Sunday, September 17, 2017

HOD Sept.

HOD Meeting Highlights CTU Accomplishments
By Jim Vail

The Chicago Teachers Union House of Delegates last Wednesday was a love fest that focused on CTU accomplishments.

Could it be because they feel the heat of an opposition group forming?

A group called Members First which has a robust facebook book and is comprised of people concerned about the CTU neglecting its members when it comes to fighting vicious principals and enforcing the contract has formed.

According to sources, the CTU leadership caucus CORE talked about this new group and that competition is a good thing (I agree!). Another person said this group is the same as blue lives matter - a racist movement that downplays the Black Lives Matter group focusing on black rights in the face of continued oppressive racism and police brutality.

One question would be why would the CTU back Chuy Garcia for mayor when he advocated hiring more cops - hardly something black people in this city need.

Anyway, I asked the question why is this union giving House Speaker Mike Madigan so much money, so much support, so much endorsements and invited him at the last meeting - when he totally fucked us! He now made vouchers the law of Illinois land. Vouchers is like right to work - there will be less money for the public schools and unions each year as $75 million of state money each year goes to private and religious schools (exactly what Trump and DeVos want on the federal level).

The CTU's close relationship with the democrats is a tricky one. Now the democrats support vouchers - what next? 

So the CTU boasted at the delegates meeting how great it is that a funding bill was passed and nothing about the horrendous voucher component (that was sent out in half-hearted emails about calling your state rep to oppose it - an absurd proposition when they support Madigan).

The house passed a Resolution to Adopt a Timeline for the Constitutional Referendum Process.

The CTU wants to open up and amend the constitution so that charter school teachers are now represented by the CTU.

I'm torn on this one - on the one hand I agree, we need to support our charter brothers and sisters. On the other hand, will this lessen the opposition to charter school growth in the future.

One of the strong points of our union has been the fight against charter schools. CTU VP Jesse Sharkey said there will for the first time be no new charter schools opening up this year.

School delegates are also encouraged to sign up all their members to the union again as it looks like the Supreme Court could rule soon to restrict the rights of public sector unions by eliminating the right to collect agency fees, people who don't sign the union card even though they are a part of the bargaining unit.

The union pointed out when Wisconsin union workers lost their rights in 2011 which stripped  them of both Agency Fee and collective bargaining rights, union membership fell 38% and workers suffered significant economic and other loses. Milwaukee teachers, for example, were forced to take an immediate $10,000 cut in pay and benefits.

CTU mentioned something about having leads to sublease 15,000 square feet of office space at the Merchandise Mart where they left and paid almost $40 million for a new building. While it appears the move could have been a sound financial transaction to own its property and rent out to others, many are concerned about transparency surrounding the CTU Foundation that has the money after selling the Fewkes Tower which bought the new CTU building on Carrol Street.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Russian Historian

By Stephen Wilson

Second City Teacher spoke again to the cultural historian Monica Spivak about
the tense current political situation in Russia, recent Russian events, the protest
against corruption and why she strongly opposes the local government's
huge scale demolition plans. In 2009, Monica 's book 'The Brain has been sent
to this Address' was published which was based on a study of files from the
Moscow Institute of the Brain (It is about how scientists made an intensive study
of the brains and characters of Lenin, Mayakovsky and Andrei Bely, to name but
a few).In this book you learn that Lenin was crazy about mushroom picking and
won the unwanted nickname : 'Mushroom man'.
Second City Teacher: "You seem to harbor strong feelings against the local
government's demolition scheme. Why are you opposed to their proposals ?"
Monica Spivak: "Why am I against this ? From the fact that I consider that it
is committing a very big crime from a legal point of view. It will lead to the destruction
of Moscow.The local government will not only begin to demolish Krushchevy
apartments but other kinds.The real reasons for this demolition are hidden from
the people. The local government want to acquire money, property and power.
Second City Teacher: "How effective do you think the demonstrations against
Demolition are ? "
Monica Spivak : "They were quite effective although not as effective as I wanted
them to be. As many as 100,000 people attended one demonstration. It is true
that afterwards it could not stop the demolition going ahead . In this respect the
results of the campaign were not entirely satisfactory. If they had cancelled the law
we would have attained our objective. Nevertheless, the local government was
forced to make small concessions.

