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?

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Teacher Judgement

By Stephen Wilson

MOSCOW -- "Congratulations on 'The Day of the Teacher Day'. It is our day today " announced a cheerful and lively teacher to me when I entered a Greek and Latin Gymnasium which is situated within the vicinity of Prospect Mir when I entered the staff room . Judging by the frantic activity of teachers rushing in and out of the staff room with textbooks and carrying heaps of homework, I wondered if any teacher had time to celebrate this day. It seemed an irritating distraction which hindered rather than helped our work. In fact, if you leaf through the articles in the Russian media you might be forgiven for believing it is 'a Day of Judgment ' as people freely evaluate or assess the performance of teachers.
An indication that some pupils had noticed was when a teacher brought in a huge banquet of flowers. 

On this day, articles in the Russian media mushroom. Many of them amount to inappropriate comments to tactless judgments. For instance, why do government officials announce, in a
newspaper,that they intend to close down 100 institutions of Further Education' which the government deem 'ineffective'? One of the best universities in Saint Petersburg has been practically closed down on the spurious grounds that it does not provide physical education facilities ! Yet this university specializes in the humanities and not sport! So you have a government that literary threatens to make some teachers redundant on: 'The Day of the Teacher '!

One thing is certain. It is not all bad news. Despite the occasional teacher bashing, the profile and prestige of teachers has radically changed over the past decade. Gone are the days of the 1990's where schools in Moscow were short of teachers and the pay was absolutely abysmal.

The usual stereotype of a Russian teacher is of a late middle-aged or old teacher who is angry, authoritarian and constantly shouts rudely at pupils : " Keep your Eyes on the blackboard " as in the Russian satirical film 'Hitler Caput'. Recent research indicates this crude stereotype of Russian teachers is an oversimplification and misleading generalization. For instance, one out of four teachers is estimated to be under 35 and International surveys have found that Russian teachers are among the most qualified in Europe and continually seek to upgrade their qualifications. The shortage of teachers in rural schools is less than one percent and all the vacancies in Moscow schools are practically filled. This is a far cry from the 1990's when the job of a teacher was largely an unwanted position and schools had a high turnover of staff. Nevertheless, one wonders whether the recent statement of the Minister of Education where she claims that : "It is namely due to the high qualities of patient and strong teachers that millions of our children joyfully go to school." I can already hear grunts from some school kids.

How does the public perceive the financial status and prestige of teachers in Russia? A recent survey by the All Russian Center of Social Opinions asked respondents to assess perceived the status of teachers on a scale from one to five. The scale found they received a mark of 2.86.

By the way, this is how school students are marked at school! It is as if teachers are being equated with pupils.

Journalists stated the teachers score a very average mark. The survey does not measure the effectiveness of teachers in the classroom but irrelevant factors such as how people rank teachers according to pay and prestige. It is as if people are being asked to rank teachers on the basis of how much money they make rather than more important considerations. Only people highly materialistic could have thought about carrying out such a survey. A much more interesting finding of the survey is when the public were asked what qualities they like to see in teachers. As many as 30% stated they most of all value 'kindness and well-wishing' , 28% 'competence' and thirdly, 'love towards children and their work' and in fourth place, 'the level of education.' What is more important is whether the teacher loves and cares for their children rather than perceived power or prestige.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Teacher Bashing Returns!

New York Times Trash Job on ATR Teachers

by Marjorie Stamberg


NEW YORK -- So the “bad teacher” industry is alive and well, and once again it is targeting our colleagues in the Absent Teacher Reserve.

A totally biased article slamming educators in the ATR is splashed on the front page of the New York Times (October 14) under the headline “Caught Sleeping or Worse, Idled Teachers Head Back to Class.” The online version refers to “Troubled Teachers.”

The whole thrust is, as always, to blame teachers for any and all problems in the public school system. The fact that almost 10 percent of our students are homeless (more than 100,000 kids) is, of course, not mentioned.

The Times did a whole statistical study, it says. But for all the claims about “troubled,” “incompetent” or even “mentally unstable” teachers, further down in the article you read that nearly 40 percent of the ATRs are there because their schools were closed, and another 30 percent were excessed for budgetary reasons or because of low enrollment.

 Only 12 percent had “ineffective” or “unsatisfactory” ratings, less than one in eight of those thrown into this limbo.

And why are teachers “U rated”? Times writer Kate Taylor blew off suggestions that such ratings often spring from arbitrary and even vengeful principals against whistle blowers, union activists, or others who don't get on board with the latest PD fad. 

The “experts” quoted in the article are a long list of ex-principals, supervisors and other leftovers from the Bloomberg-Klein era. In fact, some of the very best teachers in the system have been ATRed at various points.

And among the 12 percent, the “worst” case they could cite was an ATR teacher who took a day off to go to a family reunion in Chicago and called in sick. Horrors! 

Also, they found she didn't report that she had been arrested, although at the very end of the article we learn that these were bench warrants stemming from a family dispute and the charges were later dropped.

The article is aimed at the union, of course, for insisting the DOE give excessed teachers a chance to teach, instead of rotating them from school to school on a monthly basis as subs or leaving them sitting in the neo-rubber rooms (which supposedly don’t exist anymore).

The ATR crisis grew out of the orgy of closing public schools, part of the whole privatizing “education reform” craze, which brought us Success Academy maven Eva Moskowitz and Teach for America. 

