Saturday, May 19, 2018


By Stephen Wilson

German Philosopher Karl Marx

MOSCOW -- "O No . Don't speak about Marx. We have heard it all before. We
are sick and tired of hearing about him. We had to listen to
lectures about him for years. Let us change the subject."plead
one of the students as the other students groaned. Phil, an
English teacher from England based in Kishinev, wisely changed
the topic. An attitude of either apathy, antipathy as well as
boredom , appears to be the general response to the 200th
anniversary of the birth of German philosopher Karl Marx. In
contrast to the Day of Victory on May the 9th , where an
unprecedented 1 million Russians converged on the city of
Moscow, the ghost of Karl Marx seemed invisible and only
the name of a Moscow metro, a statue and streets remind you
of him. The only conspicuous presence of Marx
surfaced in the names of a few historical journals as if he
has been relegated to a historical curiosity rather than a
guide to action. 

Those articles don't flatter Marx. In one Journal 'Historian' a leading editorial writes : 'All his life Marx struggled for the happiness of the workers but cared little
about his family ' and how Marx is supposed to have hated
Russians . You read a lot about the personal life of Marx
but seek in vain, for an objective analysis of his ideas.
One of the claims is that the Soviet Union was supposedly
based on Marx's ideas. But can anyone seriously blame
Marx for the mass terror of the repression ? Marx, did not
welcome Russian support and application of his ideas to
Russia because he estimated that Russia was not ready
for such an experiment. In fact, he was embarrassed and
almost tongue tied when Russians wrote to him for advice
of how to Introduce his ideas to Russia. He hoped for an
outbreak of Revolution in Germany and Britain which he
wished would assume a peaceful character.

Some current philosophers such as Alasdair MacIntyre
claim in his 'After Virtue' that Marxism as a political
philosophy has exhausted itself. A key problem facing
Marxists is "What are the moral values of Marxism ? What
do Marxists define as the good ? How do they make a
distinction between good and evil ? " There is no explicit
answer offered by Marxists and they tend to fall back
to either Kant or Christianity. It comes as no surprise to
learn that Liberation Theology attracted many supporters
in Latin America during the 1980's and 90's . This odd
theology tried to combine Marx and Christ!

Yet do people really grasp Marx? His ideas are too often
misconstrued. George Ritzer , an American sociolgist
states there is a place for Marx in a study of sociology and
that he deserves wider attention on university courses.
He states that the Soviet experiment was a disastrous
distortion of socialism. Ritzer declares : "Despite his
overwhelming importance to sociology in both a positive and
a negative sense, Karl Marx's work rarely has received its
due in historical analyses of the development of sociological
theory ".{George Ritzer, Classical sociological theory ,1996,

Marx was not a monster! His work represents a sharp
critique of the inhumanity of capitalism and how it overworked
people to such an extent that they were reduced to 'crippled
monstrosities ' and not allowed to fully develop their wider
skills and talents. He was a humanist inspired by a rich
vision of a more humane and flexible division of labor where
people had much more free time to dance, sing and take up
all kinds of hobbies.

His major work Das Capital is hardly an inspiring read. In fact,
it was allowed to be published in Russia , by the censors ,
because the work was deemed too dull to attract any readers.
Perhaps more accessible works worth reading are : 'The
Communist Manifesto ' and the early works which include 'The
Economic and Philosophical works. '

Marx began his career as a radical journalist who was fighting
for basic rights such as freedom of the press, freedom of
speech and basic civil rights. That is why claims that Marx was
an enemy of free speech are just ludicrous.

Marx , during his youth , dreamed of becoming a poet . He set
out to write verse, adored Goethe and William Shakespeare,
and was a product of the romantic era. After being exiled to
England following the failed revolutions of 1848, Marx never
quite settled down to taking a regular job. He lived in great poverty
which was only relieved by income he obtained from Engels ,
or an inheritance and journalism. When Marx tried to get a job
as a clerk in a railway station his application was rejected due
to his bad handwriting . When he tried to sell off his wife's
expensive silverware to the pawnbroker, he was arrested and
detained by the police on suspicion of robbery.