Secondly, since local people began to get organised , met, wrote letters ,
and signed petitions, we saved our local community. So at that time we won a
victory in our area. But we did not wholly defend Moscow . The area around
Rechnoy station was destroyed and is empty. I understand that we did not stop
this but I wanted people to show those in power that we don't agree with
their actions. Later, I felt bitter about how the opposition in Russia don't take
up those local issues or unite around them. The opposition is badly split up
in Russia. It seems to me the opposition don't even take up those issues at all.
That there is a lot of division in the opposition is clear from the fact that on the
day of a major demonstration against corruption two rallies took place. Many
people had not even heard that Navalny had changed the location at the last
moment. So while my husband went to one rally, I went to another. If the two
protests {local and national protests against corruption } were combined the opposition
campaign would be more effective.
Second City Teacher   "Why do so many Russians support Putin ? Social opinion
polls suggest 80% or more support him !"
Monica Spivak   "I don't trust social opinion polls.We don't actually know what
those 80 % of people really think. Many people who are polled don't reveal
their real thoughts on many things. They might even be scared to express
their real opinions. It is interesting to compare Russia with Georgia . I asked
a Georgian how their people relate to people in power . He told me they
scolded their president . Now in a democracy this is a normal reality.Not to
like those in authority seems a normal thing. We see this in Georgia, Armenia
and Ukraine. But with us , it seems as if 80% of Russians support the president.
It is a big puzzle. I consider Russians are afflicted by an illness or virus . The
local people don't pay attention to injustice and just ignore it.

Everyday I watch the news from the Internet and hear how a supporter of
Navalny has been beaten up or a brick thrown through his window.Those
illegal acts are not prosecuted . It is a bad symptom of how rotten things are.
Now the President might not have approved or condoned the murder of
opposition leader Boris Nemstov, but he does not seem to be against it."
Second City Teacher:    "Could Stalinist repression return ? "
Monica Spivok:   "Yes I think it could happen again. It would not be on such a
huge scale as in Stalin's time - the same number of executions and it will
assume a new form. We should be ready for this ! There are no limits or checks
on Presidential power. The judiciary are not independent and people are afraid.
I recall a few years ago when people were demonstrating and they were not
afraid. There was a lot of dialogue at those rallies.Now the situation is worse.
They are too scared to even wear white ribbons. {A symbol of the opposition to
Second City Teacher:    "How do you explain the recent rehabilitation of Ivan
the Terrible ? "
Monica Spivak:   "This is happening because the government uses the
past to support the present . Ten years ago it would be unthinkable .Now it is
a different situation.But remember, Peter the Great was also a tyrant and they
condemn him for being a westerner. Yet Ivan the Terrible was also very pro
western and took many ideas from the west. The Russians who support
Ivan the Terrible forget this.


Saturday, September 9, 2017


By Stephen Wilson

MOSCOW -- I was astonished to hear the news! An Orthodox priest told me he had obtained a pile of letters written to the church he served addressed to myself .This person had last met me twenty years ago. When I looked at the letters a few things surprised me. They were long and the unique handwriting conveyed an exceptional beautiful style rarely encountered. In deed, few people send handwritten letters to each other those days .So I felt I was going back in time to a bygone era. For the beauty of handwriting is now derisively dismissed as 'snail mail'. Why take the trouble if you can send a letter instantly with e-mail? After I replied to those letters my mind got absorbed with the imminent beginning of the new academic year. In a sense, this event is a more profound date than New Year's Day. At least for teachers and school kids.

What caught my attention was the endless proposals to change the teaching process. Schools had to be modernized so many old customs or way of teaching had to go. Of course, teachers are never consulted about whether they approve of those changes or not. Some of those proposals seem banal. For instance , the Minister of Education made a speech calling for the ban of mobile phones from the classroom. Other politicians called for either the Day of Knowledge to be put forward to October. Another proposal is to radically change the geography of the classroom by doing away with traditional desks. However the most controversial proposal which has deeply divided educators is a radical proposal to abandon teaching Russian school children how to hand write. Instead proponents are arguing that all writing should be done via computer. So pupils don't need to worry about how neat or beautiful their handwriting is. Electronic writing is more effective, efficient and rapid. Children have to learn quickly to adapt to the new technology. Anyone arguing against those proposals can be ridiculed as reactionary or conservatives as if they are against 'progress'.