In this era of Trump, it is worth remembering that many of the big pushers of this union-bashing effort were Democrats for Education Reform (a bunch of Wall Street moguls) and the Obama administration in Washington headed by his basketball buddy Ed Sec Arne Duncan.

Follow the money – along with the school closures they gave principals dictatorial control over teacher selection and introduced a funding scheme giving each principal a set amount of dollars, instead of paying salary through the central office. This created a whole set of incentives.

 (A careful reader will note that both of the supposed “bad teachers” singled out in the Times hit piece are in the top salary grade.)

So it was “two for the price of one”: instead of hiring an experienced teacher who had accrued raises, the principal could hire two new teachers fresh out of ed school or Teach for America. 

And the system is hostile to new teachers as well as to veteran educators: many new teachers leave because they are stuck in the “delay of tenure” trap, as the DOE keeps them as probationary employees to be fired at will and under the thumb of the principal.

As for the veteran teachers pushed out in the ATR frenzy, I personally know a black Ph.D. science teacher who helped countless students to get a GED; a Vietnamese-American teacher who was visiting her homeland the summer they interviewed for jobs after the schools in D79 were closed and hundreds of teachers excessed when Cami Anderson “reorganized” the district.

Both those teachers are retired now – our loss, and that of the students. Anderson went on to become chief of the Newark School system where she could play with a $100 million grant from Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg.  

She used it to carry out mass firings of teachers, introduce school lotteries and expand the number of charters. She was eventually driven out over her arrogant disregard of parents’ protest and student sit-ins.

The UFT leadership clique “Unity Caucus” bears a big part of the responsibility for the whole ATR mess. Especially Randi Weingarten, who later admitted that they didn’t realize what the results would be. In the 2006-7 contract, the UFT bureaucracy agreed to abolish union seniority transfers. 

Under that system, if your school closed, or your principal was impossible, you could transfer to another school with an opening, based on seniority, license and an S rating showing you were qualified.

No more. In exchange we got the “open market.” It’s about as “open” as the affordable housing market in Manhattan. The “open market” is a vehicle for manipulation, favoritism, nepotism and possibly worse. 

Principals often go through the motions of “listing” jobs, and even sometimes “interviewing” candidates, when they have already decided who they are going to appoint.

One of the consequences of this system is that teachers got less experienced, whiter and much more distant from the communities they serve. It has become harder to get in if you are a graduate of CUNY, while TfA recruits Ivy Leaguers and college grads from outlying states with zero experience with urban schools. 

This was borne out by the comprehensive study initiated by a union activist on “the disappearance of black and Latino teachers.”

And now, some charter school teachers won’t have to go to ed school at all. They can just be thrown into the classroom in a charter teaching mill. If Eva likes them, they’re certified. And the effect on the students…? 

 But of course the purpose is to bust the union.

A piece of good news on that. Among the huge numbers of new teachers who flee the charter schools after a couple of years, we’re hearing that a number are getting jobs as union teachers in the DOE. They are more than welcome, but what we really need is for the union to step up its drive to unionize the charters, and not under sub-par Green Dot contracts.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Protest Rahm's House

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                               
Oct. 6, 2016
CONTACT:  Priya Shah, 312-493-2092
Parents take fight to save their school to mayor's own backyard
NTA parents, teachers want Emanuel to back down from plans to close their successful elementary school,
consider other plans for South Loop high school
CHICAGO—After the mayor’s office refused to meet with parents from National Teachers Academy (NTA), the NTA community will take its fight to save the school to the mayor’s own backyard with a protest and rally in front of Emanuel’s Ravenswood home on Monday.
The mayor wants to close the school, which serves predominantly low-income, African-American students, and convert it into a high school to serve the booming, pricey South Loop neighborhood. But parents, teachers and staff at NTA are fighting to keep the elementary school open and demanding a meeting with Emanuel to discuss other high school alternatives for the South Loop.
Parents will meet outside of the mayor’s Ravenswood home on Monday to deliver a letter to the mayor and make their voices heard. Although recently released emails show Emanuel devised the school closing plan to satisfy South Loop real estate interests, he has so far refused to meet with NTA parents.
What: NTA is Here to Stay Parent Rally and Press Conference

When:  Monday, Oct. 9, 4 p.m.

Where: Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s home, 4228 N. Hermitage

Why: Mayor Emanuel is pushing to close NTA and turn it into a high school to serve the booming South Loop. Parents are fighting to save their beloved, high-performing school and are demanding a meeting with the mayor to make their case. 

Visuals: Parents, teachers, students with signs and banners marching and chanting through the mayor’s tony north side neighborhood.
The NTA closing is the first of a series of school closings aimed at predominately African American schools. The mayor also wants to close four Englewood high schools and the announcement of other school closings is expected in December.
The NTA community has said a resounding “NO” to the closing, with 1,500 signatures on petitions opposing the plan, 471 letters sent to state legislators, and 43 parent testimonials before the CPS Board of Education.


About National Teachers Academy
National Teachers Academy (NTA), is a Level 1 elementary school with a "well-organized" school culture. NTA is one of only 16 elementary schools in CPS that serves a 80% African-American population at or above these distinctions of quality. NTA was established in 2002 as a community center and school for residents of the Ickes Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) development. Residents have continued to send their children to NTA after the Ickes were torn down during the CHA Transformation.