Sunday, December 10, 2017

Englewood School Closings

Chicago Public Schools: A New Round of School Closings

By Ed Hershey

Thursday, November 30th, Chicago Public Schools announced its intention to close all four neighborhood high schools in the Englewood Neighborhood: Harper, TEAM Englewood, Hope, and Robeson. Englewood is a poor, black, working class neighborhood on the city’s South Side.

As a “sweetener” on the deal, the Board promises to spend $85 million to build a new high school on Robeson’s grounds. But they do not plan to make it a neighborhood school – it will be a selective enrollment magnet, which will take only 35% of its students from the neighborhood. Moreover, the new school will only enroll 9th graders when it opens, while the current schools will close next year. That means the current students will be left out in the cold: they are being told to enroll at neighborhood schools that are two or more miles away. Many of these students attend their neighborhood school now because they have difficulty getting to a school further away. For these students, CPS’s “plan” amounts to denying them any education at all. The students themselves note, with bitterness, that the district is happy to spend $85 million to build a new building, but won’t put that money into the current schools. 

The school board says these schools are underenrolled – that is true. Each of these buildings now enrolls 200 or fewer students. And it is also true that population in the neighborhood is dropping. But the Board is responsible! From 2006 to 2018, the total number of high school students in the neighborhood dropped from 3800 to about 3000. But over those same years, 2,500 students from Englewood started attending the seven new charter schools that opened in the neighborhood. Instead of investing in schools that needed the support, CPS opened privately run charter schools to take money and students out of the neighborhood high schools, which were left with the students the charters refused to take.

Harper High school has been repeatedly attacked: it was “reconstituted” in 1999, then “turned-around” in 2008, where all the teaching and support staff were fired. Student enrollment dropped 25% the next year – no surprise there, many students did not feel comfortable around the unfamiliar new adults. Englewood High School was closed in 2007, then re-opened as a new “small” school.   

Hope College Prep and TEAM Englewood’s buildings are “co-locations”, that is, the buildings also house a charter school. Those privately run charters will now be able to take over the whole building. The school board is also proposing to allow a new charter school to “co-locate” inside Hirsch High School – a move that will clearly lead in to that public school being shut down as well. 

This plan shows CPS – and the Chicago ruling class’s priorities on education. They continue to attack and steal from the students who have the least and need the most. The plan will drive more families from the neighborhood.  Harper students staged a sit-in the day after CPS’s announcement. Students and others from the school communities spoke out at the Board meeting the following week.  

Saturday, December 9, 2017

New Head, Don't be Fooled

CPS Announces Yet Another New Chief 
By Jim Vail

Yet another CPS chief goes down in flames, this one Forrest Claypool who lied and was embarrassed enough by the inspector general to resign from office.

Now we have Janice Jackson, a former teacher and principal who served as the education director at CPS.

Whoever heads the public schools doesn't mean a hill of beans. What matters is who runs the show from the top - the business titans who are hell bent on destroying the public schools and driving the poor - whatever color they may be - out of the city to make room for the wealthy class.

The mainstream media backs the decisions of the ruling class.

Just look at our so-called liberal media radio outlet NPR - WBEZ. They quoted Educators in Excellence in their article on Claypool's resignation, saying they are happy with the appointment of Jackson.

How is Educators in Excellence a representative of teachers? They're not - in fact they're merely a front group set up by the same money that brought us Stand for Children, set up to whack the Teachers Union and destroy our pensions and benefits.

WTTW-Channel 11 - another so-called liberal media outlet on TV can be equally nasty. They are reporting that the CTU's decision to merge charter school teachers into the Chicago Teachers Union means the CTU is no longer anti-charter school. We now love the very entity set out to destroy us.

Perhaps the film to watch this holiday season and put the perspective in the right place is Darkest Hour about British Prime Minister Churchill, who's passion and leadership helped lead the fight to stop Hitler and not surrender. It is possible to win, but you need to first fight.

Churchill did not make deals with the enemy - which the unions and all political reps do every day to sell out the people, just like some British politicians were willing to do with Hitler.

What Churchill said almost 70 years ago should be rallying call for defenders of the people here:

"If this long island story of ours is to end at last, let it end only when each one of us lies choking in his own blood upon the ground."

That's the choice we have to save public education. Make deals and soon we'll be giving the Nazi salute because we 'voted' them in.