An unexpected thing is that the dull work of Das Kapital which
the Russian censor thought would never be read by Russians
has recently become a bestseller in certain places because
many of the claims of how capitalism has developed appear
to be vindicated by recent developments. Those people who
purchase this work are not always die hard Marxists but non
Marxists who are simply looking for insights into how capitalism
works in such an unstable way.This is no consolation to two
ex teachers of courses in Marxist Leninism who lost their jobs
following the collapse of the Soviet Union. I recall drinking with
one such teacher in Kishinev who was drinking his sorrows
down and saying " I am struggling to get a new job . I am almost
unemployable" . The other ex-teacher I met ,Nadia , found a
job in a Tourist agency and is doing well.

One of the problems with Marxism was that Marx did not draw
up any blueprints of the new society. He was against such Utopian
thinking because he understood that such social engineering could
end in disaster. Marx , or no Marx, the abuse and inhumanity of
one person against another in the name of profit, power or prestige
is not going to go away. We need a much wider critique and prudent
careful action. But there is a place for Marx in this critique. Marx
is still a ghost who speaks with an on going resonance and

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Spec Ed Problems

New survey shows CPS special ed problems continue despite ISBE probe
Parents, teachers say CPS hasn’t fixed problems, independent monitoring team needed to oversee program and protect students

CHICAGO—Despite claims that Chicago Public Schools (CPS) has fixed the special ed problems at issue in a state probe, the vast majority of parents and teachers responding to a new survey say they continue to experience the same delays, denials and roadblocks in obtaining services for students that prompted the state investigation in the first place.

Legal advocates and parent groups will present the survey findings to the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) Wednesday to bolster their call for an independent monitor to oversee the CPS special ed program and for at minimum a $10 million dedicated fund to compensate students whose legally-required services were denied or delayed.

"Actions speak louder than words and survey data from thousands of parents and teachers confirm the problems that prompted our request for the ISBE investigation are continuing,” Matt Cohen, one of the lawyers representing the advocate groups that brought the state complaint, said. “We are talking about our most vulnerable students here and the only way to assure they are protected is with a robust and fully-staffed independent monitor who has the authority to compel CPS to follow the law.”

More than 2,200 parents, teachers and administrators responded to the survey, issued by the legal advocates and parent groups who sought the ISBE probe in the wake of massive complaints by special ed parents and teachers last year.

In one of the most shocking findings, 71 percent of all respondents said that legally-required student services were denied because the school couldn’t afford to hire the necessary staff, in clear violation of federal special ed law.

And 45 percent of all respondents reported students being denied their required aide because the school had insufficient student data or a district representative failed to attend the meeting to finalize the student’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP), also a violation of federal law. IEPs are the federally-mandated roadmap for the education of students with disabilities. 

The survey also found that CPS’s much-heralded revised procedure manual isn’t making the grade. CPS says it revised the manual to address the concerns of teachers and legal advocates who challenged the procedures put in place by ousted CEO Forrest Claypool last year.

Yet the survey found:

·         95 percent of teachers and 91 percent of administrators said they have yet to receive a training on the revised manual. Without proper training, teachers and administrators continue to have problems approving services for special ed students in the complicated, online system CPS uses to establish IEPs.  

·         46 percent of parents said that their child was not consistently receiving the services indicated on their IEP this school year and another 22 percent were unsure of whether services were being provided.

·         Some 69 percent of parents said they had never even seen the procedure manual, which is critical to obtaining needed services, like one-on-one aides or transportation, for their children.

·         71 percent of parents have never heard of the new CPS Special Ed Parent Advisory Committee, which CPS CEO Janice Jackson claims will enable parents to have a greater say in developing and administering special ed policy in the district.  

"After years of having issues getting proper services for my son, he was wrongfully denied transportation services last year,” CPS parent Nancy Curran, who submitted a sworn affidavit in the ISBE probe, said. “I participated in this inquiry with the goal of sharing our experience so that systems and structures are put in place to improve special ed service delivery for all students. I believe the only way to achieve this is through an independent monitor with staff who can hold CPS accountable.”

