Sunday, October 25, 2020



How Kafka wrote letters to comfort a girl upset about losing her doll
By Stephen Wilson


          A charming and poignant story tells of how the Czech writer Franz Kafka on a walk in the park by chance, stumbled across a distressed girl upset about losing her doll. Kafka is said to have comforted the girl by improvising an invented story on the spot. The story goes as follows:

One day, Kafka and his girlfriend Dora Diamant were going for a walk in the Steglitzer park in Berlin. They noticed a little girl in tears, sobbing her heart out. She seemed inconsolable. Kafka approached her and asked, "What is the matter?" The girl answered "I have lost my doll". He immediately began inventing a convincing story to explain what had happened to her doll. He told her, "Your doll has gone on a journey." The girl looked at him a bit suspiciously and said, "How do you know that?" "Because she has written me a letter telling me". "Show me the letter " demanded the girl. "I can't show you the letter because I left it at home, but I'll bring it tomorrow to show you it ". 

Kafka went home, sat down at his desk and wrote a letter. Dora Diamant recalled, 'He got down to work in all earnestness, as though he was to create a literary work. He was in the same tense state as always when he sat down at the desk. Franz had solved a child's conflict through art - the most effective means at his disposal for bringing order into this world.'
When Kafka met the girl the next day he handed her the letter. The letter began, 'Please don't mourn as I have gone on a trip to see the World. I will write to you of my adventure.'

This was the beginning of many letters given to this girl. He continued writing those letters for three weeks. When he last met the girl he brought her a new doll he had bought saying, "You doll has returned from her journey. 

"But that doll doesn't look like the one I had," answered the girl. Kafka replied, "After a journey a person's appearance always changes." 

Later, when the girl had grown up, she found in the crevice of the doll a note with the words, 'We all lose people and things we love, but love always returns to us in a different form'. One year later after meeting the girl Kafka died of tuberculosis shortly of his 41st birthday.
Save for the last part of the story about the note which was a moral added by subsequent storytellers, the story seems to be plausible. The main primary source of this story was his girlfriend Dora Diamant who lived with the author. But not everyone believes this incident happened. It has even assumed the form of a legend where - maybe it happened, may be it did not. For example, one author states this behavior is at odds with the Kafka we know as he was very introverted and self absorbed. He was too reserved a person to instantly strike up a rapport with a stranger. Could the writer of such dark novels such as 'The Trial' and 'The Castle' write such a positive story about a doll? Since Dora Diamant was a bit of a mystic, she can't be counted as a reliable witness. What are we to make of this claim? 

If you read the extensive correspondence, novels and diaries of Kafka, then what emerges is a very deep complex character where the words 'introvert ' and self-absorbed' do him scant justice. If you read a biography by Klaus Wagenbach you find that far from him being self absorbed he was always going around helping people, writing to them, counselling them and lending them money. He even wrote special reports with recommendations of how employers could install safer machinery to prevent tragic accidents in the workplace. In deed, Kafka comes across as a caring, compassionate and empathetic person. In the sanatoriums he was always trying to console and help younger patients. He did not wallow in self-pity. Wagenbach writes, 'Kafka's friendships during his final years were all counselling helping relationships with persons much younger than himself ... Kafka, himself carrying a heavy load, was genuinely something like an adviser and helper to the heavily laden during those years.' So why should it be so implausible to consider Kafka taking the trouble to help a little girl? Dora Diamant respected Kafka too much to fabricate such a story.
Perhaps one of the reasons for this interpretation is that there exists a prevailing literary criticism which views most works of literature not as invention but mainly a reflection or a mirror of the author's life. People confuse Kafka's characters with the author himself while in fact those characters were invented. We should heed a wise Russian saying which states, 'A tale is an invention, the song and the truth.' And this truth should be interpreted as metaphorically and not too literary. Unfortunately, much literary criticism attempts to explain novels by exploring the author's personal life. Perhaps people have forgotten the magic of fiction and really believe that reality is more fascinating than fiction. They are more interested in factual accounts than invented genres.
Nevertheless, people are captivated by this story. The story appeals because it illustrates the healing potential and power of not only telling stories to children, but letter writing. By telling this story in such away the child could learn better how to cope with all kinds of loss including coming to terms with death. The advantage of telling a story is that the listeners can draw their own conclusion and the therapist avoids preaching or teaching didactically. The advantage of storytelling is that direct eye contact makes the experience between the storyteller and listener more personal and interactive. Oksana Chebotareva, a Russian English teacher, wrote that storytelling "is particularly precious in the age of digital technologies and Artificial intelligence, as it starts to threaten the job of teachers as well as other professions. It might be the last factor that makes us more valuable than computer technologies and video games". 