Friday, December 1, 2017

By Stephen Wilson

Second City Teacher interviewed a Greek history teacher Photini Danon,
who has recently visited Moscow for the first time. I asked her about her
first impressions, on why she had yearned to visit Moscow , the dire plight
of both the Greeks and refugees as well as belief in God. What emerged
was a sharply vivid impression that the Greeks , like the Turks and Italians,
were taking the brunt of the refugee crisis just at the worst of times when
she herself has been afflicted by a deepening crisis.

This turned out to be a difficult interview to carry out. I got completely
lost and by some bizarre logic ended up boarding the wrong bus which
went in the wrong direction. The bus took me back to the destination I
had set out from. I had gone round in circles. After asking about 12
friendly and helpful locals , I found the address.
Second City Teacher
Have you been to Moscow before ?
No, this is my first time . I have always wanted to visit Russia because I 'm interested in
the revolution and wanted to see how the people in an ex-communist country were
getting on. I like the people. They are very friendly, kind and hospitable.
Second City Teacher
Will you come again ?
Yes, why not ? I did not have enough time to find out many things I wanted to know.
Anna a Russian English teacher interrupts
We will be waiting for you.
Second City Teacher
What is your main impression of Moscow ?
I'm impressed by how huge Moscow is . I never imagined it would be that big ! I was
also struck by how people think differently about politics than the Greeks. The Russians
try not to think and deal with many political issues. They are not interested in politics
and are not used to talking about it. My own people are very concerned about the
politics of Greece and will protest and go on demonstrations because Greece has
experienced such a deep crisis which has affected everyone. We have a different
perception of what communism entails . I met many people in Russia who told me
they were victims of communism and their families had been persecuted and
repressed by the communists . In Greece, it was the opposite . After losing the
civil war the communists were being persecuted. They were imprisoned , tortured and
shot. Many were forced to flee Greece to go to communist countries. For example,
during the civil war one of my grandfathers was imprisoned, tortured and then
executed. Another grandfather escaped from prison and was hidden by his fellow

So we can't say communism is the same for everyone.
Second City Teacher
How do present day Greeks deal with the tragedy of the Greek Civil war of 1946 -1949?
I heard that even before the Second world war ended that on December 3rd 1944 , the
British army which occupied Athens fired and killed 28 unarmed civilians who were
mostly young boys and girls peacefully demonstrating. They also released and used
Fascist collaborators to crush a Greek uprising that they themselves had provoked !
{editor's note. an estimated 100,000 Greeks were killed, 40,000 placed in concentration
camps, 5000 executed and 100,000 forced to flee the country. }
We call this period of history the White terror or in Greek 'Dekemuriana'. In this war many
Greeks were killed by ex-Nazis and collaborators supported by the British . Some people
say forget this as it will open up old wounds. The political party 'New Democracy' says:
'Let us not talk about this traumatic period. Don't do such research ? Leave it alone !
Don't bring up those issues. They don't want to talk about this.
Second City Teacher
What is your view on the current political situation in Greece ?
I will never vote for Syriza again. I have lost hope and don't see much in the future . For
the past 5 years it has been very difficult for Greece and I went on many demonstrations
because I had to express my desperation . The taxation system in Greece is unfair and
poor people are forced to pay for the bankers. Taxation does not benefit ordinary Greeks
but the banks. Both Greeks and Russians have problems with violent capitalism as the
rich get richer and the poor get poorer. In western European though Marxism has been
a liberating and progressive power which made capitalism more humane. The fear
of the Russian revolution spreading to Europe forced Western governments to introduce
reforms such as better medical care and education to help the poor .{Britain gave
women the vote shortly after the revolution and the welfare state was introduced in 1945}
In Russia, things did not work that way. In Russia they established social care without
personal freedom and freedom of speech. If I were Russian, I would try and keep the
good things about the revolution but attempt to find freedom of speech and human rights.
They should not repress gay people !
Second City Teacher
What do you think about the great refugee problem which has engulfed Europe?
Many Greeks have become hardened and cold to the suffering they see around
them. I mean they have seen dead babies washed up on the shore and refugees
are all around them. We are a country which is very poor and are now forced to
take up this. The European Union has not expressed solidarity in helping refugees
but when it comes to a common currency it is a different question.

I have already given away half my clothes and a lot of food to refugees and so
have many people, but it is not enough to help them because there are so many
refugees arriving every day. This has led to the growth of the Far right who don't
want to hep refugees . As far as they are concerned the refugees could drown
for all they care. I help a poor woman refugee from Afghanistan. I don't give her
money but food because I feel some men might be taking advantage of her. She
told me if she returns to Afghanistan the Taliban will kill her. And Pakistan does
not recognize refugees from Afghanistan and deports them back.
Second City Teacher
And how is the teaching ?
At the moment I'm teaching mainly history to school children. I still give lectures
at the university because they don't have many specialists in Elizabethan history
in England. I prefer to teach at university but have no choice but to teach all
kinds of history.
Second City Teacher
Do you believe in God?
Well, it is difficult to believe in a God which does not intervene to stop such
suffering we see around us when babies drown in the sea. Let us say that
I'm an agnostic rather than an atheist. If the Orthodox church opens
soup kitchens to help refugees it should not be for show but from the heart.