According to a child psychologist Olga Zuyiva, a personal computer has become an integral part of the life of a child. Parents inform her that unless their children learn advanced computer skills they won't be able to cope with life after school. They need to master computer literacy. It is more important than beautifully intricate handwriting.

Sergei Gorbun, a chairman of a Union, argues: "Being able to type with your hands helps you to quickly adapt to an ocean of knowledge . Every adult knows how difficult it is to get a child to sit behind a desk. But with a computer the child works with pleasure This according to experts, motivates as well as strengthens the use of the memory and paying attention."

However, not everyone welcomes this step. They don't subscribe to the view that computers are a magic wand which with a wave creates discipline making a child more developed and intelligent. Firstly, the child becomes more and more like an appendage to a machine. Rather than controlling the machine, the machine controls him.

in addition, very few people draw attention to the bad side effects of using such technology. The eye-sight of the child worsens, his or her spine begins to ache and they get headaches. Using a pencil and pen to write messages does allow you more time to pause, ponder think and rewrite a text." When a child writes, the link between his brain and fingers improves his mental capacity ", argues speech therapist Anastasia Medvedeva. In contrast , when people write automatically, they stop thinking. However, there is something very personal about handwriting which you can't get from an electronic letter. Handwriting remains a unique expression of our identity. Deprive children of the right to master handwriting and you are impeding one important aspect of free self expression.The Russian philosopher Nicholas Fyodorov grasped this point. He claimed that speed writing by typing or shorthand instead of handwriting can depersonalize and even degrade work. Quicker does not mean better. He declared, 'This rapidity deprives all work, not only mechanical but also intellectual work, of artistic attractiveness, turning it into a means of profit without any goal whatever, unless sense pleasure is to be considered a goal.'

Why go to extremes? What if handwriting can be seen as actually assisting computer literacy rather than hindering it? Sending a handwritten letter to a friend is much more moving and touching than a letter sent by e-mail. It indicates the amount of time and effort you go to write and post it off. Abandoning the teaching of handwriting would not be progress but represent regression to an age where technology dictates the rules.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

CTU Vouchers

Did the CTU Endorse Vouchers?
By Jim Vail

The CTU endorsed and feted Speaker of the House Mike Madigan just made vouchers in Illinois the law of the land!

The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) is outraged and wants you - the teachers, the parents, and anyone in the public who cares about public education to call your state senator to not support the new education funding bill that includes vouchers!

Except here's the problem - the CTU's very own Speaker of the House Mike Madigan was the primary guy along with the Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner who made vouchers now the law in Illinois.

The CTU loves Madigan - he came to the last House of Delegates meeting last school year along with a bunch of other Illinois Democrats to honor former Rep. Monique Davis, a decent union politician.

The CTU has given tens of thousands of dollars to Mike Madigan's coffers.

The CTU enthusiastically supports Madigan by endorsing him every chance they get.

Even CTU nemesis Mayor Rahm Emanuel smiles at that, noting that he is one politician the CTU knows will win. 

What is the difference between Emanuel, Rauner and Madigan. I don't really know, and would like our leadership - especially the political director, to explain what we get from this relationship. Why don't we support Emanuel and Rauner while we're at it since they work together.

It was Madigan who screwed the public schools years ago when he sponsored the charter school bills that gave over $200 million to UNO Charter Schools. Why do we have a state deficit?

Madigan is pitted against Rauner as the unions vs. right to work non-union republicans.  

But in the end, what do the unions get from this guy besides grandstanding?

Are we really this weak. Do unions really have to beg for crumbs and say thanks for not being beaten to death the other night - though we continue to get a hell of whopping!

It's depressing and deceptive. The CTU leadership needs to take credit for this one. They endorsed and feted Speaker Madigan, and Speaker Madigan helped made vouchers the law of the land of Lincoln.

We're on our way to right to work, more school closings, more privatization and the destruction of public education.

And it didn't take a Republican to do it.

Way to go Mike! Way to go CTU!!


CHICAGOThe Chicago Teachers Union issued the following statement tonight following the passage of an education funding bill laden with a voucher incentive out of the Illinois House:
"Tonight's vote for a voucher scheme for the state of Illinois is disappointing, and the worst assault on public education since mayoral control of schools was granted in 1995. We are now firmly in line with the President Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos privatization agenda.
"We have a new funding formula and more revenue for our schools. These are substantial achievements, despite Gov. Bruce Rauner's incompetence and Mayor Rahm Emanuel's impotent ability to provide direction from City Hall. Unfortunately, Illinois legislators have voted to 'reform' the worst school funding system in the country with a ticking time bomb of a voucher scheme, and the Illinois Democratic Party has crossed a line which no spin or talk of 'compromise' can ever erase.
"The Illinois Senate votes tomorrow. We urge them to reject vouchers and keep public funds for public schools, and not a tax break for the wealthy."

