What is debt?

What does it look like?

Do you think it is real?

Many adults are afraid of debt.
It makes them feel like they are living in a box, surrounded
by huge walls.

Their dreams are very strange and sometimes they wake up
sweating in the middle of the night.

There are so many rules inside their box, and everywhere
they look there is a wall or a test.

That’s why they act weird, or stressed out.
It can be very boring to hang out with people like this.

Since I am reading this to you, I am probably an adult.
I am issuing you an official apology if we have not told you
about the debt that is in the Chicago Public School system.

Can you see it in your school?

This stuff was invented by adults.
Some of us blame debt for why some schools have to close
or why some teachers lose their jobs.
Do you think it is real?

We need your help because we are living in a box and our
imagination does not get reception in there.

Here’s your chance to help us! You should ask us about our
dreams, because we may have dreams for the future, or we
may be having bad dreams.

To start off, here is the dream of one teacher.
She may be a teacher at your school!

Amazingly, I can feel the apple at my fingertips,
so I pull it out of the screen and take a bite out of it.

You should have tested it first.

It should be
crunchy and
sweet but it
tastes like wood
shavings and
has a texture like

I look down at the apple. I think, this isn’t right,
there must be something in here ruining it.
I turn the apple around in my hand,
trying to find something in there,
but it just falls to pieces.

I wonder again, what is making it so gross?
Then I see a little green worm with a graduation cap on.

It’s on the side of the apple.
It seems malevolent, vengeful.

What’s a malevolent?

I ruined your apple.

He’s wearing little boots
and he’s kicking the apple.
I can’t believe my eyes.
Was this in the apple all along?

Before I can get an answer,
the little green worm jumps
off of the apple and onto the
window sill, where he turns
into a leprechaun.

When he gets to Armitage he starts
running on the sidewalk towards

He knows he’s wasting these treasured coins
and he doesn’t care.

Why are coins so special?

Along the way he stops at the curb.
He grabs a handful of coins and stuffs it in
under the sewer grate.
It’s filled with leaves, so he has to force the coins in.

If I don’t have
gold coins no
one will know
that I am a

He takes some other coins that won’t fit and hides them on
a tree along the street, and under a doormat.
He even digs up soil from a potted plant on someone’s
apartment stairs and hides a coin in there.

Why would you hide something?

I’m getting rid of these coins,
covering my trail, and hiding my identity.

He’s reached the intersection of Armitage & Damen, and
he’s acting natural—trying to blend in with the crowd
even though he is a 3 feet tall leprechaun!

He holds his last coin in his fingers
and feels how smooth it is.
He takes it between his teeth and bites down on the coin
to leave his teeth marks in it.

Miserliness comes over him,
and he decides to keep this last one.

He doesn’t want to lose everything.

The leprechaun tries to disappear, so he changes form to
look like a neighbourhood dude.

I can tell it’s still him by the way he walks,
since I’ve been watching him this whole time.
But if I don’t look closely, he blends in with
the neighborhood people because he is wearing
a white t-shirt over his muscular arms.

He starts to act like he is dizzy and disoriented,
but that’s just a performance.
He stumbles around and bumps into people purposely.
After they get bumped, they get dizzy, blurry,
and their attention fades.

It’s like their light dims.

He realizes that people can’t quite see him
once they are in this loosey goosey state,
they are so distracted! He is invisible to them...
So now he can be a leprechaun in plain sight!

What’s a distraction?

He splits apart from the dude, returning to his previous
leprechaun form, and the dude with the white t-shirt and
muscles keeps walking. He follows the dude down the
street and sees him enter a restaurant. As the leprechaun
walks by, he sees the dude is on a date, and he is holding
hands with his honey.

The leprechaun smiles to himself and thinks:
“Score! Now they both will be distracted from me, and from
everything else--even the gold coins. They’ll be spending
the next few years planning their wedding.”

Yeah cuz I luv u!!

You want to get married?!

The leprechaun
walks by a man
starting up his
motorcycle. As
he passes the
man his motorcycle sputters
and dies out.

Did I do

The leprechaun does not stop to find out. The man on his
motorcycle is now crouching down at its side, looking it
over closely.
“What am I gonna do now?” He doesn’t see the leprechaun
or anything, or anyone else.
Saving up for repairs and getting it fixed will distract him for
a while.

The leprechaun makes his way back to
where he left the gold coins along
Armitage Avenue and collects them up


He begins to lay them out on the sidewalk in plain sight
where anyone could see them, but no one notices.
The leprechaun watches as people walk over the coins or
around them, not even stopping to look at their glimmering
gold or to bend down and scoop up a few precious coins.

Who has ever picked up a gold
coin from the ground, a gold coin
that a leprechaun left there?

Maybe they think it’s too good to be true?
Maybe people are just too dizzy and distracted
to see the coins at their feet?

Or maybe the leprechaun has tricked people’s
sense of abundance?

What’s abundance?

Most people in the neighborhood walk around feeling like
they don’t have enough of what they need,
so even if they do see all this gold,
they don’t grab it because they don’t believe it is real.

He and his gold coins
are like a mirage.