“This survey conducted over only two weeks time magnifies the depth of the violations of children’s rights and the extent to which CPS fails to engage stakeholders,” Legal Council for Health Justice managing attorney Amy Zimmerman added. “Over 1,400 anonymous comments bolster the need for whistleblower protections along with accountability.”

The legal advocates are delivering the full survey results along with a detailed proposal for remedies to ISBE board members Wednesday. The state board is scheduled to rule on the group’s request at its May 16 meeting in Springfield.


The special education advocates’ coalition includes: Access Living; Chicago Principals and Administrators Association; the Chicago Teachers Union; Equip For Equality; LAF (Legal Assistance Foundation); Legal Council for Health Justice; Matt Cohen and Associates; Ounce of Prevention Fund; Parents 4 Teachers; Potter and Bolanos, LLC; Raise Your Hand for Illinois Public Education; Shriver National Center on Poverty Law; 19th Ward Parents for Special Education, and Sharon Weitzman Soltman.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Teaching is Dangerous?

By Stephen Wilson

Russian teachers like here consider their job dangerous, thankless and grossly underpaid.
MOSCOW  -- Is taking up teaching in Russia a high risk option? Is it on par with other professions deemed dangerous such as firemen, ambulance drivers or
policemen? The answer is 'yes' if we accept at face value the findings of
a recent survey of teachers by sociologists at the Higher School of
Economic in Moscow and their colleagues . The on-line survey, which
interviewed 2800 teachers from 72 regions of Russia, found that 70% of
teachers admitted that they were the victims of bullying on a daily basis.
A staggering number of teachers,15 %, claim they have been physically
assaulted some time in their careers, 30% reported receiving anonymous
insults, which sometimes include threats via letters posted to social net

According to Darya Saprikina, "Amongst the most widespread answers
we received from respondents , were that students teased, provoked,
ignored them, violated discipline, refused to carry out the demands of
teachers and harshly judged their personal lives." Darya also found that
as many as 17% of teachers can't afford clothes and shoes, and some
lack money even for food!

Despite a so-called rise in pay, respect for teachers has not increased
but continues to fall encouraging some observers to speak of 'A Crisis
of Authority'. Why might the respect for teachers have fallen ? In a
society where the main emphasis is on highly materialistic values where
people often judge you by how much income you derive , what clothes
you wear and what kind of car you drive, then you can see how some
children who inherit social prejudices might tease a teacher for wearing
worn-out clothes or shoes. A mother told Darya that it was unpleasant
for her daughter to see a teacher drinking tea alone in a particular

A survey carried out in October 2017 by the All Russian Study of
Social Attitudes found that 42% of Russians thought that teachers
had less respect than in Soviet times.

The dilemma is that teachers feel they have nobody to share their
problems. If they inform the head of the school about their predicament
then they will be accused of not doing their job well! If they complain to
the parents , they might encounter further threats from the parents who
go into 'a denial mode ' saying : "My Dima would never behave like
that". Teachers feel extremely vulnerable because they have little
job protection and can be fired for petty reasons.

The Russian trade union Teacher stated that the administration of
schools can use aggressive parents as a weapon to contain and
control teachers who are fighting for improved pay and better conditions.

According to Vsevolod Lukhovitsky, the chairman of Teacher, "Now
any complaint from parents gets attention very quickly . It would be very
good if those complaints were examined by an independent commission
consisting of teachers' representatives and parents. But parents don't
trust teachers and the system of education, and the administration uses
those complaints as a hook to catch teachers. Very often a situation arises
when the head calls a teacher who refused to give a student the mark
five or is simply too actively observing his rights, and tells the teacher that
he has a thick folder of complaints from the parents of teachers, where they
write you are not good and if you don't behave well, I can use this. Now it
has become very popular to fire teachers for 'amoral behavior'. There is
nothing concrete about this term 'amoral act'. It can include anything a
head wants, such as when a teacher uses a careless expression in class,
or when a teacher raises his voice, or a note or photo on a social site."

