Educational Justice with Bill Ayers, Mark Warren and Brandon Johnson

Activist and education scholar, Bill Ayers, talks with Mark Warren and Brandon Johnson about the book “Lift Us Up, Don’t Push Us Out!”, a collection of stories of the Educational Justice Movement. This is a fight by parents, young people, community organizers, and educators against systemic racism in schools across the country. Find the book at

Recorded at 57th Street Books, Chicago, on Sept 25, 2018
0:00 – About the book and author, Mark Warren.

1:05 – Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) and Social Justice Unionism.

3:11 – Mark Warren on his own history as an organizer and how he came to this book.

12:36 – Brandon Johnson on his background as a teacher and organizer.

13:35 – There are two different school systems in Chicago, wealthy schools and the rest.

15:30 – Public accommodation by the state needed to exist for his family to survive.

17:30 – Critique of “big government” as an existential issue for black people.

18:40 – Unions are necessary for our neighborhoods.

20:54 – Johnson on why he became a teacher, collective voices as a set up to inquiry.
Schools are set up for black students to answer questions, but not to ask questions.

23:00 – Johnson: story about buying a house, and needing government programs. What is the future for the less fortunate, if we don’t demand more of our schools, as well as more from the unions and people who work there.

24:20 – Bill Ayers on Arne Duncan’s book, Education as a product vs a right

27:40 – Johnson: Remembering Rahm’s first year, and the CTU creating coalitions in the communities.

30:40 – Johnson on how the CTU was moved by the other organizations with whom it teamed up.

31:35 – Johnson – Dividing the labor movement by race.

33:20 – Ayers explaining the breadth of the WVa teachers strike, and the strength of the coalition.

35:09 Audience Question: How can we move conservatives to the left?

35:36 – Warren responds: how class transcends race.

37:11 – Warren on Poverty, pain, and police stations in schools.

38:18 – Warren on on the ridiculousness of narrow, small-bore “solutions”, and never getting to the real issue, which is poverty.

38:45 – Ayers: Both Liberals and Conservatives have been undermining education for years.

39:50 – Ayers: Our job is to talk to strangers. We are in the majority, and we need to reach across to those who disagree with us.

41:00 – Johnson: Range of ideas in a union as big as CTU. All members are organizers within the union.

41:40 – Johnson tells story of different views members had of the Laquan McDonald case, but that doesn’t change the real meaning of the case. Different views can become challenged.

44:00 There needs to be more black teachers, but that doesn’t mean they all relate every black student.

44:52 – Challenging the thinking of others is the best thing we can do now.

45:43 – Audience Question: Does your personal philosophy conflict with your job as a teacher?

46:30 – Johnson – Black students who do well and attend selective schools can leave a shaming effect on their peers who do less well.

49:10 – Johnson: his students challenged him to do more than teaching, so he became an organizer, so he can push harder on the structures of power.

50:00 Ayers: balancing the job with the times that you are your own.

51:12 – Warren shares an essay from the book, a student’s perspective.

55:08 – keeping your sight trained on your goals. CTU vision: “The Schools that All Children Deserve”

57:45 – Johnson: Working with allies with diverse views, and adding breadth to the movement. His believe in Open Bargaining.

1:00:00 – Johnson – We accuse the state of a crime, and then ask the state to prosecute the crime.

1:50:00 – Audience Question: Considering gender in this discussion, and asking about creating a community where families feel connected to each other. Sustainable Community Schools.

1:02:00 – Warren on some practical reality of organizing. It’s more than mobilizing but also relationships. It’s not easy, and needs to be valued more.

1:04:28 – Ayers on the leadership of the CTU and the higher level vision and the ground level organizing going on.

1:05:38 – Johnson: Organizing is hard, but sometimes you land a punch. Elected school board.