Saturday, August 26, 2017

No Vouchers!

Put the brakes on GOP's backdoor voucher idea

The Chicago Tribune
Contact Reporter
Wealthy supporters of private education in Georgia have a neat little scam going.
A law in place since 2008 allows them to donate to the Georgia Student Scholarship Organization, a clearinghouse agency that oversees the distribution of funds to qualified private schools, and receive a dollar-for-dollar credit on their state income taxes. Not just the standard charitable income deduction, but a straight-up subtraction — up to $2,500 for married couples filing jointly and $10,000 for shareholders or owners of businesses — from their state tax bill at the end of the year.
This means money that would otherwise go into Georgia’s general revenue fund to pay for the vast array of programs and services provided by the state, including public education, is effectively redirected to the pet cause of those who want tax dollars to support religious and other private schools.
A unanimous Georgia Supreme Court ruled in June that the program didn’t violate a provision in the state constitution that “no money shall ever be taken from the public treasury, directly or indirectly, in aid of any church, sect, cult or religious denomination or of any sectarian institution.”
How can that be? Because of the fig-leaf of the clearinghouse. Since the donations never actually reach the state treasury, the court wrote, “no public funds are used in the program.”
But wait, the scam gets better!
Donors to the scholarship funds are also allowed to count that donation as a standard charitable donation for federal income tax purposes, meaning, as one Georgia agency that distributes to schools enthuses on its website, “You will end with more money than when you started.”
And the higher your tax bracket, the higher your risk-free return on your investment. I mean donation.
According to “Public Loss, Private Gain,” a May 2017 report from the School Superintendents Association (formerly known as the American Association of School Administrators) and the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, private school supporters are able to profit from their donations in nine of the 17 states in which tax credit scholarship programs are now in place.
Will Illinois be the 10th?
A proposal to institute such a program here is thought to be part of the tentative bipartisan compromise deal on education funding announced Thursday afternoon in Springfield.
Whether it will offer a dollar-for-dollar credit, a credit as low as 50 cents on the dollar as in scholarship programs in Indiana and Oklahoma or something in between had yet to be formally announced at this writing. Also not officially confirmed is the limit on total tax credits issued (Georgia’s, for example, is $58 million), eligibility rules for students and whether the program will be permanent or a time-limited experiment.
Meanwhile, Republicans in Washington are touting a federal tax credit scholarship program as part of a major tax overhaul.
But it’s a bad idea everywhere.
Our state has similar constitutional barriers against using public money for sectarian purposes, and, legalistic shell games aside, tax credit scholarship funds are simply backdoor voucher programs — ways to funnel tax dollars from public coffers to religious schools in the name of “choice.”
Hey, wouldn’t we all like to direct our tax money to causes we support? I’d rather cut a check to Planned Parenthood, the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless or the Old Town School of Folk Music rather than to the Illinois Department of Revenue. But that’s not how representative government works.
The “Public Loss, Private Gain” report estimated that these scholarship funds, often referred to as “neo-vouchers,” already divert more than $1 billion a year from state coffers into private schools that are less transparent and more restrictive in admissions than public schools.
In a statement issued Thursday, Illinois Education Association President Kathi Griffin said, “In an age where accountability means everything — where standards are being implemented to ensure students are being taught what they need to succeed in life — why would Illinois take public money and give it to private schools that have no accountability?”
Because too many lawmakers, including some Democrats, have either given up on the idea of public education, are secretly fond of the idea that taxpayers should support religious indoctrination or are under the delusion that competition for scarce resources will magically make public schools better.
Another scam.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Statue Controversy

By Stephen Wilson

MOSCOW -- At a conversational club I once asked my Russian students the question : 'How would you respond if the ghost of Stalin entered the room and asked for some tobacco to stoke his pipe?' One student told me she would give him tobacco, another that he would make him pay for the tobacco and another woman would beat him up. The diverse range of responses I received indicate how ambiguous the attitude of many Russians is towards Stalin. It is often complex, contradictory and absurd. While the government is supporting the erection of a new monument to the victims of repression this coming October, monuments to Stalin are mushrooming all over Russia as well as revisionist books which defend him. People are either blessing or cursing those statues. Fortunately, when someone curses a statue of Stalin the statue does not come to life and relentlessly pursue the person to death as in Pushkin's poem: 'The Bronze Horseman'. Well not quite! 

