Matt Farmer cross examines 'Penny Pritzker' at May 23 Auditorium Theater rally

[Editor's introduction by Susan Ohanian. This transcript was completed June 1 after the Chicago Teachers Union provided a video of Matt Farmer's remarks from the Chicago Teachers Union rally at the Auditorium Theater on May 23, 2012. Substance editors have decided that it should be bylined by Matt Farmer for this iteration at]

Matt Farmer (above on stage in the lower right hand corner, and on the big screen above) provided the crowd with one of many high points as he utilized his cross examination skills on "Penny Pritzker." Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.CPS Parent Matt Farmer Puts Board of Education Member Penny Pritzker on Trial: Video and transcript. Every teacher and parent in the country should watch Chicago parent and public school advocate Matt at the Chicago Teacher Union STAND STRONG rally on May 23, 2012. He brought down the house. Farmer is a Chicago lawyer currently serving a two-year term as a member of the Local School Council at Philip Rogers Elementary School. You can access the video here.

Farmer’s method for exposing the hypocrisy that exists between the rhetoric and the reality of power brokers making public school policy is dramatic and effective. Farmer puts billionaire Chicago Board of Education member Penny Prizker on trial at this CTU rally. By all accounts, the University of Chicago Lab School, where Professor John Dewey first began testing his educational theories in 1896, is indeed an excellent place. The point here is that it offers the model for what politicos, phony philanthropists, and power brokers should want for all children, not just their own. We need to put all politicos, phony philanthropists, and power brokers on trial, exposing what they give to their own children but withhold from everybody else’s.

Penny Pritzker isn’t just filthy rich, and it isn’t a coincidence that her children attended the University of Chicago Lab School, which President Obama ‘s daughters also attended. Obama has appointed Ms. Pritzker to the President's Council for Jobs and Competitiveness which advises the Administration on economic growth and job creation. Pritzker previously served on the President's Economic Recovery Advisory Board. She was National Finance Chair of the 2008 Barack Obama for President campaign and co-chair of the 2009 Presidential Inaugural Committee.

I would like to note my connection to the University of Chicago Lab School. I live in the village of Charlotte, Vermont, where John Dewey taught elementary school for one year. His ashes are buried 13 miles from here at the University of Vermont, where he earned his undergraduate degree.

The story goes that this Charlotte elementary school experience convinced John Dewey that he was unsuited to the task of teaching young children and he decided to go to John Hopkins to get his doctorate. After writing a dissertation on the psychology of Kant he moved on to the newly-founded University of Chicago. This seems worth mentioning because these days so many people in positions of power think anybody could teach elementary school. I like to mention this because my friend George Schmidt has convinced me that every bad education idea starts in Chicago. I first became acquainted with George’s writing on education policy in 1982 when he wrote a brilliant expose of the Mastery Learning scam in Chicago for Learning Magazine. So we sent Chicago Dewey, and Chicago sent back Mastery Learning and school turnarounds.

I just reread The Girl with the Brown Crayon by Vivian Gussin Paley, and it broke my heart. This is a remarkable account of a teacher embarking with her kindergartners at the University of Chicago Lab School on a remarkable journey--a year-long study of the works of one student’s kindred spirit, Leo Lionni. Here is Paley, who won a MacArthur "genius" award for her classroom work, describing the project: “Is it possible for a kindergarten class to pursue such an intensely literary and, yes, long-term intellectual activity, one that demands powers of analysis and introspection expected of much older students? Why not? I have seen five- and six-year-olds debate their concerns with as much fervor and insight as could any group of adults. Leo Lionni will make the existing intellectual life of the classroom more accessible because he offers us a clear and consistent frame of reference for our feelings and observations.”

This is what private school kindergartners do. But answering Bill Gates and Barack Obama’s call to prepare children to become global workers, here’s what kindergartners in public school across the country get: The Benchmark K-3: DIBELS Nonsense Word Fluency Assessment

hoj rij ad bol em buv haj en wof loj tuc rul vab fum han hol mun yud dav dub paj jav lak diz nom vif kon juf miz vuv zep yac dac jom rej zuz vum zus tej zub wob jec oc rit def neb kif wab ov ruj

Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills 6th edition Kindergarten Scoring Booklet DIBELS Benchmark Assessment

Put DIBELS into a search at the University of Chicago Lab School and you get this notice: “No results.”

Put “art” into a search at the University of Chicago Lab School and you get 1,360 results—from first graders getting inspiration from Andy Warhol prints in his limited-edition cookbook, Wild Raspberries to make their own three-color prints to the Arts Expo featuring nearly 1,000 pieces of art created by Lab students of all ages.

Put “art” into a search at the Chicago Public Schools website and you get 230 results—from “State of the Art Security Cameras Installed” to the announcement that a longer school day at Disney II provides opportunity for gym, art, and music (lumped together as 25 minute enrichment).

For a look at why this happens across the country, take a look at Michael Winerip’s 2011 column In Public School Efforts, a Common Background: Private Education . He starts with the patricians who sponsored NCLB and where they went to school: Senators Judd Gregg (Phillips Exeter, Exeter, N.H.) and Edward M. Kennedy (Milton Academy, Milton, Mass.) and Representative John A. Boehner (Archbishop Moeller High School, Cincinnati) were three of the four Congressional sponsors of the education legislation, which was signed into law by Mr. Bush (Phillips Academy, Andover, Mass.) on Jan. 8, 2002. And he moves on from there. Yes, Mitt Romney is included.

