Karen Fraid: Unafraid to tell the truth about school "reform" | Bleader

Karen Fraid: Unafraid to tell the truth about school "reform"


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  • Courtesy Rogers Elementary School
About the only good thing to say about living in the Orwellian universe of Chicago, where Mayor Emanuel says he's saving public schools by destroying them, is that it inspires some pretty clever opposition.

In fact, inspiring and enraging the locals may be the mayor's greatest achievement. So take a bow, Mayor E.!

The latest inspired opponent is Karen M. Fraid, whose biting satire focuses on the policies and buzz words of school "reformers" in general, and Mayor Emanuel in particular.

The blog's called That Way Madness Lies—which, as we all know, is a quote from Shakespeare. King Lear, to be specific.

Actually, I did not realize the quote's from Lear until Fraid pointed it out to me. So, Mayor Emanuel, you can be excused for not knowing it either. But you still can't be excused for thinking that Bobby Hull is not alive.

Fraid's the 32-year-old mother of three children who attend Rogers Elementary, on the far north side.

Mayor Emanuel recently cut that school's budget by $418,000, which will probably force the principal to fire two teachers and undoubtedly raise class size in an already overcrowded school.

I say probably because my bet is that Mayor Emanuel will magically find a magic pot of money to offset his latest cuts, if parents agree to look the other way and not protest as he spends $55 million in property taxes to build a new basketball arena for DePaul and a hotel.

So in exchange for restoring cuts to their already underfunded schools, Chicago's parents are expected to remain silent as the City Council votes to take roughly $28 million or so from those same schools.

Don't fall for it, parents!

Anyway, Fraid's one of those mad-as-hell types who's got lots to say about lots of things. So about a year ago, she created her blog.

Karen Fraid
  • Twitter.com
  • Karen Fraid
"I'm a total geek," she says. "I read anything. Then I want to talk about it or write about it. So I started the blog. My office is my kitchen table. I carry a pen and a notepad wherever I go. I try to be humorous about things. But at the moment, I'm having a terrible time coming up with funny stuff. 'Cause the stuff they're doing to the schools is not funny."

Ironically, the bits that made her name come from her bitterly funny glossary of school terms. Like . . .

"Accountability (noun): The act of holding children responsible for choosing to be born into the wrong families or in the wrong geographic locations. Alternately, the act of penalizing teachers who do not advise at-risk students to quit school quickly and avoid wasting everyone's time and money."


"Incentive (noun): A bribe which is usually shortsighted and results in significant negative consequences that overshadow any gains; this does not matter, however, since those responsible will already have left town."


"Longer School Day (noun): (Synonyms include Full School Day, Expanded Learning Time, Extended Day.) An arbitrarily chosen length of time that adults with no knowledge of child development think that children need to spend in school in order to prepare them to accept the drudgery of eight-plus hour shifts in cubicles or at fast food cash registers."

And so on.

About a month ago, Valerie Strauss, education writer for the Washington Post, ran excerpts from Fraid's blog in a post that's drawn national attention.

The mayor's latest round of budget cuts has given Fraid more fodder.

"Flexible Budgeting (noun): a policy implemented by Broadies who want to pass the buck to principals in regards to budget cuts. Flexible budgeting allows principals to pick the reason now for their inevitable reprimand or termination at the end of the fiscal year. For example, a principal could choose to be fired for having a messy and dangerous school because they had to fire the janitor."