'Atlas Shrugged' free books and essay contest, plus other inducements, still used to lure schools into the Ayn Rand web especially when teachers can't get real books for the kids in austerity-plagued public school districts...

While almost all reactionary preachers talk about "choice" as fundamental to the functioning of the "markets" that they worship, the disciples of Ayn Rand give schools one choice when it comes to free books in an era when austerity for poor children and their teachers remains the norm. You want "free books" -- you can get as many copies of "Atlas Shrugged" (and other screeds by Ayn Rand) for "free" for your classes and schools. But if you ask for a choice for other books, well, too bad. One choice is all you get, and the propaganda from the "Atlas Shrugged" crowd is it. Among the other complaints voiced by protesting Chicago high school students in June 2016 was about books: A Curie High School student told the crowd locked out outside the Thompson Center on June 9 that at her school, the kids are not allowed to take books home for study because "there aren't enough books." For those who are not familiar with Chicago's public schools and the ongoing, decades-long attack on the public schools serving poor and working class children in Illinois, the statement might have come as a shock. For those familiar with the many plagues facing the Chicago Board of Education, going back to long before the latest iteration of corporate "school reform" began with the Amendatory Act of 1995, this was old news.

Not enough books? Well, not quite. Teachers are offered certain books for "free" provided they are propaganda for the most vicious of right wing philosophies -- the "Atlas Shrugged" people. In May 2016, again, CPS teachers received the following notice:

Order Your Free Classroom Set of Ayn Rand's Novels

Dear Educator:

The Ayn Rand Institute is again providing free classroom sets of Ayn Rand's novels to educators who wish to use them with their students. Now is the perfect time to order books for next year.

ARI also continues to sponsor annual essay contests on Anthem, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. These contests will help reinforce the novels' themes while giving students the opportunity to win scholarships for college. We award more than $90,000 annually to nearly 600 essay contest winners.

Feel free to contact me if you have any questions about our programs.


Stewart Margolis

Teacher Outreach Coordinator

P.S. We do also have limited quantities available of Ayn Rand’s historical novel of Soviet Russia, We the Living, as well as her non-fiction titles such as Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal and Philosophy: Who Needs It. If you’d like to request any of these titles, please do so in the NOTES section of our online form.

There are two parts to this odious scam. The first is "We don't have enough books for all the kids..." You might call it THE PLAGUE OF CLASS SETS... The first time I came across the "There aren't enough books so use class sets..." version of Chicago reality was in 1979. That's when I arrived at Tilden High School in Chicago to teach English.

WTF? is what some might say today. How can we assign extra work or homework if the kid can't read the book at home (or on the "L" or bus, etc.) and is required to turn the book in at the end of each class? Nope. Nope. Nope. There just aren't enough books, so please use "class sets." That trick not only deprives the kids of reading material, but disrupts classes and creates rule breakers.

The class disruption is caused by the fact that someone has to distribute the books from the pile of class sets at the beginning of every class and collect the books at the end. If the kids are serious enough, they can pick up their books from the class set pile at the beginning and deposit them back in the pile at the end.

One ironic side effect of the "class sets" plague is that sometimes your best students -- the ones who want to study at home -- will try and "steal" a book so they can study from it. Bizarre? True. I've been tracking this now for nearly 40 years, and have written about it in Substance, and for other publications.

Anyone who doubts that austerity and the austerity mantra is a deliberate attack on the working class (and those of us who teach working class kids) should note now not only that this scam has been going on for more than four decades that I've documented, and possible for as long as anyone can remember. I first wrote about this scam in the old Chicago Lawyer and in my articles in the Reader, back in the days before I was blacklisted by most Chicago media following our publication in Substance of the infamous CASE tests in 1999.

It wasn't just Tilden. The following year, during the tumultuous months during which the "Financial Crisis of 1979" was unfolding, I heard the same story from administrators at Manley and Marshall high schools where I was sent to teach for brief periods of time during the time I was an FTB (full time basis substitute) teaching a regular load of five classes plus division. Always the same in the inner city: There aren't enough books, so we use class sets...

But on the other side of the alternative realities we face, any teacher who wants as many "free" books as possible can get them -- from the Ayn Rand "Atlas Shrugged" people. Also, for the kids, the Ayn Rand people sponsor a can't lose "essay contest." And it's going on as strongly in 2016, when an Ayn Rand zombie is Governor of Illinois, as it was back in the late 1970s, when only a handful of crazed zealots were reading "Atlast Shrugged" and the other propaganda writings of the funder of that school of pseudo-philosophy and bizarre, erotically charged economic theory.

And so in May 2016, high school teachers across Chicago received the annual pitch to get "free books" from the Ayn Rand people and to get their kids into an essay contest that virtually everyone "wins." What gives?

Backed by millions and millions of dollars, this group of propagandists is continuing its largely successful push to rope in high achieving high school students into its grouplets.


June 15, 2016 at 5:25 AM

By: JoAnne Cairo

Westinghouse doesn't use books but photocopies...

Westinghouse High School on Chicago's West Side is an example of another problem. Westinghouse H.S. doesn't use actual books. The students there receive paper copies of the textbooks that are being used for that class. Wouldn't it be cheaper to buy the textbook instead of copying them for all of the different classes? Also, what happen to all the textbooks that were at the schools that were closed? How many of those school texts were deposited into the trash? That was in 2013, but now in 2016 there is "no money" for books.

June 17, 2016 at 2:08 PM

By: Bob Busch


Yes Joann it would be cheaper, but not safer.

years ago any kid a gang caught with a text book would get beaten on the spot.once an entire CTA bus was stopped on Vincennes ave and every kid on that bus with a book got hit.

September 18, 2023 at 6:35 AM

By: Omrogal

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