Chicago City Council passes resolution honoring the life and memory of George N. Schmidt

WHEREAS, The members of this chamber were saddened to learn of the death on Sept. 17, 2018, at age 71, of George Neil Schmidt, a Chicago teacher, journalist and union leader who fought tirelessly to improve the lives of many thousands of Chicagoans; and

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Ald. John Arena (45) during the City Council meeting on Jan. 23, 2019.

WHEREAS, George N. Schmidt, served the people of this city for more than 50 years since his arrival as a first-generation, scholarship student at the University of Chicago in 1966. A conscientious objector to the Vietnam War, he began his life of service by organizing soldiers within the GI Movement, producing underground newspapers Vietnam GI and Camp News, and counseling soldiers in military law, which he studied at DePaul University. Over the next five decades, he tirelessly worked for civil rights, workers’ rights, and for quality education for the students of Chicago, particularly those suffering from poverty and racism; and

WHEREAS, George N. Schmidt was a brilliant English teacher, who chose to work with the neediest students in Chicago, eschewing scripted lessons for dynamic instruction ensuring that all his students could appreciate and understand literature. As a prolific writer himself, published in Substance, Chicago Lawyer and Chicago Reader, and in national periodicals Learning and Education Week, he taught writing with expertise, pioneering the use of Macintosh computers in the classroom and featured by Apple for his innovative teaching. A recipient of local and national awards for teaching and writing about classroom teaching, he also coached students in weight lifting and advised them in scholastic journalism; and WHEREAS, George N. Schmidt knew that unions are essential for working class people to ensure their rights and obtain economic justice, he empowered his colleagues in the schools through his work in the Chicago Teachers Union as representative and leader, working for fair pay and decent working conditions for union members through enforcement of the contract. In addition to his work as a teacher serving as school union delegate and executive board member, he was employed by the Service Employee International Union Local 73 as a researcher and CTU as director of researcher, director of school safety, and consultant. As a retiree, he remained active in the union as representative to other retirees and as a delegate to the American Federation of Teachers conventions, while continuing to mentor active teacher union members; and

Following the reading of the resolution Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35) praised George’s service to Chicago.

WHEREAS, George N. Schmidt dedicated his life to improving schools and unions in Chicago, by teaching and union organizing, as well as by publishing a print newspaper and online news service to force transparency and hold accountable those in power, as well as tell the real stories of those on the front lines, particularly those in poor and segregated neighborhoods of Chicago. He was the editor of Substance, an independent newspaper in Chicago covering public education that he helped found in 1975. In Substance, George Schmidt broke the story of a Chicago public schools principal who was sexually abusing students, later convicted and sent to prison. He analyzed budgets and reported stories of waste and financial mismanagement. He reported on large-scale pedagogical atrocities, such as the misuse of standardized tests, which unfairly labeled students and schools and narrowed the curriculum. He regularly exposed harmful policies of privatization and racial segregation in the Chicago school system. Substance was in print until 2014, now remains online at; and

WHEREAS, as an expert in Chicago schools and unions, George N. Schmidt was read by thousands of Substance subscribers as well as by news consumers of other local media, such as the Reader, WTTW Chicago Tonight, Labor Beat and the Chicago Newsroom, which sought his commentary. His analysis was valued nationally, and he presented at conferences across the country at the American Educational Research Association, the National Save Our Schools Conference and March on Washington, and the Rogue Forum, among others. He received the University of Arizona’s In Defense of Good Teaching award and was honored by the civil rights group MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund); and

WHEREAS, after George N. Schmidt incorporated Substance in the 1990s, he joined the Portage Park Chamber of Commerce. An ardent believer in the potential of democracy, George worked within a wide variety of existing organizations, from the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) in the late 1960s, the anti-racism group Sojourner Truth in the 1970s, and served on the Illinois Board of Directors of the ACLU and as a teacher representative in the first of Chicago’s local school councils in the 1980s and 1990s. When organizations were not adequately serving those concerned, he started new groups and caucuses to push change in existing leadership; and WHEREAS, George N. Schmidt was an active father, joyfully involved in his three sons’ baseball at Portage Park and their education, serving regularly as Parent of the Day at the Christian Parents Co-op nursery school, and advocating for his sons and their Chicago public schools – Beaubian and O. A. Thorp elementary schools and Whitney Young M. Magnet High School. He worked with his sons and their teachers and administrators for freedom from excessive standardized testing and fully-supported academic and athletic programs. He treasured his family and taught his sons well, modeling using one’s own gifts to empower others and fearlessly seeking and sharing the truth; and

WHEREAS, George Schmidt is survived by his beloved wife, Sharon; his sons Daniel, Samuel, and Joshua, and countless friends; now, therefore, Be It Resolved, That we, the Mayor and members of the City Council of the City of Chicago, assembled this 26th day of January 2019, do hereby honor the life and memory of George N. Schmidt; and

Be It Further Resolved, That suitable copies of this resolution be presented to the family of George N. Schmidt as a token of our sympathy and esteem.

Susan Sadlowski Garza, then alderwoman of the 10th Ward (right) with John Arena, then alderman of the 45th, and Sharon Schmidt, also honored George Schmidt at the City Council meeting with her comments following the reading of the resolution.


January 24, 2019 at 12:34 AM

By: Kim Scipes

Honoring George Schmidt

Thank you, Alderman Arena, for presenting and passing this tribute to George: he deserved it.

Have I missed something?--I can't remember seeing anything from CORE celebrating George's life. As folks know, George was a founder and strong member of CORE. It would be very ironic--to say the least--if the Chicago City Council honored George, but CORE did not.

January 24, 2019 at 6:12 AM

By: Sharon Schmidt

Hard CORE Award

CORE gave George the Hard CORE Award at an event on Dec. 7, 2018. The certificate states: "In recognition of your dedication, passion, and hard work."

I'm sorry I didn't report it in Substance. I felt so much anger toward so many in CORE, as there was a group in CORE that tried and failed, of course, to orchestrate his removal from CORE last February after he had reported on various nefarious practices of the CORE/CTU leadership.

When I went to that event in December, in which many honors to many CORE members were presented, I just felt annoyed with so many people there and didn't care about publicizing this thing. However, there was a group of people, who attended George's Hard Core sessions and many who defended him from that crazy attempt to purge him, that I do appreciate so much. Thanks for reminding me.

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