Kafka's story of the doll shows the strength of using both storytelling and letter writing as a kind of potent therapy which can help bind the wounds of those in grief. Kafka was a great writer of letters. It is worth recalling that the origins of the English novel lie with the novel Clarissa by Samuel Richards. The novel published in 1748 assumes the form of letters. It goes without saying that handwritten letters are more reassuring to people than e-mail. There is something more personal, intimate and authentic about a handwritten letter than a digital one. One thing which a hand written letter and story share is that both contain the implicit message to people to "Slow down" in an age where people are often in a frenzied hurry, never taking time off to meet other people. We feel if we don't meet this or that deadline it will be the end of the World. Daniel Ogan the storyteller once told me, "Don't hurry. Most accidents are caused by being in a hurry."  He ought to know because his job often involves intervening in emergency situations to calm down people. If you want someone to listen to you reciting a poem, you should tell it slowly but well. If you recite it too quickly people will be less likely to listen.
A third point is that real maturity in adulthood is reached when people understand how seriously a child treats his toys. We never entirely abandon playing with toys. Unfortunately, many people believe that we should abandon playing with those 'childish things' just as the Romans ritually sacrificed them when they reached 12. I'll never forget seeing a boy taking all his toy cars and stamping them to pieces at school as a means of affirming his entrance to secondary school. What happens when you have children or grandchildren of your own? Do you stop playing with children because playing with their toys is childish?  In a sense Kafka was playing with a doll by inventing stories.
What happened to the letters of the doll which Kafka had left with Dora Diamant? Diamant stated the Gestapo raided her apartment in 1933 and confiscated all of Kafka's stories as well as the letters telling the adventures of the doll. What became of such letters we will never know! They could well have been destroyed during an air raid. It would be strange to think that they might be lying in some obscure Russian archive. Most likely they vanished along with the little girl's doll!

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Pension Heist

Book Review

Pension Heist by Ellen Schultz

The book Pension Heist by Wall Street Journal reporter Ellen Schultz was written about how corporations and hedge funds have raided the pensions of workers at a time when the state was coming hard to cut the teachers' pensions.

The year was 2011 - the apex of education corporate reform and Common Core and Race to the Top. All the billionaire funded non-profit groups like TeachPlus and Educators in Excellence in the name of helping were telling teachers they had to give up their defined benefit pensions like our brothers and sisters working in corporations.

What Schultz tells us is that the money corporations stole from the workers pensions funds was diverted to pay the pension and health benefits to the CEOs. That is why this country today is looking so gross with multi-billionaires like Amazon Jeff Bezos worth $200 billion and the federal minimum wage is still $7.25. 

It's sick and unsustainable!

Corporate worker pensions were once well-funded like city and state worker pension funds, even earning a surplus. Corporations saw they could take this money, being deceptive, and use it to spend on themselves - increasing bloated executive salaries, or in the Chicago teachers case, taking the money for teachers' pensions and diverting it to privatization schemes like charter schools and more testing.

It's ironic, and sad, to hear about an IBM worker who was a true blooded Republican and Vietnam War vet, who once he saw his pension was being raided wanted to join a union. 

This book is a cautionary tale because the Chicago Teachers's Pension Fund is funded at less than 50 percent, whereas more than 15 years ago it was funded almost 90 percent. 

Political hacks like Mike Madigan tried to cut our pension benefits on behalf of his corporate sponsors, but the Illinois Constitution prevented this. It says politicians cannot do anything to harm the pensions of state workers.

However, that is also what the federal law says, you cannot harm the pensions of workers.

So how did the corporations destroy their workers' pensions?

They hired consultants to fool people. You send a letter to your employees telling them you are pleased to announce that you will significantly enhance the pension program and make the retirement program "highly competitive," - which means the company froze the workers pensions without them knowing about it. You don't provide information. And if someone asks about it, and wants answers when they figure out they're getting screwed, you fire them! Easy cheesy when there's no union!

The funny story was Deloitte & Touche, a giant accounting firm, that tried to pass off a cash-balance plan that would lower their workers' pensions; however, their workers are financial experts who weren't fooled, and they raised a stink. The company had to back off, and eventually grandfathered the older workers. Something the state and CPS want to do as well!

If you can't lower your retired employees pensions, then you make them pay for their health care costs. Suddenly, your pension shrinks paying for a subsidy that the company promised to pay when you retired.

"While federal law dictates that companies can't cut pensions that have already been earned, this is not the case for health plans. That is, unless the benefits were protected by a union contract (and sometimes not even then), companies could pull the plug on benefits that employees, including retirees, had already earned."

