Some of George Schmidt's words of wisdom

So sad, so sad, so sad. (That phrasing actually comes from a children’s book, an African folktale, Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears.) Words will not suffice. What follows is but a small portion of what I would add here to the many tributes to George Schmidt.

George Schmidt with teacher Kevin Foster, who had been George's student at Steinmetz iHigh School in 1983, during the 2012 CTU strike.I choose to share three sets of what I would refer to as “words of wisdom” that George said to me many times over the years. He invariably referred to one or another of these three sets whenever I was losing or had lost hope as a teacher, that having nothing to do with students.

Those of us in urban education, particularly in the more impoverished areas of the city, know what we are up against with our students; in so many cases this is exactly why we choose to teach. Not that one cannot burn out from that either, but the greatest hopelessness is in the trying to work/function/remain sane in the Chicago Public School (CPS) system as it is run, and particularly since mayoral control of the schools was implemented (but it wasn’t perfectly great prior, either).

In rottenly-run local schools, the hopelessness can be overwhelming. System-wide but locally on crack, this stems from, including but not limited to: abuse, incompetence, corruption, lies, ignorance, arrogance, neglect, apathy, psychopathy, micromanagement, sadism, and retaliation in all forms. The situations simply continue on-and-on unimpeded by administrators at all levels. Then, as salt to a wound, couple that with some of the same attributes to describe what comes in too many cases from the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) as a response.

What I call George’s words of wisdom continue to support me. I hope they support others as well. To those who felt knocked down by any “critical” words spoken by George, I would say this: George worked tirelessly to help the union strong remain standing.

Words of Wisdom, First Set: “Would you rather be an abolitionist in 1814?” I actually forget the exact year he to which he referred, but you get the point. George operated at a genius level for smacking anyone lingering or stuck in any present day’s situational “oh, woe is me” mode right out of it. He had one of the greatest historical perspectives of anyone I’ve known. Because of this, I consider George one of the most optimistic yet realistic people I’ve ever known. He went through a lot in CPS himself (understatement), and also with CTU (past and present). Yet, he would calmly – at almost guru-ish peace and acceptance levels – articulate clearly where that all stood along historical continuums and cycles.

This is why George had little tolerance for protest marches that chant such as: “What do we want? JUSTICE! When do we want it? NOW!” As if, right? After a while, that type of chanting activity in itself can contribute to hopelessness due to the actual unreality of it. George was more, for example in contrast, in favor of working toward exact and powerful wording on the side of workers in contract language or laws. That coupled with sustaining the need to maintain action and strength in individuals and groups working realistically (considering the historical perspective) for exactly that over the long haul.

Words of Wisdom, Second Set: “And the pharaohs never thanked us for the building the pyramids. Get over it.”

I still have to laugh out loud at this one. The 99% continues to bicker over whatever crumbs are left from the 1%, or the 1% of the 1%. Yes, we have better lives, easier lifestyles for the most part compared to times past. However, the ruling class remains on top with the rest of us underneath. George never lost sight of this historical truth. Those who aspire to be (or in delusion believe themselves to already be) one of the virtual single-digit number of actual “pharaohs” living at any time in history, or those who are their pathetic flunkies (a supply of which never runs out), lose sight of this and cannot really lead any of the 99% to much higher ground in the perpetual fight for higher ground. For our own good, those on the workers’ side of things need to weed those “leaders” out.

Words of Wisdom, Third Set: “Schmidt’s Rule.” (Read further for the actual rule.)

If you ever described something outrageous (or so you thought) to George about something experienced in CPS or with CTU, and you then asked George, “Can they do that?!” He would ask you, “What is Schmitt’s Rule?” And, after a time, you could chuckle and answer for yourself: “They can and will do whatever we allow them to.” And, of course, the “collective,” “union” power hidden within the rule, of not allowing them, cannot be missed.

To those in CTU who fought against George: I remain perplexed as to how anyone in a union could not handle having one such as George on his/her side. He was 100% pro-union, through and through. Frankly, I would propose the following calculation: To the extent that you could not handle having George on your side, that is the proportional extent to which you cannot, and for some did/do not, handle sitting on the union/workers side of any negotiating and/or bargaining tables with management across from you.

All workers have lost a great, unabashed champion with the passing of George Schmitt. I would like to conclude with the old Substance motto: “Where ignorance is the standard, intelligence is subversive. Read Substance every month and join in a subversive activity.”


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