For example, there have been cases where a teacher was fired because
she displayed a photo of herself, in a bikini, on the beach or for writing a
poem expressing particular political views at odds with some zealous parents
or head.

It is small wonder that more than 70% of graduates of teacher training
institutes and universities in Russia don't even begin their teaching career
never mind finish after a few years. The findings of such a survey won't
exactly inspire them.

Saturday, May 5, 2018


HOD Meeting Debates Budget
By Jim Vail

CTU President Karen Lewis made her first HOD appearance in a while.

The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) is facing a budget crisis that they say they will weather as the war on unions continues full speed under the Trump administration.

In the budget presentation made by CTU trustees to the delegates at the CTU House of Delegates (HOD) meeting on Wednesday, the biggest cuts will come by cutting staff in order to trim $1.5 million.

That will be done by forcing early retirements, asking employees to take pay cuts, and one known union official - chief of staff and Core founder Jackson Potter heading back into the classroom, perhaps saving close to $200,000 in terms of total compensation (includes pension, salary, health benefits and other perks). 

The trustees said there are about 60 CTU employees today, the same number 15 years ago. However, this is not sustainable because the number of members 15 years ago was 34,000 while there are only 23,000 members today. The fall in members has seriously hurt the union finances.

The union only expects a few layoffs. The field reps who help enforce the members' contract rights are under a Teamsters contract, while the union organizers are under an Operating Engineers & Electrical Workers union contract.

"The union has to tighten its belt," one trustee told the delegates. "The cuts will not affect members' services."

CTU President Karen Lewis made her first appearance in quit some time. She looked frail sitting in her wheel chair and was wheeled out of the meeting before it ended. However, she spoke with some of the passion she's known for by reiterating how important it is to pass the budget so the union can concentrate on the next contract fight. She also said to remember the PPC (Professional Problems Committee) is more important that the ILT - which the board set up in schools to circumvent democracy. PPCs are elected, while ILTs are appointed by the principal.

Members from the newly formed caucus Members First questioned the union about finances, in particular how much reserves there are and why the union is paying double rent, $1.5 million for Merchandise Mart plus rent to the CTU Foundation.

VP Jesse Sharkey, who runs the meetings these days, said the CTU did well when it sold the Fewkes Tower for $48.5 million and bought the building today because it is now worth $10 million more (however, not good when it comes to paying higher taxes). He said the problem is the CTU continues to pay rent for a 15-year lease it signed at the Mart because of a glut of new office space built in downtown Chicago, and commercial tenants do not want to sign a short lease where the CTU only has three years left til 2021. While it is costing the union $200,000 in rent per month now, it will save $1.5 million per year after 2021 because they bought their own building, Sharkey said.

AFT President Randi Weingarten told the delegates that a poll showed 78% of the American public think teachers should be paid more, and an NPR poll showed two-thirds of the people support unions for teachers.

Weingarten hugged and kissed the three officers when she left the podium, while she gave Lewis a hand tap on her shoulder.

The CTU said there are 69 new delegates, however only a handful stood up at the meeting in acknowledgement. 

The CTU said 79 percent of the members have re-carded with the union so that their dues will be paid after an expected upcoming Janus Supreme Court ruling in which members can opt out of paying the union its dues.

One delegate who ran for executive board elementary stated that he would advocate all future contracts end before a mayoral election to ensure full bargaining power.

The CTU said that $10 million will be paid to 20 pilot neighborhood schools as part of the community schools agreement in the contract. These school that will be selected from a list of over 100 will get full wrap-around services, including possibly additional staff.

The proposed budget cuts also included a 40 percent reduction in publications, printing far less CUT magazines and switching to online.

The teachers, teacher aids and clinicians delegates will vote on the budget at the next HOD June meeting.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Monday, April 23, 2018

Anti-War Resolution

Resolution Against U.S. Threats of War and Nuclear Annihilation on North Korea
*This resolution was submitted but has not yet been voted on in the Chicago Teachers Union House of Delegates

Delegates:  Please support with your voice and your vote this resolution  being raised from the floor  demanding a negotiated settlement with North Korea.  NO WAR – Money for education and social services.

