mentality that outsiders and people with no education background are the… experts…. They want to privatize public education…. Arne’s policies here were a disaster.”
These two are never going to get along.
Buy this book! Ward Room blogger Edward McClelland's book, Young Mr. Obama: Chicago and the Making of a Black President , is available Amazon. Young Mr. Obama includes reporting on President Obama's earliest days in the Windy City, covering how a presumptuous young man transformed himself into presidential material. Buy it now!