Saturday, November 18, 2017

Russian Revolution

By Stephen Wilson

The 100th centenary of the Russian revolution has
neither been officially commemorated ,condoned
or condemned. Instead of red banned parades,
the emphasis has been put on the 76th
anniversary of the 1941 military parade on Red
square where Stalin gave a stirring speech to
soldiers sent off to the front to help win the Battle
of Moscow. Reenactment parades involving as
many as 5000 military men and women were
performed. In deed, a few billboards promoted
the event depicting a young child giving flowers to
an old war veteran. Being comparatively
uncontroversial , the events of the Great Patriotic
War have overshadowed and displaced the
events of the Russian revolution. Other more
widespread billboards show a letter of the last
tsar expressing his love to his wife. The letter is
attempt to defend the tsar's reputation against a
bizarre dispute surrounding the recent film
Matilda which dramatizes the tsar's affair with
a ballet dancer.
Memories of the Russian revolution still polarise
and divide Russia. What might astonish outsiders
is how much support the revolution still retains
despite overwhelming evidence from the archives
and endless eyewitness accounts of mass
atrocities. The proponents of the revolution claim
without the revolution Russia would not have
emerged as a great Industrial society, would
never have established a free medical and
educational system and attained massive
literacy. The Russian revolution put the first
man into space. Lenin was a great sponsor of
Russian rocket science.
However, many Russians I spoke to thought that
the Russian revolution was a disaster. An
estimated half a million were killed in 3 years
following the initial period of the Red terror and
9 million died in the civil war from a combination
of typhus , starvation, and drought. It is not
surprising that when a Dutch teacher on an
exchange visit to a Russian school stated
he wanted to discuss the revolution most Russian
teachers did not want to speak about those
events. They regarded it as a huge disaster !
It is worth citing a 2016 survey from the All
Russian study of Adult Opinions. When
respondents were asked : 'Do you agree that
the Russian revolution expressed the will of
people throughout the Russian empire : 45%
agreed , 43 % disagreed and 12% stated it
was difficult to say. This may indicate sharp
differences in the opinions of Russians.When
respondents were asked : "What were the main
causes which led to the Russian revolution ?"
45 % stated difficult conditions of the people,
20% a weak government and 12 % a conspiracy.
It is striking to note that a lot of Russians still
blame the west for causing the Russian revolution
and not themselves. A common belief is that the
Germans sponsored and aided Lenin's seizure of
It is often forgotten that even the Bolsheviks
themselves never referred to the events of
the takeover as a revolution but an uprising or
perevorot. I asked Alexei Aleshin , a chief editor
what he thought of this uprising. He stated :
'It was unavoidable. This is because the
monarchy had lost any power base within and
had no mechanism for exercising control. The
Bolsheviks took control because they were very
crafty and outwitted everyone else. But they were
also the most ruthless and in those times using
the strong rod proved the most effective. Many
Russians don't know much about those events
because they were brainwashed by state
propaganda. I would say that Russians who fled
abroad from the revolution are more aware of
what happened than local people. We are still
arguing about what actually happened ".
I asked an artist Natalia Miroshnik what she
thought about the revolution .She succinctly
declared : 'It was terrible ! I blame the
intelligentsia. They have all those impractical
ideas and to put them into practice. I think
that before the revolution things were better
because even though you had a hierarchy people
had more chance of earning a living or not being
starved. I painted the portrait of an old blind man
who told me that he was much better off before
the revolution. Everybody in his home town
were treated kindly by the baron . When the
baron was made homeless by the revolution
all the local people would secretly help him.
Lenin made a revolution because he could not
forgive the tsar for executing his older brother.
He wanted revenge !
It would be a grave mistake if people tried to
bury Lenin. It would provoke a civil war. I think
we should let sleeping dogs lie".
One of the legacies of the uprising is that events
have left most Russians with a distaste for
revolutions or in deed profound changes. A
survey found that 92% of Russians don't see
the need for a revolution while only 5% would
welcome one.