The  U.S. spends billions on wars abroad and on 700 – 800 military bases outside our borders. All to support the interests of corporate America. Resources wasted on war, whether they involve direct intervention of U.S. troops or the support of surrogates like Saudi Arabia,  are resources diverted  from social  needs, including, of course , schools. Foreign policy is the other side of the coin from domestic policy. We all have a stake in this, and progressive unionists shouldn’t feel that they have to avoid political involvement. We don’t avoid elections, do we?

President Trump’s recent  nominations of Mike Pompeo as Secretary of State and John Bolton as National Security Adviser stoke the flames of war yet higher.  Money wasted on war is money denied  to communities and their schools.

1.       Public schools in working class communities and communities of color  in Chicago and  across the U.S. are consistently underfunded and in many instances subject to closure.

2.       The  federal government is fully capable of remediating funding shortfalls that occur on the state and local levels.

3.       An ongoing and intensifying state of belligerence against North Korea on the part  of the Trump Administration is now deflecting about 68%  of the discretionary federal budget (up  from 62% in recent years) to the military and away from  public education and other social needs.

4.       U.S. administrations have refused to take the next step beyond the 1953 cease fire agreement which would be to conclude a peace treaty officially ending the war.  All the while U.S. governments have cast themselves as humanitarians and benevolent saviors.

5.       Mainstream media in the U.S. and in the West generally present North Korea as an aggressor nation despite its not having attacked any other nations.  (Contrast this with U.S. interventions such as in Vietnam, Libya, and Iraq.)

6.       The U.S. government is using sanctions against the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea to block most exports and imports, trying to starve and freeze the North Korean people with the aim of having the DPRK eliminate its defensive force of nuclear weapons.

7.       Mainstream media, parroting the U.S. State Department’s positions rarely acknowledge that North Korea’s nuclear missile tests are conducted for defensive purposes as a deterrent to invasion from a U.S. military that possesses about 900 nukes (NY Times, 1/3/18).  North Korea has less than 10.

8.       President Trump has on multiple occasions literally threatened to destroy North Korea, and shown the sort of extreme hostility that is unlikely to persuade any nation to let down its guard.

Therefore be it resolved that the Chicago Teachers Union calls upon the current administration to cease its threats of war and annihilation and, instead, move toward an official peace treaty with the government of North Korea without any preconditions as a starting point for reaching other agreements.

Further be it resolved, that monies saved by a reduction in spending on war and military bases be redirected toward alleviating the funding crises in public schools in Chicago and across the country.

Submitted by Steve Livingston, retiree delegate

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Shakespeare BIrthday

By Stephen Wilson
William Shakespeare

MOSCOW -- "As to Shakespeare I could hardly sleep that night...... My first master
in philosophy , and that might seem quite strange to many people ,
was Shakespeare. From him I learnt this menacing and troubling
phrase ; 'The Time is out of joint '. What can one do when such a
thing happens , When the horrors of human existence unveil themselves
to men {to Shakespeare} who become - as time itself is - out of joint?"
stated the famous Russian Philosopher Leon Shestov,[1866-1938},
who was deeply mesmerized when he discovered Shakespeare.

Some Russians might even claim that it is no coincidence that
Shakespeare's birth , 23rd April , which is on Saint George's Day ,
is no accident. This is because Saint George is not only the patron
Saint of England but Moscow. And schools in Moscow continue to
perform his plays with beaming devotion . A 16 year old by the name
of Natasha, who attends a Classical Gymnasium which specializes
in Greek and Latin near Prospect Mir metro station, stated :" I think
Shakespeare is a great genius. I watched my school put on a
performance of Midnight Summer Dream and it was done in the
original. Everything was great. The acting ,decoration and stage
was fantastic. The pupils who performed were often ex-pupils who
were the schools best actors "; The performance had been organised
by the English teacher Marina Yevgenia at the end of the academic
year of 2017. The teacher gives up her Sundays to organize such

In the town of Voronezh, a conference on Shakespeare will take
place on May 26 to 27th.

