A lifetime of service

Union activist, journalist and retired Chicago public school teacher George N. Schmidt was the editor of Substance, which he helped found in 1975. The paper was in print until 2012, and has been an online news service since then.

George's multifaceted career spanned five decades. He helped many thousands of people with his tireless energy, intense focus, intellectual gifts, desire to serve and unwavering commitment to the the truth.

A University of Chicago alumnus, George was a brilliant English teacher, who worked inside his classroom and within the Chicago Teachers Union – serving in various roles including delegate, mentor, consultant and researcher – for quality education for students and fairness for school workers.

George Schmidt teaches his Amundsen students using Macintosh computers in the late 1980s. The photo and a story about George appeared in the Macintosh Writing Resource Guide, K-12. The 56-page book was published by Apple Computer, Inc. in 1990.While he believed that public schools and unions are essential in improving the lives of working class people, George knew the institutions needed watching. He used print newspapers and an online news service to hold accountable those in power. Much of his ongoing critique of the Chicago Board of Education was against racist policies.

His fight against injustice began in the 1960s when he worked with soldiers in the GI Movement, organizing against the Vietnam War, in part through the production of underground newspapers.

George was a voracious reader, who sought to understand everything in history and politics. He loved poetry and literature, as well as biographies, essays and news writing. As a reader and writer, he relished the truth, which had to include the context of events. George was compelled to tell the full story. He loved his sons and wife passionately, enjoying and encouraging their gifts. George will be dearly missed by them and by so many others whom he helped or inspired over the years.

[Reporter's note: The above piece is part of what I submitted to the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times death notices pages. I am working on a more complete life story. I want to publish memories by his friends, as well. Please email your words about George to Thank you.]


September 18, 2018 at 7:52 AM

By: Susan Ohanian

Knowing George Schmidt

In August of 1982 Learning Magazine asked me to leave my teaching job in New York and join them in California, becoming their first staff writer. I worried over this all Fall. Then, in November, just a month before I left my classroom, Learning published a wonderful article: "Chicago Mastery Reading: A Case Against a Skills-Based Reading Curriculum"--by George N. Schmidt.

Wham! Suddenly I felt confident about making the career change. If I could work for a publication that could publish such an important article, that's where I wanted to be.

So I knew George's powerful voice on the policy and practice of education long before I ever met him. In the past two decades and more, I have had the privilege of long phone conversations as well as George's words in Substance and partnership in activism around the country.

George's voice will be with me forever.

September 19, 2018 at 11:16 PM

By: Norm scott

the great George Schmidt is gone

A few thoughts about George

September 22, 2018 at 5:43 AM

By: Pete Farruggio


George, you left us too soon, and you will be missed by all people of good conscience. You were a true working class hero, an intellectual grounded in the real world and dedicated to carrying on the struggle against our class enemy, no matter the consequences to your health and well being. Your life will be an inspiration to all who witnessed how you fought the good fight. You may be gone, but you will not be forgotten, brother.

September 22, 2018 at 6:29 PM

By: Jean Schwab


I feel very sad. George and sometimes Sharon helped me through some bad times with Substance and we celebrated during good times. We wrote about what needed to be done and what wasn't getting done in our schools. We sometimes wrote about other important topics. It was fun and I felt that it was making a difference. I wonder now that George is gone who can carry on and if they can do so with the ease that George could. George will be missed. Even if he did not publish another article,his personality and stories will be missed by all of us on Substance!

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