Matt Farmer’s cross-examination of Chicago School Board member Penny Pritzker gives us a way to make this betrayal real. He gives us a template for putting the spotlight on the cruel and destructive hypocrisy of people with power over public education policy. Go forth and do likewise. Here’s the transcript. But first you should go watch his speech.

By Matt Farmer

Good Afternoon, CTU...

In June 2011, I was listening to WBEZ public radio. Education reporter Linda Lutton was Conducting an interview with billionaire Board of Education Penny Priztker about public education in Chicago. Toward the end of that interview Linda asked Mrs. Pritzker to compare the educational experiences her children had in grade school and in high school to what she was seeing the average Chicago Public School student receive today. . . and Mrs. Priztker ran from that question and didn’t answer it.

Instead, here’s what she said. She wanted to talk about what CPS students were entitled to—quote “get the skills in math, in reading, and in science so that they can be productive members of today’s workforce.”

That answer did not sit well with me at a couple of different levels. First, as a CPS parent and a LSC [Local Schools Council] member, I believe our children are entitled, yes, entitled, to much much more.

Mrs. Pritzker never talked about fine arts, never talked about music, never talked about physical education, never talked about the need to teach our kids teach think critically, to think creatively, never talked about the need of schools to help our children become lifelong learners

But, friends, her answer bothered me at another level as well . It bothered me as a trial lawyer. When I hear a public official, which Mrs. Pritzker now is, evade a legitimate question from a reporter, my brain clicks into cross-examination mode. Had I been in that radio studio I would have said, “Well, that’s great, , Mrs. Pritzker, but let’s get back to the question I asked you.”

Your children attended the University of Chicago Lab School, correct?


The same school Mayor Emanuel has chosen to send his kids to.


And the reason you and your husband chose the University of Chicago Lab School is because the school offers a rich curriculum. Isn’t that true?

From day one your children had fine arts at the University of Chicago Lab School, correct?

And in June 6, you told your old college newspaper the Harvard Crimson, “I always say fine arts opened my eyes and gave me a new sense, and I carry that passion with me”

And that’s why the University of Chicago Lab School has seven --count them—seven art teachers —on its faculty. Isn’t that right, Mrs. Pritzker?


But you’re aware, Mrs. Pritzker that Dyett High School a school you just voted to close a few months ago, had zero art teachers on its faculty in 2011. Isn’t that right?


Your children also received music education from day one at the Lab School. Isn’t that true?


Your children had physical education classes every day at the Lab School. Isn’t that right?


Your students had libraries, beautiful libraries, in which to study, research, and write. Isn’t that true?

You’re aware, ma’am, as we sit here today 160 CPS schools do not have libraries. Isn’t that right?

But again, as we sit here today, Mrs. Pritzker, you are aware you spearheading a campaign right now to build newer, better, and bigger libraries at the University Lab School. Isn’t that true?

Now friends, we could go on with this exercise. . . If Mrs. Pritzker and Mr. Emanuel want to know the harm their policies are causing all of our students, they don’t to ask Karen Lewis. They don’t need to ask Randy Weingarten. All they need to do is go to the website of the University of Chicago Lab School website. And read what the school’s director Dr. David M. Magill writes. He’s been running that place for the past ten years. YOU want to know what Dr. Magill says about standardized testing, the same testing that fills our calendars for weeks? “Measuring outcomes through standardized testing and referring to those results as the evidence of learning and the bottom line is, in my opinion, misguided and, unfortunately, continues to be advocated under a new name and supported by the current administration.”

That’s the Lab School, folks.

Do you want to know what Dr. Magill from the Lab School has to say about art, music, physical education and libraries? He says, “Physical education, world languages, libraries, and the arts are not frills.They are an essential piece of a well-rounded education.”

And finally, do you want to know what the director of the Lab School, yes, the person who runs Rahm’s and Penny Pritzkers’ kids’ school, what he has to say about teachers unions? And it’s on the website, folks.

He said, “I shudder who would be attracted to teach in our public schools without unions.”

And my friends, I too shudder. That’s why I’m here today. We stand with you


March 26, 2013 at 11:28 AM

By: Bernadette Pawlik

CPS Schools without Libraries

I am the founder of BooksFirst. We are a totally volunteer organization whose mission it is to create libraries in those CPS schools without them and with a homeless population of 25% or more.

Might anyone have a list of those 160 CPS schools without libraries which is up to date? Anyone have contact with the principals of those schools?

If so, please contact us at

Add your own comment (all fields are necessary)

Substance readers:

You must give your first name and last name under "Name" when you post a comment at We are not operating a blog and do not allow anonymous or pseudonymous comments. Our readers deserve to know who is commenting, just as they deserve to know the source of our news reports and analysis.

Please respect this, and also provide us with an accurate e-mail address.

Thank you,

The Editors of Substance

Your Name

Your Email

What's your comment about?

Your Comment

Please answer this to prove you're not a robot:

5 + 3 =