The influence of Shakespeare on Russian history as well as culture
can assume unreal forms. It not only surfaces in the musical
symphonies of Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet , and Boris Pasternak's
poetry but in the name given to the unfortunate Tsar , Pavel the 1st
who was called : 'The Russian Hamlet'. The Tsar, who was the son
of Catherine the Great, felt embittered when he learnt that his mother
had plotted the murder of her husband Peter the 3rd. Pavel claimed that
the ghosts of Peter the 3rd had visited him and told him to avenge his
death. When in Venice , Pavel entered the theatre , an actor told them
to halt a performance of Hamlet as there" Would be two Hamlets in the
theatre : one on the stage and the other in the hall" . His counsellors
did not want to encourage his belief in emulating Hamlet in court.
What is it that inspires such interest in Shakespeare from the Russians?
Perhaps it is due to his timeless appeal as a brilliant storyteller . Daniel
Ogan, an American Indian storyteller told me that an effective storyteller
should narrate a story with such intensity that it burns your skin like a
red hot poker. His grandfather even burnt him with a red hot poker lest
he forget the lesson! 

Shakespeare certainly does this. Perhaps his poetry, deep philosophizing , and intense dramatization of questions many people prefer to avoid touches something deep in their souls. And the language is hauntingly beautiful. Others point to an implicit moral message which is subtle. Shestov described Shakespeare as being 'non-judgmental.
Unlike Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky he was never preachy. Yet some implicit
morals for children can be identified in his work 'The Tempest' where
Prospero , the disposed king , forgives those who have stolen his throne.

The group , 'Flying Bananas' entertains children in Moscow with their
performance of 'The Tempest'.They state : 'Our electronic music
interpretation of Shakespeare's tale of redemption and forgiveness will
fill your with feelings of you enter the aquascape of the rich
stage world of art and illusion which Shakespeare invokes.'

Of course, many famous people have claimed Shakespeare never even
wrote his plays. Sigmund Freud and Mark Twain claimed he did not.
Charlie Chaplin declared that such a person from a humble background
could not have written in an aristocratic tone of voice. They also declare
that his lack of a university education disqualifies him from being the
author. This is nothing original about this. Shakespeare, in his time,
was snobbishly derided as an 'upstart crow' for lacking a university education.
This logic has to explain how Scotland's best poet, Robert Burns , wrote
brilliant poetry. He never entered university. A university education can
often be overestimated.

It seems that Shakespeare may well have benefited from a superb
classical education in his youth. Shakespeare 's education at a grammar
school involved learning not only how to speak English sweetly and
melodically but mastering the art of rhetoric. This art involved learning
to argue a question from different perspectives encouraging a fresh and
novel open-mindedness. The school offered students lessons in how
to 'to be taught to pronounce everything audibly, leisurely, distinctly and
naturally : sounding out especially the last syllable that each word may
be understood. ' Peter Ackroyd , a writer, wrote : 'It is a good training
for the theatre. It was also a curriculum that encouraged self-assertion.'
It is worth pointing out that Shakespeare lived in turbulent times where
a police state kept a baleful eye on him. This was a time where the
poor were driven off the land by enclosures, and the recurrent plague
devastated and decimated London. The theatre could be closed
down by a whim and rigid censorship. Alleged witches as well as
outspoken Catholics were tortured to death. An example of the
repression is that the great playwright Christopher Marlowe died
in highly suspicious circumstances and the author of 'The Spanish
Tragedy ', Thomas Kyd, was practically tortured to death. After those
two deaths , Shakespeare had no literary rivals! Shakespeare was
almost arrested for performing a subversive play on the eve of
a rebellion by the Earl of Essex Richard the second.

Perhaps the Russian Poet Boris Pasternak made some parallels
with the repression in Russia and felt an affinity with Shakespeare.
What is deeply moving about the characters of Shakespeare is that
they are wholly alive and endowed with an inexorable boundless
energy. They readily acknowledge life with a rare audacity. It is
suffice to quote a line from 'The Twelfth Night' when Orsino states
'If music be the food of love, play on, give me excess of it ..."