Author Ellen Schultz

Companies were able to declare bankruptcy and terminate their pension plans. Chapter 11 bankruptcy gives banks and creditors priority over employees and retirees and vendors. 

Another tactic is to fire hundreds of thousands of middle-aged workers just when their pensions are poised to spike. The way the city does this is to put more demands and stress on teachers, forcing them to retire early and thus lose out on a better pension if they could work longer.

Here's a funny actuary joke about the people hired to divert workers pensions to bloated CEO compensation packages. A Chief Financial Officer (CFO) is interviewing for a benefits consultant and asks the accountant what is 2 + 2, and he answers 4. But the actuary says, 'what do you want it to be?' And he gets the job. 

Actuaries have been used to help companies figure out how much to put into their pensions, but in the last 30 years or so they now help employers turn pension plans into profit centers. The law says you can't cut pensions, but you can slow their growth.

How good are these guys? One benefits consultant suggested the company establish an offshore company responsible for the retirees, but not accountable under U.S. law and have it go bankrupt and thus terminate the plans, while another one said to simply terminate the benefits, wait for the retirees to sue, and then drag out the litigation until the retirees gave up and died. The author documents several of these cases. 

One company got its workers to transfer their retirement to a new program called "Project Sunshine," saying if they switched their benefits would stay the same. 1500 employees switched and then the company on purpose went bust, and so did the retirees' medical coverage. The CEO toasted the collapse, saying he felt good unloading a loser (believe me there are no happy endings for these guys!).

Ellen Schultz the author must eat crow when she wrote, "the odds of winning a benefits case are about on par with the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series." Five years later in 2016 - Cubs Win! But workers and pensions?

How bad is it? Lucent was able to get a $230 million gain from taking their workers' pensions and in 2004 awarded their CEO Patricia Russo a $1.95 million bonus on top of her $1.2 million salary, $4.6 million in restricted stock, plus $4.8 million in options, and after only 2 years, her compensation was worth $44 million. Many of her workers on pensions can barely get by!

We've reversed Robin Hood here - companies and governments beholden to the capitalists rob from the poor to pay the rich!

It's very profitable to rob from the older workers. IBM gained $3 billion from cutting their retirees benefits, which one CEO earns a sweet $3.2 million a year pension. Aubrey McClendon, the CEO of Chesapeake Energy, the second largest natural gas provider in the U.S., has earned a compensation of $156 million in 3 years and is owed $120 million in pension benefits, while his employees have no pensions. By 2008 executives were receiving one-third of all pay at U.S. companies. 

"The most important contributor to higher profit margins over the past five years has been a decline in labor's share of national income," Goldman Sachs economists wrote.  

The book ends on a sickening note about how the NFL has screwed over the football players, including the best inducted into the Hall of Fame, from getting benefits for disabilities despite clear evidence that the players were disabled after playing this violent sport that turned them into invalids. Check out the story of Mike Webster. It made me want to puke!

"The real problem with pensions isn't 'volatility.' It's that the accounting rules enable employers to gamble with retirees' money and then shift the risk to them."

That is exactly what has happened to the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund and many other funds!

By the way, the 401(k) many workers have is a scam. It was never intended to be savings vehicle for the rank-and-file. Employers have taken advantage of loopholes in the discrimination rules to exclude millions of low-paid workers and make it hard to join the plan and build benefits. Many companies have continued to manage 401(k)s for the benefit of the highly paid. Also, the author notes that at some companies the percentage of the employers stock is dangerously high which would get a money manager at any regular fund fired! Enron was one example of how the 401(k) killed its employees.

There really is no solution here, and the author is a realist, so she doesn't offer a silly one. She just warns correctly that this country is headed back in time to before the 1930s when pensions were first written into corporate and government contracts due to major organizing and communist threats. Society will pay to support millions of elderly, formerly middle class Americans, if something doesn't change.

Monday, October 19, 2020

Pre-K Madness!

CPS Decision to Send Teachers Into Burning Buildings Insane!

Almost all the children and teenagers who died of Covid-19 were Black or Hispanic.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot decided to listen to the business community and start sending teachers and students back into the classroom starting next month with the Pre-K and Special Education Cluster.

The Pre-K teachers we spoke with are infuriated and don't know what to do. The Chicago Teachers Union has vowed to fight and held a special tele-town meeting October 18 to discuss options, which include rallying resistance. Even though Covid-19 is spreading, more people are getting sick and in some areas of the city there is a 20 percent positive rate of getting infected (almost all children and teenagers who died of Covid were either Black or Hispanic according to Business Insider).

