Affirmative Action Gone Awry

Harold Witkov
The Chicago teachers strike is over and  Chicago schools are back in session.  The teachers are back to teaching the proverbial  "3 Rs" and the students are back trying to learn them.  But is the teaching of the traditional 3 Rs the only thing going on at CPS (Chicago Public Schools)?

For more than 30 years, I was an educational sales representative selling textbooks and workbooks to CPS. My educational sales experiences included me working with teachers and school administrators, people who, for the most part, were, and are, overwhelmingly liberal in their thinking. Unlike most of my customers, I, on the other hand, am a conservative.

My employer, a family owned schoolbooks publisher in business since the 1930's, is now closing and I, like so many other Americans living in Obama's economy, have joined the ranks of the unemployed. Perhaps a silver lining to my unemployed status is that I can now feel free to pen some of my "personally educating moments"  while in educational sales.

Make no mistake, there are many dedicated people at CPS and, over the years, I got to meet a lot of of them.  So if you are hoping for an earth shattering exposé about systematic CPS corruption you are going to be disappointed.

Instead, my memoirs (this is the second) are a record of some of my more enlightening personal experiences with CPS and are written from my conservative perspective.  I view them to be a compilation of, to steal an educational phrase, teachable moments - and that is why I am sharing them.

There was the time...

I made a sales presentation to a social studies department head  at one of the Chicago high schools. The book I was promoting was one of my personal favorites, a paperback text on current issues. The book discussed controversial topics that included abortion, gun control, the death penalty, and affirmative action.  What I liked most about the book, a selling point I liked to talk about in my sales presentations, was that the text included "pro/con" features that were well thought out arguments depicting both sides of each issue.

During my presentation with the history department head, I turned to the pro/con feature regarding affirmative action.  Interrupting me (most one-on-one sales presentations are very informal), he told me he had an affirmative action story for me that would never be found in any school text. With an honest touch of frustration in his voice, he explained:

The administration here is really gung-ho affirmative action. The school had to place a large lumber order for thousands of dollars worth of wood for our woodshop classes. The administration was adamant that the lumber had to be ordered from an African-American owned Chicago lumberyard. The problem was there was no such thing in Chicago so they had to look elsewhere. They eventually found a black- owned lumber company in Detroit and ordered from him. He ended up charging thousands of dollars more than the local Chicago lumberyards were charging and did not even fill the order himself. Instead, he subcontracted the job to a Chicago area lumberyard.

Seeking clarification, I responded:

Are you telling me that CPS just spent thousands of dollars more than they had to with no better result than putting excess money into the hands of one individual from Detroit who, for all practical purposes, did nothing to earn it?

His answer:

Exactly.

Not long afterwards, the subject of affirmative action came up between me and another Chicago teacher. Acknowledging the good intentions of the program, I foolishly related the "lumber story" as an aside point of interest. It was then explained to me in no uncertain terms that "good programs aren't always perfect." That was the last time I ever mentioned the story again to a Chicago teacher. After all, my job was to sell school books, not to antagonize my customers.

The Chicago teachers strike is over and  Chicago schools are back in session.  The teachers are back to teaching the proverbial  "3 Rs" and the students are back trying to learn them.  But is the teaching of the traditional 3 Rs the only thing going on at CPS (Chicago Public Schools)?

For more than 30 years, I was an educational sales representative selling textbooks and workbooks to CPS. My educational sales experiences included me working with teachers and school administrators, people who, for the most part, were, and are, overwhelmingly liberal in their thinking. Unlike most of my customers, I, on the other hand, am a conservative.

My employer, a family owned schoolbooks publisher in business since the 1930's, is now closing and I, like so many other Americans living in Obama's economy, have joined the ranks of the unemployed. Perhaps a silver lining to my unemployed status is that I can now feel free to pen some of my "personally educating moments"  while in educational sales.

Make no mistake, there are many dedicated people at CPS and, over the years, I got to meet a lot of of them.  So if you are hoping for an earth shattering exposé about systematic CPS corruption you are going to be disappointed.

Instead, my memoirs (this is the second) are a record of some of my more enlightening personal experiences with CPS and are written from my conservative perspective.  I view them to be a compilation of, to steal an educational phrase, teachable moments - and that is why I am sharing them.

There was the time...

I made a sales presentation to a social studies department head  at one of the Chicago high schools. The book I was promoting was one of my personal favorites, a paperback text on current issues. The book discussed controversial topics that included abortion, gun control, the death penalty, and affirmative action.  What I liked most about the book, a selling point I liked to talk about in my sales presentations, was that the text included "pro/con" features that were well thought out arguments depicting both sides of each issue.

During my presentation with the history department head, I turned to the pro/con feature regarding affirmative action.  Interrupting me (most one-on-one sales presentations are very informal), he told me he had an affirmative action story for me that would never be found in any school text. With an honest touch of frustration in his voice, he explained:

The administration here is really gung-ho affirmative action. The school had to place a large lumber order for thousands of dollars worth of wood for our woodshop classes. The administration was adamant that the lumber had to be ordered from an African-American owned Chicago lumberyard. The problem was there was no such thing in Chicago so they had to look elsewhere. They eventually found a black- owned lumber company in Detroit and ordered from him. He ended up charging thousands of dollars more than the local Chicago lumberyards were charging and did not even fill the order himself. Instead, he subcontracted the job to a Chicago area lumberyard.

Seeking clarification, I responded:

Are you telling me that CPS just spent thousands of dollars more than they had to with no better result than putting excess money into the hands of one individual from Detroit who, for all practical purposes, did nothing to earn it?

His answer:

Exactly.

Not long afterwards, the subject of affirmative action came up between me and another Chicago teacher. Acknowledging the good intentions of the program, I foolishly related the "lumber story" as an aside point of interest. It was then explained to me in no uncertain terms that "good programs aren't always perfect." That was the last time I ever mentioned the story again to a Chicago teacher. After all, my job was to sell school books, not to antagonize my customers.