From the Halls of Chicago Schools: Memoirs of a Textbook Salesman

Harold Witkov
Hooray!  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 1930s, 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.

Consider but one  memoir of a textbook salesman.

Make no mistake: there are many great people at CPS, and over the years, I got to meet many 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 are a record of some of my more enlightening personal experiences with CPS and are written from my conservative perspective.  I view them as 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 group of Chicago high school history teachers.  They were attending a social science curriculum meeting, and I was allotted a few minutes at the beginning of the meeting to talk about the benefits to be found within my history textbook product line.  The meeting was run by a former history teacher who was now a CPS administrator.  He was a man I respected and had known for a number of years .

After my presentation, he told me I was welcome to stay around for the rest of the meeting, that perhaps some teachers would want to speak to me at length once the meeting was over.  I gladly took him up on his offer. 

The meeting covered many curricular areas and was not particularly of interest to me...but then the discussion turned to "movies to show in your history classroom."  The CPS administrator spoke:

As history teachers, it is important to help students understand the horrors of war so that they will understand that war needs to be avoided at all costs.  As far as I am concerned, if ever there was a most important movie for my United States History class, it was Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan.  I say this because there is nothing more vile than war.  War kills people and shatters lives.  There is nothing glorious about warfare and the shedding of blood, and there is no movie that better demonstrates, up close in a realistic way, the horrors of war than does Saving Private Ryan.

The meeting changed topic and continued for another fifteen minutes.  After the meeting, a few teachers went up to the administrator with assorted questions and comments.  Waiting for them to leave, I approached him with a comment I had been formulating since he had made his Saving Private Ryan recommendation.  I began:

I thought you made a real good point about how Saving Private Ryan realistically demonstrates the horrors of war and therefore helps students to see that war, when possible, is best avoided.  But I was thinking, perhaps, for the sake of balance, it would be a good idea to also show your students Stanley Kramer's Judgment at Nuremberg. I say this because, in my opinion, Judgment at Nuremberg is a testament that evil really exists in the world.  Kramer's movie shows that sometimes governments and ideologies pose a real threat to both the citizens of their own countries and the citizens of their neighbors.  I think the movie Judgment at Nuremberg shows that some wars, despite their savagery, need to be fought.

The CPS administrator listened attentively and said I had a good point.  I do not know if he ever took my suggestion into his next presentation.

Hooray!  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 1930s, 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.

Consider but one  memoir of a textbook salesman.

Make no mistake: there are many great people at CPS, and over the years, I got to meet many 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 are a record of some of my more enlightening personal experiences with CPS and are written from my conservative perspective.  I view them as 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 group of Chicago high school history teachers.  They were attending a social science curriculum meeting, and I was allotted a few minutes at the beginning of the meeting to talk about the benefits to be found within my history textbook product line.  The meeting was run by a former history teacher who was now a CPS administrator.  He was a man I respected and had known for a number of years .

After my presentation, he told me I was welcome to stay around for the rest of the meeting, that perhaps some teachers would want to speak to me at length once the meeting was over.  I gladly took him up on his offer. 

The meeting covered many curricular areas and was not particularly of interest to me...but then the discussion turned to "movies to show in your history classroom."  The CPS administrator spoke:

As history teachers, it is important to help students understand the horrors of war so that they will understand that war needs to be avoided at all costs.  As far as I am concerned, if ever there was a most important movie for my United States History class, it was Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan.  I say this because there is nothing more vile than war.  War kills people and shatters lives.  There is nothing glorious about warfare and the shedding of blood, and there is no movie that better demonstrates, up close in a realistic way, the horrors of war than does Saving Private Ryan.

The meeting changed topic and continued for another fifteen minutes.  After the meeting, a few teachers went up to the administrator with assorted questions and comments.  Waiting for them to leave, I approached him with a comment I had been formulating since he had made his Saving Private Ryan recommendation.  I began:

I thought you made a real good point about how Saving Private Ryan realistically demonstrates the horrors of war and therefore helps students to see that war, when possible, is best avoided.  But I was thinking, perhaps, for the sake of balance, it would be a good idea to also show your students Stanley Kramer's Judgment at Nuremberg. I say this because, in my opinion, Judgment at Nuremberg is a testament that evil really exists in the world.  Kramer's movie shows that sometimes governments and ideologies pose a real threat to both the citizens of their own countries and the citizens of their neighbors.  I think the movie Judgment at Nuremberg shows that some wars, despite their savagery, need to be fought.

The CPS administrator listened attentively and said I had a good point.  I do not know if he ever took my suggestion into his next presentation.