Weather Updates

CTU President jokes about Education Secretary Duncan’s lisp, her smoking pot


Updated: December 16, 2011 8:18AM

A video shows Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis pacing across a stage in front of a live audience as she cracks jokes about U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s “lisp” and her Cannabis-smoking days at Dartmouth College.

“People are impressed,” Lewis riffs. “Let me tell you, I spent those (college) years, smoking lots of weed, self-medicating, self-medicating. Thank you. Sounds like you all did, too. I’m, sorry — there are kids here. I wasn’t supposed to say that — right? Too late.”

Lewis, a former stand-up comic, was giving the keynote address at a teachers’ conference in Seattle earlier this year, the CTU confirmed Monday, but union officials blasted the release this week of the “edited clip” as the work of “right-wing, anti-public education advocates.”

“Karen Lewis has always been candid and outspoken when discussing the personalities and policies that have adversely impacted public education in our nation,” the CTU said in a written statement Monday. “The observations she made about herself and other public figures were an attempt at humor and candor before a live audience.”

The statement said the comments were being presented “out of context” in order to “shift the focus from bad public policy decisions in education to attacks on (Lewis’) character.”

The video clip appeared on the website,, by education blogger Alexander Russo. A longer version of the video is on YouTube.

Lewis can be heard on the video clip joking on a range of subjects:

On Duncan’s education at Harvard University: “Don’t be impressed ‘cause he didn’t take any science and math classes — betcha. ... He was an athlete so he might not have been self-medicating, but I wouldn’t count on it.”

On Duncan’s “lisp”: “You know he went to private school, because if he’d have gone to public school, he’d have had that lisp fixed. I know, that was ugly, wasn’t it? I’m sorry.”

On a Lewis editorial cartoon in the Chicago Tribune: “There is a vicious, nasty cartoon of me with my fat butt sitting on a little tiny chair in the corner with a dunce cap on. They made sure they darkened me up, in case people didn’t know. Had my locks, you know.”

A spokesman for Duncan said Monday that the education secretary has spoken to Lewis and that she has apologized for her remarks about him.

“She apologized, he accepted it, and he’s moving forward,” said the spokesman, Peter Cunningham.

The controversial video release comes as CTU launches a campaign to shrink class sizes and change the state law that, among other things, prohibits the union from bargaining over that issue.

“Despite the fact that research shows that smaller class sizes improves the education children get, Chicago’s class sizes are unconscionably large,” Lewis said in a written statement Monday.

“Teachers, education experts and parents agree — we need smaller class sizes. Our teachers, who spend every day educating our kids, plan to mount a campaign to force the unaccountable school board to grapple with this issue.”

© 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. For more information about reprints and permissions, visit To order a reprint of this article, click here.