Sunday, November 5, 2017

Russian Repression

By Stephen Wilson
Russians would rather forget the revolution
The weather was dismal. Relentlessly and remorse
-lessly raining for 3 days without end. No reprieve
was in sight and I noticed more students coughing
and teachers taking sick leave requiring me to act
as a substitute. "When will this rotten rain cease?"'
I asked myself. Halloween was imminent and the
engulfing and encircling impenetrable darkness
rendering everything vague seemed fitting . I was
asked about Halloween but my mind was more
focused on commemorating ; 'The Day of the
Victims of Repression ' held every 30th October.
On this very day I found myself rushing off
to another student through the old First World
War Memorial park within the vicinity of a church
next to the metro station of Sokol.
As I cut through the park I noticed a candle-lit
ceremony where Russians were all queuing up
to take turns in reading out the details of victims
of the repression. Each person would read out the
name, profession , age and last residence of the
victim and then say a prayer for them. It reminded
me of an Orthodox Litany for the Dead. Then it
dawned on me it actually was. I noticed one young
woman read out the details of her great
grandfather. She also read out : "Mutinv Vladimir
Ivanovich , aged 42 , Director of State Bolshoi
Theatre , shot on the 26th November 1937."

This ceremony, held in pitch darkness, sounded
more chilling than any ghosts or phantoms from
Halloween. I recall a Russian joking to me :
"Ghosts would be too scared to haunt Russia ! "
My curiosity caught the attention of a kindly
woman called Margarita who explained what was
going on. " We are hear to remember the victims
of the repression so that it does not happen again
and to teach people about how terrible this was."
I asked her : " Aren't you afraid that this can
happen again? " Margarita retorted : " No we are
not afraid of anyone and we will continue to try
and make people aware of this tragedy. A lot of
Russians are unaware of their own history so our
job is to teach and remind them". She handed me
a badge from her Orthodox Brotherhood and
insisted that I too , should join in the ceremony by
reading out the names of the victims of the
ceremony. While waiting in the queue I
encountered a young woman who informed me
her husband's great grandfather had been a victim
of the repression and : "He had great difficulty
getting access to the archives which explained his
fate." The group were handing out leaflets stating:
'Millions of our innocent citizens perished in the
years of Soviet terror. This tragedy touched every
family. We ask you to light a candle in memory of
the victims of the repressed '.

According to some sources , as many as 700,000
victims were shot over the two years 1936 -1937.
However, the years of repression can't be confined
to those years and began in 1918 . According to
one historian Lucia Lyagushkina as many as
250,000 people were arrested on charges of
espionage. The absurdity of those allegations
comes across when you examine the archives
claiming this cleaner or teacher was a Japanese
spy or a Russian English teacher was working for
the British. Lucy claims that as many as 12
million people were victims of the repression.

Although a new memorial was opened in Moscow
where President Putin made a speech condemning
the repression, the recently poisoned atmosphere
suggests a return to some form of increased
repression is no longer a remote or distant
perspective. For instance, why is Memorial been
labelled : 'A Foreign Agent '? Why have directors
of the theater been put under house arrest ? Why
are opposition leaders constantly demonized and
attacked by thugs ? Why is a historian still in prison
on trumped up charges ? If the state really felt
sorrow for the victims of repression they would
release Yuri Dmitriev who has done so much to
recover and give a proper burial to the victims of
repression. Yet he still languishes in prison a year
after his arrest ! There has been almost silence
in Russia over his case.

An indication of the rising paranoiac atmosphere
in Moscow was indicated by a neighbor who
accused me of "Being an American agent" just

for speaking over the phone in English.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Russia Expelling Protesting Students

By Stephen Wilson 

MOSCOW --  "The Headmaster asked me to voluntary leave the school. For me this was incomprehensible as I my academic performance was okay so I wondered why I was being kicked out. ... During the last term I got a two for Algebra but earlier my knowledge was sufficient to a take part in the Maths Olympiad competitions.For the whole year
I received a two. My transfer to another school had to be carried out by the 30-31st of August but I had no time to complete the documents, " declared 11th year school student Mikhail Samin , a former student of school number 1329. 

The student had attended a massive protest against corruption held on 26th March . The student, who was carrying a placard with the words : 'Dimon, we are waiting for an answer' , was arrested and charged with attending an 'unsanctioned rally. ' It turns out that the headmaster of his school was an active member of the establishment party 'United Russia '. He did not take kindly to Mikhail's political views . 

However, Mikhail Samin is not alone. There exist numerous examples of how school students who attended demonstrations have been unfairly penalized with low marks, expulsions and in some cases threatened with being sent into the army. The Russian government were taken aback by the huge number of school children who had been attending opposition demonstrations. Instead of asking the logic question ; 'Why do so many young people feel increasingly alienated ? ' they resorted to the old question : 'Who is to blame ? ' as if the very act of disagreeing with the government represents a crime and that children don't have a right to an opinion. Some ministers even went so far as to propose fining parents of the children.