The Gulag grave hunter Yuri Dmitriev appears to have been arrested for his role in exposing the horror of Stalin's crimes . Dmitriev had been digging and burying the victims of repression in Karelia for 30 years . He discovered a mass graveyard in Sandarmakh which contained as many as 9000 victims. The victims had been stripped naked , thrust into special trucks and taken into a forest where they were shot in the back of the head and thrown into huge pits.

The police are even regarding the recent commemoration of victims as ' an unsanctioned gathering'!

There is no shortage of die-hard supporters of Stalin. They defend Stalin by stating he industrialized Russia, defeated Hitler and turned Russia into a great superpower. For instance, just open a current issue of the newspaper Zaftra and you can read the headlines: 'Glory to Stalin'. The leading article represents a signed statement of people calling for a recently taken down statue to Stalin to be restored . Some of the reasons for defending Stalin border on the banal. A book on sale at Dom Kniga titled 'The Stalinist Economic Victory' quotes a song of Vladimir Visotsky describing the era as: 'It was a time when prices were lower'. It is like saying: 'Cutting prices compensates for cutting throats.'

There seems to be a complete disregard of the basic facts of Russian history. Proponents of Stalin only want to hear what they want to hear. Even many supporters of socialism consider such apologists as dragging socialism into the mud. They would not even equate Stalin's regime with socialism. 

On the contrary, it is largely viewed as a disastrous distortion of socialism. In the wake of a spate in the arrest of journalists, people attending demonstrations, on going physical assaults on opponents as well as the execution of gays in Chechnya , many people fear a return to the years of Repression. It might not assume such a vast character as in Stalin's time, but it is not so such a distant and remote prospect as say twenty years ago. In deed, some Russians reckon it is already happening. Just open your eyes wider!

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Teacher Too Young Dies

We Mourn Another Fallen Teacher Hero - Too Young to Leave Us!
By Jim Vail

Orlando Rodriguez Jr. - a teacher and soccer extraordinaire!

When you work long enough in the Chicago Public Schools, you form a family that lasts a lifetime.

We - the Hammond School family - lost another warrior and hero to so many kids - Orlando Rodriguez, teacher and soccer coach who passed away this past weekend, a victim to colon cancer at the tender age of 41.

I worked with Orlando at Hammond School for about six years from 2006 - 2012 roughly. He was our bilingual fifth grade teacher and coached a soccer club when I first started.

He then became our middle school social studies teacher and boys and girls soccer coach.

He lived and breathed soccer - his love that was spread to all the lucky students who worked under him.

He worked at many schools in the Chicago Public Schools and he was an American Federation of Teachers AFT delegate when CORE and Karen Lewis first won the president of the Chicago Teachers Union election in 2010.

He, I and Garth Liebhaber, another phenomenal art teacher who helped bring me to Hammond School, formed a strong bond that continued to his totally unexpected death. He died at 41 from complications due to colon cancer on Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017.

He had just lost his father a few months prior to his own death.

Cancer is killing so many. We had another wonderful, vibrant, energetic teacher named Celia Rivero, who lost her battle to cancer at only 30 years old. She taught with Orlando and us at Hammond School!

The Orlando E. Rodriguez Jr. Lane Tech Soccer Scholarship just set up in his honor will help his memory live on. Orlando and his brother played soccer at Lane Tech High School and they learned the sport from their father. Orlando played AYSO at Peterson Park and for the Wells Park Raiders in his youth. After graduating from UIC he fulfilled a dream by playing for the Fichte Rams club team in the Chicago Metropolitan League.

He recently taught and coached a winning soccer team at Northwest Middle School.

The Orlando E. Rodriguez Jr. Soccer Scholarship Fund will provide support and financial assistance to a deserving Lane Tech Soccer Player.

I highly recommend any and all teachers, lovers of soccer, students and those who read this to donate to this worthy scholarship. We lost a wonderful human being who breathed fire and passion to the children of Chicago.

He will be missed!