A poll indicated 93 percent of the teachers who responded in a survey during the conference said they want to fight this latest attempt by the mayor to force children and teachers back into buildings while the virus rages.  The union said only 10 percent of the buildings have up to code ventilation.

This is what one Pre-K teacher wrote:

*CPS is saying remote isn't working for prek (I would beg to differ because under the circumstances it is going very well for us, all things considered) - because of lack of social interaction - well, interaction is going to be non-existent if we go back. Covid prevents us from being social. What are we going to be expected to do when a child is having a hard time separating from their parents (WHICH THEY WILL) We cannot hold them, comfort them, or peel them off of their parents quite literally which we sometimes need to do

*For the social aspect - this is going to be incredibly difficult for our EL and special needs students with sensory issues (can't wear a mask, need physical redirection, close up verbal prompts and being close so they can see pictures that teachers are showing them to help them transition) or if they're having a tantrum or being physically aggressive and we have no other option than to physically remove them from a situation (I imagine a child who has ripped off their mask or mask is having off and they are crying or screaming (again, THIS WILL HAPPEN) 

*They will be unable to share toys or sit close to friends or even snack or drink water. 

*Piggybacking off of that - most of our day will be spent disinfecting the classroom - taking children's temperatures(?) and toys before and in between, after and sometimes during our classes. It will basically be managing them moving around the classroom so that way they don't touch each other or anything that is not theirs - not social distancing, not safe, not actually teaching 

* The data - Little Village is a hot zone and it puts not only teachers and multi generational families at risk for health problems and even death. There are two preschoolers in my classroom who had covid in the spring and even one of their infant siblings. The whole family! So they can't tell me kids won't get covid. And think about staff having to take public transportation to and from school. Schools are going to become super spreading events 

*Parents who are struggling and finally have their kids back at school - sending their children to school even when they are sick because they are forced to choose between paying the bills and figuring out child care will send their children to school kids. Parents did it all the time before covid, again THIS WILL HAPPEN! 

*Lack of ventilation in the building. The old heater in the classroom - no air filtration system. Cold and flu season and children who don't know how to social distance or have been exposed to someone in their family who is an essential worker again adds up to a very very dangerous health concern for everyone in the building. It's reckless and downright selfish for the mayor and Janice Jackson to even think about sending teachers and babies back to school when cases are rising and I for one refuse to put my health at risk for my job and no one else should be asked to either. 

*The bathroom situation - children having to go - having to disinfect the bathroom after every child uses it and having to help children who physically need it in the bathroom. Children with IEP's and diapering on them. (Teacher aides) cannot be expected to change the child which would mean that A PARENT would have to come into the building and the classroom to change their child - parents should not be allowed in the building so I'm not sure how this would even work

*Making routine chaotic - pulling them out of remote learning when we will most likely have to go back into remote learning. This is emotionally draining and quite frankly traumatic for our youngest children 

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Covid Rising Everywhere!


The number of infected from Covid-19 rapidly rises

By Stephen Wilson
"Only two weeks ago I was speaking to a friend who is a businessman based in New York. He had returned to Russia. He is about 55. He told me that 'All this Covid 19 is just an invention. It is all fake. It is no different from flu. I will never be infected by this virus.' I told him it was not so because I myself had experienced it and it was one of the worst illnesses I had ever gone through.' Later I heard that he had contracted the virus and was lying in hospital in a very bad condition. He could hardly speak or raise his arms. He was on emergency support and receiving oxygen. It was a great shock. I had just invited him to my home when I learnt of this," stated the businessman Alexander {Not his real name} whose whole family had come down with the sickness last Spring.

Alexander told me that in the wake of this pandemic practically all his business activities have ground to a halt. Since many of the borders still remain closed, Alexander can't go on a vital business trip to America to make an urgent financial transaction. When he speaks to colleagues in India he receives the same news of how everyone is under strict rules and can't do much business. At the moment, Alexander has been making sure both his parents in laws, who have become sick, receive adequate treatment. He had a difficult time persuading his father in law to go into hospital.