They either can’t see
the leprechaun and
his gold coins at all or
they can’t believe what
they’re seeing.

?egarim a s’tahW

How does a mirage work?

Is it like debt?

Where does debt exist?

Find a friend and go underneath something.
Maybe there is a portal to a different place, just for you.
When you get there, make a plan to destroy the walls that
are making the adults go crazy.

Notes for non-children:
This book advocates for children to be included in conversations about money, especially when it directly affects the adults around
them -- in school and at home. After working on this project, I realize that a child’s experience of financial struggle or austerity is
informed by their experience of adult behavior. An angry, stressed out, or distracted adult becomes the ‘norm’ -- a way of life for
the child -- if it is not discussed as a result of conditions that create the behavior. Those conditions can affect individual adults or a
whole school system (like the Chicago Public Schools) or city. Sometimes we pretend that kids don’t know what is going on in their
fiscal landscape, but we know they do. This book is an example of something that your kid can understand, though you may not be
able. Maybe they would also comprehend the complex troubles of CPS, or of your household debt, if they were given the right tools.
This exhibition and book act as a physical representation of what is going on in adults’ heads when dealing with The Crisis of the
Chicago Public Schools. Our invitation to children to enter the conversation is sincere. Many of our children were born during or
since the financial crisis of 2008, and because they were born into it, they may have some crucial tactics for surviving and thriving
within the financialization of everything as natives to these conditions.
-Cassie Thornton
Feminist Economics Department (the FED)
These other ones have a passion for telling you what they have found, and they are surprised that you want to listen, even though
they’ve been expecting you. Sometimes the story is not clear, or it starts in a whisper. It goes around again and again but listening—it
is funny every time. This knowledge has been degraded, the research rejected. They can’t get access to books, and no one will
publish them. Policy has concluded they are conspiratorial, heretical, criminal, amateur. Policy says they can’t handle debt and will
never get credit. But if you listen to them, they will tell you: we will not handle credit, and we cannot handle debt, debt flows through
us, and there’s no time to tell you everything, so much bad debt, so much to forget and remember again. But if we listen to them,
they will say, “Come, let’s plan something together.” And that’s what we’re going to do. We’re telling all of you, but we’re not telling
anyone else.
-Fred Moten and Stefano Harney
Excerpt from Debt & Study

About the authors:
Elizabeth Coughlan works at a public elementary school in Chicago. Over the past nine years in CPS
she has taught first, second, and third grades, and her current work primarily focuses on teaching
and learning math with teachers and students in grades kindergarten to eighth grade. In addition, she
works with a small group of children, teaching them basic English skills and supporting their native
Spanish literacy. Elizabeth also
coordinates the gifted program at her school and works with administrators, teachers, current families, and prospective families. Her goals are to create the best experience possible for students as
well as to promote an understanding and enthusiasm for gifted education across the school community. Ms. Coughlan loves working with students, teachers, and families and she wishes that this whole
mess with the budget crisis would just be over already.
Coughlan participated in a debt visualization with Cassie Thornton of the Feminist Economics Department (the FED). Cassie is an artist, so she doesn’t have a regular job. She is very afraid of living in a
boring world where everyone is very scared and they are all sitting alone at home and not having fun.
For this reason, she is trying to understand things like debt, money, and security and what they do to
people’s imaginations. Her work can be seen at feministeconomicsdepartment.com. She also made
this book with a lot of help from Max Haiven, her favorite person ever.
If you would like to do a debt visualization, please email cassie.thornton@gmail.com. The visualization
begins with a conversation about your experience dealing with money, sharing, and exchange. Afterwards, Thornton leads you through a hypnotic visualization where you may see these difficult or invisible experiences as an image. Thornton may make a book or sculpture out of it!
This book was produced as a part of a larger investigation supported by Gallery 400 at University of
Illinois in Chicago for an art exhibit called Precarity. Thornton’s project is meant to invite children to
see the invisible forces that they are living within.

“Thornton has plumbed the depths of the debt-wracked imagination of the survivors of the Chicago Public Schools
as it has undergone systematic financial torture. Using her signature methods, she hypnotized her subjects (teachers,
students, administrators) to find out the truth about how debt conscripts and contorts our hopes and dreams. She then
worked with children to reenact and reinterpret these visions. The result of that, this book, is a challenge for the radical
imagination for children and adults alike. It shows adults how deeply our imaginations have been poisoned, and, more
importantly, it is a call to action for children to seize the imagination and put the world right.”
-Dr. Max Haiven, author of The Radical Imagination and Cultures of Financialization
I really am not there. I have no interest in the character... Brutal and blunt but leprechaun is vague for me. But you
should give it to children. They might understand. Hopefully they will be a better audience.
-Mary, lifelong school teacher
Someone needs to help the author of this book, because clearly they have no idea how to write something that makes
sense. No bookstore would ever sell this book.
-Bookstore owner
This book is nuts. When I read it I got very dizzy and wanted to puke. But it really helped me to see what it is like to be
my kid, and it helped my daughter to understand how it feels to be an adult: boring yet scary.
If you look a leprechaun in the eye, he has to show you where the gold is. So now I understand why he is often wearing
-3rd grade student

?egarim a s’tahW