The young people who attend those marches are treated in a condescending and patronizing way by officials who sneer at them not having minds of their own and being misled by the Piped piper Navalny. This is despite the fact that many of the children are critical of Navalny and don't always support him.

In another case , a student of Oil stone machine construction college Almaza Imamov was threatened with expulsion for going to a meeting on the 26th March . For 6 months after going on this demonstration the authorities met him 4 times to persuade him to give up his political opinions. This only incensed him and he stated : " We live in a country where the existing power don't allow us to express our views.In the past people were shot for this'.

He was told by the college authorities : " If you participate in such demonstrations it means you are against us. We don't need such students. "

A student of Kalingrad Baltic Federal University Kant , Oleg Alekseev , has already been expelled for attending a rally on the Day of Russia. He was informed that he had been expelled from the University for 'contempt of the Law and court'. Kant , the German philosopher whom the university is named after , would be turning in his grave. After all , Kant did appeal to students to : 'Dare to use your own reason'.

It is not difficult to see why many young students are going to protest rallies. One of the obvious reasons is that they want to see their own government observing rather than cynically violating the constitution. School students actually have to learn by heart some of the articles in the Russian constitution through a school subject called 'Social Knowledge'. Now some students might actually take this subject literally . After all the constitution states everyone has the right to freedom of expression and the right to attend protest demonstrations.

One school student who had been attending some Moscow demonstrations called Peter told me "I have been attending those protests because I'm sick of a situation where the government continues to steal, steal and steal . I intend to go into politics to change this situation" . A fellow student sitting next to him agrees with him but did not feel any urge to go on a rally.

What worries the government is that so many young people not only protest but their high competence in using new information technology can make them effective at quickly organizing such protests . The older generation of officials don't have such a grasp of technology. Another problem is that those people who are protesting don't just confine themselves to the issue of corruption but are fighting for the rights of workers, for a freer education system as well as more just legal system. Those people can't' be taken for granted.


Saturday, October 21, 2017

HOD October

Should Charter Teachers Join CTU?
By Jim Vail

The biggest issue facing the Chicago Teachers Union is the decision to make constitutional changes.

The union wants to make constitution changes so that the charter school teachers are a part of the CTU union.

The idea itself sounds convincing - let's unite with our brothers and sisters in the charter schools and fight CPS for a better contract for all of us, and of course better schools.

Better charter schools?

Charter schools have grown like mushrooms throughout the city to destroy public education and of course, the Chicago Teachers Union.

So do we join up with charter school teachers as one union who fight for public schools and charter schools?

The union says the fact that charter schools have to deal with teachers in a union will deter them from growing. 

The CTU has fought, within the confines of the democratic machine, against charter schools and proudly pointed out that there were no new charter schools opened this school year.

However, will a union really stop the growth of charter schools?

That is the position of the American Federation of Teachers and President Randi Weingarten. It was parroted by form union boss Marilyn Stewart who said charter schools are our friends - we just need them to join us.

The idealists argue let's make the charter teachers a part of our union and make these charter schools into public schools again and make them a part of our contract.

Will that happen? It's not even a part of the plan CTU announced because they know it won't happen.

Charters are there like sweatshops to merely pay less to teachers.


I said at the CTU House of Delegates meeting that the charter teachers are already a member of a union - Chiacts. Why do they need to join us?

Is it about the money? Will they get more resources to unionize and fight for better conditions? Is it unfair that charters get more corporate money?

CTU officials pointed out that selective schools also unfairly cream off the top to destroy neighborhood public schools.

I think this is a situation where the CTU is waving the white the flag on the fight against charter schools - the union won't significantly suffer when they close public schools and switch to charter schools if the staff gets unionized and they pay dues to the union.

But it is reality. We are all (99 percent) headed to minimum wage jobs with no union representation. The Supreme Court rules billionaires can throw as much money they want into elections to control our politics. They will soon rule that unions cannot automatically deduct dues from workers paychecks, which will further destroy the unions that have already been decimated. 

It's like, yeah we represent taxi drivers, but let's focus representing the future, Uber and rideshare companies, who are taking over.

The union wants to make it seem like they will do both - fight against charters, and join up to them by representing their teachers. It's similar to organizing protests against racist attacks against black schools while funding and endorsing House Speaker Mike Madigan who closes those schools.

Can we have it both ways?