"I told him that it was a necessity. Twelve days had gone by and he was still ill. When I phoned for an ambulance they told me, 'We only take patients in who have a very high temperature.' I phoned other telephone numbers listed but they never answered. After a lot of time I succeeded in finding a good hospital which specialized in this virus. I managed to get him admitted. I told him, 'Gather your belongings and get ready to come with me. You are not going to get any better staying at home.' It was difficult but he finally agreed to come with me. I have seen more ambulances on the roads than usual. When I got to one hospital the security staff all informed me they had been reinfected by this virus. "
When I opened my window to let in some fresh air I was greeted by the relentless restless ringing of sirens. The stillness of the dark night was violated by this dreadful wailing. I closed the window and tried to get back to sleep. But while we sleep, this virus certainly doesn't! The latest news indicates the number of people infected has shot up dramatically. According to the latest figures, 15,000 were infected in a day. And the figure keeps remorselessly rising. Perhaps as many as 40,000 or more Russians have died from this virus. The hospitals are finding it daunting and difficult to cope with a flood of new cases.
The Mayor of Moscow seems to be exasperated by what seems to be a lax and laid back attitude to the virus where many people stopped wearing masks and went out to overcrowded resorts in Sochi or the Crimea. When I was travelling in the metro two weeks ago I noticed only about 50% of passengers were wearing masks. At present, I observed that the figure had approximately risen to 70%. This is still less than the over 90% compliance during last Spring. When I went to buy a mask from a metro station, a security man at the barriers politely told  me, "You have to put on a mask and gloves before travelling," and allowed me to buy one from the cashier. Masks at metro stations are only five rubles. So I felt a fool having bought one previously at a kiosk for 35 rubles!
The local government have responded by escalating a massive publicity campaign to persuade people to wear masks and gloves. Posters declare 'Wearing a mask doesn't prevent you from seeing , speaking and breathing. It saves lives'. But those words won't persuade a hard core of people who deem such measures an infringement of their personal liberty and sneer at others for being 'too conformist'. Therefore, the government is likely to take sterner measures. At present, people over 65 and those with chronic diseases such as diabetes must remain at home, and companies must ensure as many as 30% of their employees work on-line from home. Anyone not wearing a mask in a shop can be fined 4000 rubles, a small business can be fined 40,000 rubles and a bigger 100,000 rubles or more. And it seems that school children from the first and fifth year will be forced to study on-line from home. They had been put on an extended October holiday for two weeks. However, already many teachers at schools and institutes are operating on-line. One of the most controversial measures is the proposal to order students at universities to teach primary school children on-line instead of older and vulnerable teachers. The students have responded differently to those proposals. Some greet it with enthusiasm. Fifth year chemistry and biology student Ksenia Panina stated - 'I'm glad to accept this opportunity. Next year I finish university and this represents an enormous experience, and training before I 'm sent to full scale work.' However, not all students welcome such 'practice'. Some see it as irrelevant to their trained vocation. Dmitri, whose training is in the field of physical rehabilitation, sees no use of such an experience. Harder words come from the chairman of the Union, Teacher, Vsevolod Lukhovitskii. He states - "The problem is that local management think that anyone can be a teacher, and arrange for you to be a teacher- and go and teach a lesson. But a student is not a teacher". He states while this experience might be useful for university students, but it is not good for pupils.
One of the problems with introducing on-line lessons is that often both parents are working and they can't look after children or ensure that their kids are present at those on-line lessons. Many parents don't have the time or the resources to supervise their children. Giving up or taking time off their work is not always an option.
There has been much talk about the development of a vaccination against the virus in Russia. Alexander got a call from his father who lives in Germany as to whether he could receive the vaccination and whether he could send him it. Of course, this was just impossible. Alexander told me -"Taking this vaccination is not as straightforward as you think. I know of two families who took those vaccinations. You have to take one vaccination and then after 21 days have to take a second one. During the time before and after the first vaccination you must go on a strict diet which means not eating fatty foods, drinking alcohol or working. You have to be fully relaxed. If you don't do this the vaccination won't work. I know that three members of one family who took the vaccination tested positive after the first vaccination because they never followed the rules laid down by the doctors. Only the mother avoided the virus. After that, only if you test negative, you are allowed to take the second vaccination".
A return to a full scale lock-down in Moscow can't be entirely ruled out or at least the implementation of more drastic measures. The number of infected doesn't appear to be stabilizing never mind falling.
Despite his tribulations, Alexander can see the funny side of things. Once when he went to buy coffee the staff stopped him and politely asked him to wear a mask and gloves. They then asked him to wear his mask properly by covering his nose. After that he tried to pay for coffee using his smart phone. However, in order to carry out this transfer of money his phone has to monitor the user for face recognition. But by wearing his mask, the device didn't recognize him.  If you press a button with a glove, it also doesn't work. He was in a catch-22 situation!  So he asked the shop assistant, "Can I just take down my mask for one second so that I can pay for this?" The shop assistant agreed and Alexander was allowed to attain his cherished coffee. And after this experience, it tasted sweeter.

Friday, October 16, 2020

Day of Teacher


Teacher bashing stops for one day!
By Stephen Wilson

           "I did not know there was such a celebration in Russia. That is strange. No... we don't celebrate the Day of the Teacher in France" replied a bemused French history teacher working at Moscow State University to the question "Do you celebrate the Day of the Teacher in France?" The Day of the Teacher might seem odd to some foreigners in Russia, but is not as strange as it seems. Compared to the Day of Bedroom Slippers, the Day of Toilets and Doughnuts which all border on the surreal, 'The Day of the Teacher, held on 5th October, strikes most people as sensible, sane and meaningful. On this day the profound role of teachers is openly acknowledged and teachers are showered with praise and gifts. An English proverb goes: "Every dog has its day". Since teachers often work like dogs they surely deserve their day. Unfortunately, because of the Covid 19 crisis few teachers gathered to mark this occasion. Most teachers are being asked to switch to on-line lessons. As many as 3% of school teachers on September the 1st were not admitted to school after being tested and found with some kind of virus.
Despite countless letters, petitions and protest to improve the conditions of Russian school teachers, their predicament of doing long hours, doing more paperwork, poor pay and humiliating conditions knows no respite. According to the O E C D T.A.L.I.S. {The Teaching and Learning International Study,} school teachers only spend 24% of their time teaching children in the classroom. The rest of the time is spent on doing paperwork, writing reports, meeting parents, meeting managers and doing courses to upgrade their qualifications. If you speak to teachers at Moscow Pedagogical Institute they lament that only 20% of their time is spent in the classroom while the rest is spent outside it.
Low pay plagues the profession of a school teacher. The Russian trade Union 'Teacher' estimates that in as many as 60 regions of Russia teachers are paid below the minimum wage which means they are paid less than 11,500 rubles a month. While a teacher in Altai can earn just 3,145 rubles a month, a teacher in the Moscow region can earn 18,480 rubles. In Moscow a school teacher can earn about 100,000 rubles or more.{if you accept government figures }.The yawning gap is bewildering! 

The method of paying teachers varies from one region to another. It is chaotic, confusing and inconsistent as well as lacking any sense of merit or justice. In regard to incentive pay, there are an estimated 30 kinds of awarding points to teachers. It is so complex that many school teachers don' t know exactly whether they are entitled to be paid for this or that task. Should they be paid for writing an article on class management or not? Should they be paid for the time devoted to putting on a school play?

The number of students per teacher in the classroom has risen. Whereas in 2013, the ratio of students to one teacher was 15.7, in 2019 it rose to 18.4 per teacher.
There continues to be shortages of teachers throughout the schools. There are particular shortages of teachers in Math, Physics, Russian and Foreign languages. But perhaps the greatest shortage of teachers is in special needs. Many school teachers are leaving the profession not only because of the pay, but because they are fed up of being humiliated by administrators. Why remain in a thankless job if you earn only 12,000 rubles a month when you can earn say, 72,000 rubles a month or more as a tutor? Not only do you boost your pay by five times, but cut the stress down ten times! I have recently spoken to three teachers who told me that they are considering giving up their work as school teachers and becoming tutors.
However, it is not all bad news. Second City Teachers often reports on the woes of being a school teacher. Yet there are Russian teachers who love their jobs and can cope remarkably well with the stress. They are devoted and dedicated to their profession. They can infect their students because they love not only the subject they teach but their students. And the most important thing is that a teacher loves or at least strives to love their students. I have met many Russian teachers who tell me they adore teaching. Some have been teaching for over thirty years. We can learn a lot from such experienced teachers. A sharply perceptive teacher Tatiana Koreleva stated, "What do the old teachers speak about when they gather together? They talk about literature, discoveries,exhibitions, concerts, scientific achievements. But they don't speak about money and clothes and profitable inventions. Perhaps they don't talk about money because they don't have much. Nevertheless, the whole world belongs to them...They are always looking out and taking care of each other!"  

It is difficult to disagree. Although teachers don't have property, prestige and power, they can be endowed with a fiery spirit of inner freedom. And that is why in a sense, the best things in the world such as  beauty and wonders belong to them.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Homeless Students

There are 52,000 Plus Homeless Children in Illinois:

Some Solutions for CPS Students

By Thomas Hansen, Ph.D.


There are over 13,000 homeless students in Chicago.

The results of being homeless, moving from school to school, and not knowing where they are going to sleep are clear on children: “Continuously falling behind in education makes children experiencing homelessness four times more likely to show slow development, and two times more likely to have learning disabilities” (,affects%20the%20child%E2%80%99s%20social%20development%20and%20their%20self-esteem.).  This in turn negatively impacts the child’s social development and their self-esteem.  A huge number of students nationwide face the challenges of homelessness – and many students in Illinois face those difficult challenges also.

The 2017-18 Illinois school data from the US Department of Education shows “that an estimated 52,978 public school students experienced homelessness over the course of the year” (  On that web page, we learn also that the numbers divide out, showing “467 students were unsheltered, 5,140 were in shelters, 2,037 were in hotels/motels, and 44,875 were doubled up.”  Let’s break this down and look at what those terms mean—the “nitty-gritty” of the total 52,000 plus kids in Illinois who do not have a home. 

“Unsheltered” means there are children and young adults who are sleeping somewhere that is not meant to be a domicile, not meant to be slept in or on.  Examples are: dumpsters, abandoned cars, alleys, buses and trains, back corner of an all-night diner, back room of a hardware store that is closed for the night.  That such locations can be terribly unsafe is an understatement. 

Why these spots for sleeping?  In some cases, children, and/or their parents, prefer such locations for sleeping for privacy issues.  Sometimes, the family is avoiding going to a shelter because they have had a bad experience there.  In other cases, homeless persons are not aware of other options because of language or cultural differences.  In still other cases, persons are avoiding certain people (e.g., a father who is attempting to find the mother to harm her and the children are swept up in the mix, or a parent who is trying to kidnap children away from the other adult, or a parent is hiding the children from people who want to separate the family or harm the unit in some other way).  

Note that most of these (all of these?) locations have no bathroom, no sinks, no showers for the people to use.  The children, therefore, travel the city often with unkempt hair, dirty clothes, no showered body.  The “grime” is not chosen but is rather a result – and a symptom – of living in conditions that are less than ideal.

“Shelters” are locations—funded and managed through a variety of organizations and agencies—where homeless families, children, and adults spend the night.  These locations are meant to provide sleeping, bathing, and toiletry accommodations for persons.  This is the standard place homeless people are referred to.  Said one homeless person I asked about shelters, “some are not terrible, others are not great, but I am still afraid to go.”  When I pressed Alice (not her real name) for more information, she explained that in a huge city like Chicago there is too much chaos involved.  “I just will never go,” insisted Alice.

“Motels and hotels” that are inexpensive do actually exist within and near the city.  They range in cleanliness and affordability, of course.  Some attempt to not allow homeless people to book and secure rooms in them.  Homeless people will tell you of the huge discrimination out there, of the dirty looks from the bus drivers who see the passengers attempt to board with several bags, and the typical responses like “We have no more rooms open for the night.”   

“Doubled up” means there is an “extra” family living in the house or apartment.  Some family member opens their home to a sibling’s partner or spouse and children.  Sometimes the extra people wind up sleeping in the basement and make areas or “rooms” there among boxes or old furniture.  Sometimes the extra people sleep on the couch and are gone each morning when the main family wakes up and heads to the kitchen for breakfast.  Still other times, the extra people live in an extra bedroom or den or a porch.  In some neighborhoods that tent you see in the backyard is not for kids to play in… in summer months there might be two parents and two children sleeping there.

There are in fact various ways to get help.  There are many good resources available, but families must go from one agency to another to find them.  One agency might provide housing options and a clinic, another offering food, another clothing, and still another offering counseling and job services.  What happens to the children?  How do they survive?  Find food?  Find education?

This is a huge national problem.  In New York City schools, for example, most recent figures show almost 21,000 homeless students there.  These students lag behind other students and have difficulties getting their homework done and learning to function socially and academically.  It has also been “found that homeless students achieve proficiency on New York State standardized tests at roughly half the rate of housed students” (

What about in in the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) specifically?  There were 16,451 homeless CPS students during the 2018-19 school year, the most recent period for which data is available.  Solutions vary—and CPS parents are hoping the new mayor will do many of the things she said she would do.  For example, she said she would make taking care of homeless people – including children – a priority of her administration.

CPS has an actual policy for assisting and educating homeless students in its schools (  Homeless students must receive free education just as housed students must. 

One plan that has emerged from intensive discussions about homeless students in Chicago – and wound up also in the CTU Contract – is the idea of hiring homeless advocates for CPS students  In this program, run by the Office of Students in Temporary Living Situations (STLS) advocates for homeless students in 14 different buildings are providing a variety of essential services  (  Schools with more than 75 students who appeared to be STLS kids are the buildings with funds for the advocate positions.

How do students get the special services?  There are a variety of ways, according to Claire Bohmann, Resource and Training Coordinator for the STLS Program.  Bohmann explained that some students or parents may notify the STLS advocate about the living situation, or a teacher or other staff person may notify the STLS advocate of a student's living situation.  There are also liaisons and other school staff who “are trained to recognize signs of homelessness and proactively identify students in temporary living situations and offer services,” according to Bohmann. 

            How many students in CPS have been receiving the services from the STLS Program?  Bohamnn states, “Last school year there were 13,843 students enrolled in the STLS program across the District.”  She goes on to explain that there is no data available yet for this school year.  There are several high schools where the STLS Program works, including Bowen, Clemente, and Fenger. 

The STLS Program provides assistance in removing barriers faced by STLS kids.  These include providing transportation, school uniforms, school supplies, fee waivers, and referrals to community resources.  To find out if students and their family members are eligible for STLS services, contact the STLS Liaison at your school. Every CPS school, including charter schools and options schools, has an STLS Liaison.  For other questions about the STLS Program, please call 773-553-2242, or fax at 773-553-2182, or email

The idea that there are so many children who are homeless might make you wonder just how great the economy is.  The numbers and the reality of homelessness in Chicago and the rest of Illinois are alarming concepts.  However, the good news is now there are policies and solutions in place for helping homeless kids to get them on track to succeed in school and in life.

Saturday, October 10, 2020

HOD Oct.

Delegates Endorse Biden & Harris at HOD

By Jim Vail 

The CTU endorsed Joe Biden & Kamala Harris
for President and Vice President.

The Chicago Teachers Union delegates voted 89 percent - 11 percent in favor of endorsing Joe Biden (D) for President against Donald Trump at the October 7 House of Delegates meeting.

The first delegate speaker questioned why the CTU would want to endorse someone who championed the 1994 Crime Bill which gave rise to the racist attacks by law enforcement on black people and who is against Medicare for All. Another delegate said candidates should earn an endorsement, and Biden who teamed up with President Barack Obama and Arne Duncan to viciously attack public education and teachers unions and promote charter schools under the Race to the Top program did not earn that right.

But other delegates said the CTU endorsement was important to help defeat the openly racist and some would say borderline fascist leader in the White House who refuses to denounce white supremacy. 

"This endorsement is very important to stop a fascist takeover," said Beatrice Lumpkin, a 102-year-old retired teacher delegate whose photo of her voting in complete anti-Covid gear was the talk of social media tweets and retweets. 

Lumpkin always implores her fellow delegates to vote for the democrats, marking a time when unions and democrats were once a solid team. Fewer than 10 percent of American workers are members of a union today, resulting in a catastrophic income gap.

CTU VP Stacy Davis Gates, who always jumps into a conversion she feels needs her direction, said that the teaching force in Chicago has become more white, so the ticket with VP candidate Kamala Harris, a black female, is important.

"This is about survival," she said. "Trump has to go."

In her opening speech to the delegates, Gates said it is up to white women in the unions to vote out a president who is making a "mockery of our country."

President Jesse Sharkey stated once again that if teachers can stay out of the building, to stay out. 

"I understand it can be convenient, but if you can stay out, stay out because we are in a fight with the board to stay out," he said on video camera.

Union officials cannot say whether or not the Chicago Public Schools will reopen schools in November, but they are dead set against it. Sharkey noted that 100 schools in New York City had to shut down after students and teachers were hit with the Covid-19 Virus.

Sharkey said it is worrying that CPS refuses to bargain with the union.

"Members shall work under safe conditions," he said. "What does that tell us about CPS to keep our workers at home and CPS won't bargain with us. They are undermining our ability to stay out of the buildings until it is safe."

The CTU is against going back to the classroom because the virus is still present and is predicted to get worse as winter approaches. The union won a grievance that stated the clinicians like clerks and speech pathologists should not go back to the schools, but CPS does not want to follow the ruling.

The union said the teachers should have more remote learning PD and planning and less online screen time for the students.

Sharkey said there are lot of privacy issues with google and online learning and he believes CPS is in agreement. He said teachers do not have to record their sessions, and who's to say google is not recording instructors in order to train AI to do what we do. He said teachers should know when an administrator is observing their online instruction, and to report to the union if they are being watched or observed without their knowledge.

Chris Baehrend with the charter division said Acero (formerly UNO Charter) layed off 26 of their 52 special education teachers, not because of funding, but because they had no work. 

CTU political coordinator Kurt Hilgendorf, who made his presentation alongside his toddler, stated once again it is important that all CTU members vote Yes to change the Illinois Constitution so that a Fair Tax, or graduated income tax, is implemented. Multi-billionaires like Ken Griffin, the richest man in Illinois, has spent more than $20 million attack ads to vote against the measure that would tax him and others who make more than a million dollars a year. Griffen had asked former Mayor Rahm Emanuel to close 150 Chicago public schools. The former mayor then closed 50 schools in 2013, the largest school closings in the history of the country.